NFL Week One: This Just In … Bill Belichick Still Rules the World

The opening week to the 2016 NFL season closes with two games on Monday night, but this is what we’ve learned so far…

Because the NFL is a 32-team league, here are 32 quick-hit comments:

1. New England 23, Arizona 21. So, Bill Belichick can’t win without Tom Brady, eh? So much for that narrative. And how soon people forget that the Patriots and their coach went 11-5 when Brady was felled by a season-ending knee injury in the 2008 opener.

carson-palmer
Carson Palmer signed a one-year, $24.35 million deal with Arizona in August.

If Belichick’s team can win 11 games with Matt Cassel, I don’t think it’s exactly a moon landing to go 4-0 or even 3-1 during Brady’s four-game suspension.

The Patriots and previously untested starting QB Jimmy Garopollo went into Arizona as an underdog and won; now they’ll have the next three at home against Miami, Houston and Buffalo.

Oh, and by the way: according to the salary trackers at Spotrac, the Patriots’ starting offensive lineup had a combined 2016 salary of just over $23 million — or about $1 million less than what Arizona QB Carson Palmer will make by himself this season.

2. Of course, the three other members of the AFC East was slobbering over the chance to take advantage of Brady’s absence. So what happens?

The Patriots go to Arizona — which had won 20 of its 25 home games under coach Bruce Arians — and win with Jimmy G and without Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski, and starting offensive tackle Nate Solder

Buffalo goes to Baltimore and loses 13-7 … Miami, with new head coach (and alleged offensive mastermind) Adam Gase, look like the same old Dolphins offensively and lose to Seattle at home, 12-10. The New York Jets, playing at home, lost 23-22 after leading by three at the half. The Bills, Dolphins and Jets combined to average just over 13 points on opening Sunday.

3. QB Passer Ratings, AFC East, in Sunday’s games: Garoppolo 106.1 … Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jets, 77.0 … Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins, 74.8 … Tyrod Taylor, Bills, 79.9.

4. If you like parity, this was a lovely opening weekend. So far 10 of the 14 games were decided by seven points; that includes four contests with a one-point margin of victory, two that were decided by two points, and one that went into overtime.

5. Coach of the Weekend? Easy pick: Oakland’s Jack Del Rio, who went for the win at New Orleans instead of playing it safe like just about every other NFL head coach would. With the Raiders scoring a late touchdown, and trailing by one with 47 seconds remaining, De Rio refused to play for a tie and take this drama into overtime.

And he was right; you don’t want to give Saints QB Drew Brees a chance to beat you in his home setting where he’s so crazy-good. Del Rio went against the book and went for a two-point conversion. And when QB Derek Carr lobbed a money pass to WR Michael Crabtree in the corner of the end zone the precocious and talented young Raiders had a 35-34 win. (After a close call, a long missed field goal, on the Saints’ final and desperate possession. Even if Del Rio’s gamble had failed, I wouldn’t have ripped him for the choice.

Why not go for it? The franchise hasn’t had a winning record since 2002, and these Raiders have a chance to build something special. Del Rio’s show of confidence in his team was something that could pay off down the road.

6. Rookie QB Dak Prescott generally handled himself well in the Dallas Cowboys’ season-opening 20-19 loss to the visiting New York Giants. But we should note that as the game went on, Prescott’s performance deteriorated in his first NFL start.

After completing 14 of 19 passes (73.7%) in the first half for a passer rating of 93, the fourth-round draft choice from Mississippi State completed 42.3% and had a 52.2 rating in the second half. In the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, Prescott completed 6 of 17 passes (35.3%) for 3.88 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 47.7.

7. On the other side of the field: Eli Manning was terrific in leading the Giants to a triumph in Dallas; he finished with a 68% completion rate, three TD passes and a 110.3 rating. In the fourth quarter, with the Giants down and needing a TD, Manning completed 6 of 9 passes, hit Victor Cruz for the winning TD, and had a passer rating of 122.5. Nice debut for new Giants head coach Ben McAdoo.

8. Oh, and welcome back Victor Cruz. Good luck to defensive backs that have to shut down the Odell Beckham Jr., Cruz and rookie wideout Sterling Shephard this season. Injuries caused Cruz to miss all but six games over the past two seasons.

9. Former Rams CB Janoris Jenkins — who signed a free-agent deal with the Giants — did a ridiculously effective job against Dallas No. 1 receiver Dez Bryant. One catch, 8 yards. That’s it.

10. A quiet NFL debut for our town’s Zeke Elliott; the Cowboys’ rookie RB had 51 yards on 20 carries but looked great on an 8-yard run that gave the Cowboys a 16-13 lead.

11. The Cowboys are 1-14 in its last 15 starts without Tony Romo at quarterback.

12. This just in: Aaron Rodgers is damned good. What a player. Did you see Rodgers’ absurd completion to Davante Adams for a TD near the end of the second quarter? How does he make that connection?

13. Jacksonville lost a tight one (27-23) to Rodgers and the Packers, but the Jags are definitely improved and a team that’s going to be fun to watch this season.

14. Including Thursday’s game (Carolina at Denver), home teams are only 6-8 so far. And the two road teams that play Monday night figure to have a good chance of winning: Pittsburgh at Washington, Los Angeles at San Francisco.

15. I would like to believe that 49ers QB Blaine Gabbert will play a fantastic game, beat the Rams, and give his hometown football fans something to smile about back here in St. Louis. But man … the Rams will be bringing the pressure, and I don’t think Gabbert will conquer that LA pass rush. Hope I’m wrong.

16. The New Orleans Saints hired a new defensive coordinator, Dennis Allen, who was supposed to make a big difference in upgrading a unit that was embarrassingly futile in 2015. Well … in Sunday’s game, Brees threw for 423 yards, 16 first downs and four touchdowns — and the Saints couldn’t win.

17. Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter has the best name in the NFL. He’s also very good at his job. The Lions put up 28 first downs, 340 yards passing and 116 yards rushing in their come-back 28-25 win at Indianapolis.

18. We’re allowed to overreact on Monday, so … the seats are already warming up for a few head coaches: Chuck Pagano (Indy), Mike McCoy (San Diego), Rex Ryan (Buffalo), Mike Mularkey (Tennessee.)

19. McCoy is 22-27 as the Chargers’ coach; he’s lost 15 of his last 20 games.

20. Sunday’s defeat at Kansas City was horrible for the Chargers, a team that let so many games slip away in 2015. This year we were told the Chargers’ luck would change; they’d find a way to finish strong and close out wins. Um, no.

San Diego blew a 24-3 lead in going down to the Chiefs 33-27 in OT. And to add pain and suffering to their gruesome day, the Chargers lost top WR Keenan Allen to a season-ending knee injury.

21. Helluva win for the Chiefs. And goodness, QB Alex Smith was outstanding in the second half and OT, rallying the Chiefs by completing 25 of 33 (76%) for 269 yards, two TD passes, and the game-winning touchdown run.

22. The AFC West will provide an intriguing race for first place in 2016. Chiefs, Raiders, Broncos. And the Chargers are talented enough — even with a lousy coach — to be a factor, even in a spoiler role.

23. Going into the 2016 NFL Draft, the Rams traded up for the top overall pick and the privilege of choosing Cal quarterback Jared Goff or North Dakota State QB Carson Wentz. Of course, the Rams went for Goff … leaving the Philadelphia Eagles to “settle” for Wentz at No. 2 overall. After having an awful, shaky training camp Goff won’t even dress for Monday night’s game at San Francisco. He’s the Rams’ No. 3 quarterback behind Case Keenum and Sean Mannion.

The Eagles had so much faith in Wentz that they didn’t hesitate to trade veteran starting QB Sam Bradford to Minnesota eight days before the season-opening game. No wonder. Wentz played very well in Philly’s 29-10 win over Cleveland, completing 22 of 37 for 278 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers and a 101.0 rating.

24. Gee, you don’t think there’s a chance that Les Snead and Jeff Fisher chose the wrong quarterback, do you? Nah. Not possible. After all they are acclaimed, widely heralded personnel experts that have a great understanding of the QB position.

25. In his debut for Cleveland, Robert Griffin III completed 12 of 26 for 190 yards, no TDs and an interception. He also came out of the loss to the Eagles with a banged-up left shoulder (non-throwing side) and said he’ll be good to go for Sunday’s home game vs. Baltimore. The Browns appear to be lousy again (big shocker there) but RG3 didn’t make a difference in game one of his career re-start.

26. Seattle fought hard for a 12-10 win at home vs. Miami. The Seahawks defense, predictably, was fierce and hard to budge. But QB Russell Wilson suffered a significant ankle injury that could put him on the sideline for next week’s game at Los Angeles.

Seattle rushed for only 112 yards against the Dolphins (and Wilson had a chunk of that), so maybe those rumors (unconfirmed) of Marshawn Lynch considering a comeback from a brief retirement aren’t as off base as we think. By the way, Seattle went into the first game with only one backup quarterback, rookie Trayvon Boykin.

27. Speaking of running backs … I’m not saying Sam Bradford will take over as Minnesota’s quarterback and bring back memories of, say, Fran Tarkenton. But if you saw the Vikings game at Tennessee you’ll know why the front office wanted to swing a trade for Bradford.

The Titans stacked the box Sunday, and future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson, age 31, rushed for only 31 yards on 19 carries. (With a long run of 9 yards.) The Vikings needed their defense to score two touchdowns to pull out a road win.

28. Trouble on Revis Island: Cincinnati star wideout A.J. Green scorched Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis for 12 catches, 180 yards and a TD. If I may talk about the Jets a little more: just a terrible loss.

The Jets sacked Andy Dalton seven times, controlled the action for lengthy stretches and played in front of an emotional, passionate home crowd on the 15th anniversary of 9/11. And under favorable circumstances the Jets still lost by a point. Jets kicker Nick Folk missed an extra point and a gimme field goal. Gangrene.

jameis-winston
Jameis Winston threw for 281 yards and four touchdowns in Sunday’s win over Atlanta.

29. Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston opened against Atlanta and struggled early, completing only one of his first five passes with an interception. Head coach Dirk Koetter — who was elevated from offensive coordinator after the Buccaneers fired Lovie Smith — adjusted and put Winston in a no-huddle offense to get him going.

And in winning 31-24, Winston passed for 281 yards and four touchdowns — connecting with four different receivers for scores. With Koetter as coach, Winston will rack up a bunch of fantasy-football points in 2016.

30. I expected to see more muscle (and yards) on the ground from Tennessee and their new attack that contains power backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry.

That pair goes well with the effective perimeter running of Marcus Mariota, and Tennessee pounded the ball without mercy during the preseason. But that’s why we should be a little careful about getting overheated over preseason games.

31. Baltimore’s defense was largely immovable in the 13-7 win over Buffalo. And defense may keep the Ravens in playoff contention.

In his first game in nearly a year, Terrell Suggs played well in his return. (He tore his Achilles in last season’s opening game.) It was also good to see tight end Dennis Pitta make his way back from a long sequence of injuries.

32. New Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler should be OK as long as RB Lamar Miller is the centerpiece of the team offense. Miller rushed a career-high 28 times for 106 yards (and caught four passes) in Houston’s 23-14 win over Chicago. And though rookie receiver Will Fuller dropped a long pass late in the first half that should have gone for a touchdown, his speed will burn defenders this season.

Did you see Fuller made difficult catches in tight space, clicked off a touchdown on a wide-receiver screen, and did a gymnastics routine to pull in a catch along the sideline. Fuller is an exciting running mate for DeAndre Hopkins.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie