NFL Week 1 Recap: Mariota shines in debut, Packers squeeze by Bears
By: Andrew Ziemba
Carolina Panthers 20, Jacksonville Jaguars 9
Since being drafted first overall in the 2011 draft, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had not won a season opener until Sunday when he paid the Jacksonville Jaguars a visit. Even in a win, Newton seemed to be playing with some early-season jitters, completing just 18/31 passes for 175 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. For a majority of the contest, the two teams played to each other’s level, entering the second half in a 10-9 race in favor of the Panthers. Vocal Carolina defensive back Josh Norman intercepted second-year Jags quarterback Blake Bortles (22/40, 183 yds, 1 TD, 2 INT) for a 30-yard pick-six early in the 3rd quarter, effectively sealing the fates of both teams. Jacksonville could not muster up enough offense to get themselves back into the game, especially considering that in that second half the Panthers defense only allowed 75 yards total while compiling two interceptions (including the one by Norman) and four of their five total sacks on the game. Unfortunately, Carolina achieved all of this without their leader, star linebacker Luke Kuechly. Kuechly went down in the waning minutes of the first half with a rather serious-looking head collision, and is now in the league’s mandated concussion protocol.
GAME NOTE: Neither team reached over 105 yards rushing combined across any of their players that ran the ball. Carolina just reached that mark with four different rushers, while Jacksonville only attained 96 with three.
Green Bay Packers 31, Chicago Bears 23
There may not be a more classic rivalry in the NFL than Chicago and Green Bay, and seeing them play on opening day was certainly a treat. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler entered the game 1-11 all-time versus the Packers, but tried his best to lead fans to believe that he could buck that trend. With the help of running back Matt Forte’s 141-yard performance, and solid play from a receiving corps including Alshon Jeffery (5 catches, 78 yds), Marquess Wilson (2 catches, 59 yds) and Martellus Bennett (5 catches, 55 yds and 1 TD), Cutler seemed poised to spoil the Packers’ hopes of starting the season off on a good note. However, this game saw the reintroduction of another classic that being the connection of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and receiver James Jones, who spent the previous season with the Oakland Raiders after 7 stellar season with the Packers. Jones (4 catches, 51 yds) caught two of Rodgers’ three touchdown passes in the contest, a welcome sight for Packers fans who were worried about the status of their team when star receiverJordy Nelson went down with an ACL tear in the preseason.
GAME NOTE: Not only does this loss drop Jay Cutler to 1-12 versus Green Bay, he has also thrown an interception in every start against them since joining the Bears in 2009.
Cincinnati Bengals 33, Oakland Raiders 13
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton certainly came out of the gates in his season debut this Sunday. It’s no secret that Dalton performs very well during the regular season, and his statistics versus the Raiders (25/34, 269 yards, 2 TD and zero interceptions) were clearly indicative of that. His running back tandem of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard produced a solid 126 yards between the two of them, and tight end Tyler Eifert had himself a day, hauling in nine of Dalton’s passes for 104 yards and both of Dalton’s passing touchdowns. Sadly, the Bengals plethora of offense came at the expense of brand new Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio and his relatively young team. Second-year quarterback Derek Carr, the only rookie to start every game last season, looked promising early (7/12, 61 yards), but made the mistake of stiff-arming a defender whilst running out of bounds early in the contest, bruising the thumb joint on his throwing hand and sidelining him for at least next week. Matt McGloin was unfortunately not very good in relief, and Oakland had trouble producing consistent offense for the majority of the game.
GAME NOTE: Controversial Bengals CB Adam “Pacman” Jones was up to his usual ways in this contest, leading the Cincy defense with 10 tackles and a defended pass. However, he also lived up to his label as a troublemaker when he ripped highly-touted Oakland rookie WR Amari Cooper’s helmet from his head and proceeded to shove Cooper’s head into said helmet. No punishment of any kind has been handed down from the league, even after official review at the league offices.
Tennessee Titans 42, Tampa Bay 14
The schedulers at the offices of the NFL certainly had to have some sense of humor in this game being scheduled for Week 1, as it featured the top two picks from this year’s Draft – quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston of the Titans and Bucs, respectively. The two have been compared relentlessly since both declared for the draft this past winter, and what better way to get a good comparison than to have the two teams face off right off the bat? The contrast between the two was stark, and though conclusions certainly cannot be made after one game, it seems that trends are beginning to be set by these two. Mariota was brilliant, gaining 209 yards and four touchdowns on only 13 pass completions (he threw 16 total). It should also be noted that Mariota had the best total QBR of every player rated for that stat in Week 1. His 95.7 was 1.3 points higher than the #2 player (one Aaron Rodgers), and 4+ points above any of the remaining players on that list. By comparison, Winston attained a total QBR of 6.7, the absolute worst on the aforementioned list. He completed 16/33 passes for 210 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
GAME NOTE: Both players were known as dual-threats in college, with Mariota being the naturally elusive one and Winston being the Roethlisberger-like kind of scrambler, but in Sunday’s game both seemed to have adapted to the NFL style of pocket-passing. Neither rushed more than 6 times, and each run was seemingly warranted, even by NFL standards. It’s good to see two young talents develop an understanding of the game they now play.
Philadelphia Eagles 24, Atlanta Falcons 26
The first Monday night game of the 2015 season certainly did not disappoint. The highly-touted Philly offense did not look cohesive for much of the game, led by quarterback Sam Bradford, but did compile a respectable comeback in the second half. Bradford went 36/52 for 336 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Receiver Jordan Matthews was also solid, catching 10 balls for 102 yards, but had a key drop that led to an interception in the 4th quarter that solidified the Falcons victory. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan had a comparable day to that of Bradford, going 23/34 for 298 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He had plenty of help from his receivers as well, with Roddy White and Julio Jones jointly compiling 225 yards and two touchdowns. The Atlanta defense seemed to have the Eagle’s number throughout the contest, even with head coach Chip Kelly’s mad scientist-style offense on the field.
GAME NOTE: 2014 rushing champ Demarco Murray, playing his first game with the Eagles, only gained 9 yards on 8 carries. How he performs in this new offense will be one of the major storylines of this season, and it has not started off well thus far.