SportsPulse: Our first NFL Sunday is in the books and put to bed many offseason narratives and confirmed others. As Trysta Krick details, this Patriots team could be perfect. USA TODAY
After months of anticipation, the NFL’s 100th season finally kicked off in full force on Sunday. With it, six of the league’s eight new head coaches made their debuts. So too did a number of players who either changed addresses over the offseason, or broke into the league as highly-touted draft picks.
As expected, Week 1 offered a mixed bag of results and performances. Here’s a look at some of the best and worst debuts, and a few lukewarm showings in between.
• Marquise “Hollywood” Brown – Baltimore’s first-round pick out of Oklahoma wasted no time making his presence felt. He took each of the first two passes he caught to the house, scoring on a 47-yard pass from Lamar Jackson and then an 83-yard reception. Brown finished the day with four catches for 147 yards as the Ravens rolled to a 59-10 drubbing of the Dolphins. Additional tips of the cap to new Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, running back Mark Ingram (two touchdowns) and safety Earl Thomas (interception) for their big debuts.
• T.J. Hockenson – Detroit’s rookie tight end dominated with six catches for 131 yards and a touchdown — the most prolific debut for a tight end since the NFL merger in 1970. Hockenson’s team blew a 24-6 fourth-quarter lead and wound up tying 27-27, but the day will long stand out in his mind and in the record books.
• Arthur Smith – Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota hasn’t thrown three touchdowns in a single game since 2016, but he opened a make-or-break season with three scores, 248 yards, no interceptions and a 133.3 passer rating in Sunday’s 43-13 upset of Cleveland. Promoted this offseason from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator, Smith has worked to ensure a smooth transition for Mariota. He has aimed to build on last season’s offense, introduced by Matt LaFleur, to give the passer some much-needed continuity. The Titans also racked up 123 rushing yards and a touchdown as Smith worked to ensure balance.
• DeSean Jackson – Making his return to the City of Brotherly Love after six seasons away, the wide receiver proved he still has his game-breaking speed while torching Washington for eight catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns in a 32-27 victory.
• C.J. Mosley – After five seasons in Baltimore, Mosley bolted in free agency, signing a five-year, $85 million deal with New York. He accounted for nearly half of his team’s points, returning an interception for a touchdown, but the Jets did fall short against the Bills, 17-16.
• Nick Foles in Jacksonville– The Super Bowl LII MVP was supposed to be the missing piece for the Jaguars, and he did throw a 35-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Chark with 5:23 left in the first quarter. But on that same play, Foles took a hit that broke his collarbone. He is now out indefinitely.
• Adam Gase and the Jets – All six first-year head coaches whose teams played on Sunday lost, but Gase’s defeat proved particularly painful because his team held a 16-0 second-half lead before collapsing and losing to the visiting Bills. Although he is regarded as a sharp offensive mind, and despite the addition of Le’Veon Bell, Gase’s unit put only one touchdown.
• Freddie Kitchens and the Browns – No team entered the season with as much hype as Kitchens’ Browns did. But the interim OC-turned-head coach and his squad crumbled under the pressure on Sunday. Baker Mayfield threw three interceptions and Kitchens’ offense went 1-for-10 on third downs. As if that weren’t bad enough, a loaded defense looked rather toothless against a traditionally anemic Titans offense. Steve Wilks replaced Gregg Williams, who served as interim head coach last season, and he is regarded as a sharp defensive mind. But this Cleveland defense seemed to miss its fiery tone-setter from a year ago.
• Brian Flores and the Dolphins – It doesn’t get any uglier than this. The Dolphins’ defense made Lamar Jackson look like Patrick Mahomes. There’s no denying Jackson’s talent, but until Sunday, he was primarily known for his scrambling ability. On Sunday, Jackson had 324 passing yards and five touchdowns, both career highs. He only ran the ball three times for 6 yards. Meanwhile, the Miami offense had no punch. After pushing back on tanking accusations, the Dolphins clearly have a long rebuild in front of them.
• Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury – The start was awful. Kingsbury, his highly-anticipated Air Raid offense and the prized rookie quarterback Murray opened the game against Detroit with an embarrassing thud. The Cardinals struggled with protection. Kingsbury looked bewildered. Murray displayed questionable decision-making and had a passer rating of 28 through three quarters. But then, trailing 24-6 entering the fourth quarter, Murray and Co. found their rhythm. The No. 1 pick completed 14 of 17 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns and forced overtime with a touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald. The game ended in a tie, but Murray showed impressive poise and Kingsbury’s offense had some notable flashes. There certainly will be continued growing pains. But maybe this virgin voyage for quarterback and coach will entertain along the way.
• Bruce Arians and the Bucs – Tampa Bay lured Bruce Arians out of retirement and charged him with fixing Jameis Winston. Byron Leftwich called a good game against the 49ers, and at times Winston looked like the big-time passer Tampa needs. However, in crunch time, he reverted to his old form and finished with three interceptions, including a pick-six to seal a 31-17 loss to San Francisco. Arians had one questionable decision when he attempted an ill-fated fourth-and-goal conversion rather than try a field goal to cut the lead to 20-17 to open the fourth quarter. Additional chances to overtake the Cardinals remained, but Winston and Co. wilted.
• Zac Taylor and the Bengals – This rookie head coach fared better than expected. The Bengals hope the former Rams assistant is their Sean McVay. But Cincinnati has far more holes than Los Angeles did in McVay’s first year, and Taylor has no experience as a play-caller, so a rough outing against an established squad like Seattle was expected. But the Bengals actually looked decent and at times and actually gave the Seahawks a scare before falling short, 21-20. Sure, there were imperfections, but Taylor’s offense generated 429 yards and 22 first downs with Andy Dalton completing 35 of 51 passes for a career-high 418 yards and two touchdowns. Young wideout John Ross III was a star, catching seven passes for 158 yards and two scores. However, three turnovers proved costly. The Bengals and their young coach the very least looked like they belonged in this matchup, which couldn’t be said for every squad coached by a rookie head coach Sunday.
• Case Keenum – Raise your hand if you expected the journeyman quarterback and Washington’s star-devoid receiving unit to tally 257 yards and two touchdowns as they erupted for a 20-7 halftime lead against the hosting Eagles. Yeah, no chance anyone realistically anticipated that. But that’s the kind of start Washington had. Third-round draft pick Terry McLaurin had three-catches for 104 yards and a touchdown, and the ageless Vernon Davis scored on a 48-yard catch-hurdle-and-run. And then … the old Redskins showed up. They mustered only 6 yards in the third quarter. Keenum overthrew McLaurin on a would-be touchdown, and a weary defense surrendered one big play after another en route to defeat. Keenum did have a garbage-time touchdown to Trey Quinn make the score a respectable 32-27 (and cover the spread). But an inability to sustain early success ruined Washington’s chance for an upset and Keenum’s bid for a triumphant debut.
Follow Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.
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