Welcome to the very first installment of NFL Notebook, where I will give you my thoughts from what I watched on a week-to-week basis in the NFL. This is just Week 1, but there were some things that really stood out. This does not mean that these trends will continue.
The Patriots proved why they are one of the teams to beat this year
No Tom Brady. No Rob Gronkowski. No Rob Ninkovich. No Nate Solder. No Jonathan Cooper. No problem. Going into this game, the Patriots knew they would be without quarterback Tom Brady. They’ve known this for some time now, but that didn’t matter. Jimmy Garoppolo filled in just fine, going 24-33 for 264 yards and a touchdown, in his first-career NFL start. The offense was without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was out with a hamstring injury, which many gave the edge even more to the Arizona Cardinals. Bill Belichick and company were not on board with that and were able to survive a late field goal miss to walk away with the win. The rest of the AFC East, who wanted to take advantage of Brady’s absence, all failed to record a win. This division is the Patriots as it is every year.
Jack Del Rio’s gamble paid off for the Raiders
In what was one of the most exciting finishes of the opening weekend, the Oakland Raiders were able to beat the New Orleans Saints on a two-point conversion. Trailing 34-27, quarterback Derek Carr found wide receiver Seth Roberts for a touchdown with 47-seconds left. Conventional wisdom would be to kick the extra point and hope for overtime. Well that wisdom is not going to be the sure thing with the extra point kick being moved back and no longer a chip shot. Carr immediately put up two fingers, signaling he wanted to go for two. Del Rio obliged, took the gamble and it paid off. That is a huge win for Oakland, who finally seem to have a winning football team. If the defense can get better, which it should, Oakland can make some noise this season.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are coming
In years past, seeing an Aaron Rodgers-led Packers team against the Jaguars on the docket, many would automatically pick the Pack. However, this season many believed that the Jaguars were ready to compete. They showed that on Sunday, despite a 27-23 loss. The defense played well for the most part, but it is hard to beat Rodgers and company. Jacksonville has their franchise quarterback in Blake Bortles, who threw for 320 yards and a touchdown. He converted three fourth downs on the final drive, before the final one ultimately failed. The Jags ran a wide receiver screen to Allen Hurns, who was unable to convert. The end result wasn’t the desired one, but it was a moral victory and one that can propel this team to higher heights. It doesn’t hurt that they play in the weak AFC South either. Jacksonville will make a strong push for the playoffs this season.
Antonio Brown could eclipse the 2,000-yard plateau
Antonio Brown is the best wide receiver in the NFL today. He can beat you anywhere on the field, in a plethora of different ways. He can line up in either of the three wide receiver spots as well as in the backfield and still make plays. He is the best route-runner, bar none. On Monday night, Brown hauled in eight passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns, including one where he beat double coverage on a fourth-and-one, play action pass against the Redskins. Why Washington did not blanket AB with cornerback Josh Norman all night is a question many people might never understand. Brown often times lined up on the opposite side of the field of Norman and Ben Roethlisberger made Washington pay. No receiver in the history of the NFL has reached 2,000 receiving yards, but Brown is very well the many who could do it this season.
On a side note, the Steelers found a way to win on the road without key components, much like the Patriots. Along with Brown, DeAngelo Williams rushed 26 times for 143 yards and two scores in place of the suspended Le’Veon Bell, while Roethlisberger finished with 300 passing yards, four three touchdowns and a pick.
Jameis Winston is a superstar in the making
A lot of people knew Jameis Winston was going to be good coming out of Florida State. That was even more validated when he won the Rookie of the Year award last season. On Sunday, Winston again showed why he is a budding superstar in the NFL. Winston threw and early interception that led to an Atlanta Falcons touchdown, but that didn’t get the former Heisman Trophy winner down. Instead, he responded with a nine-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with a four-yard touchdown, his first of four on the day, to tight end Brandon Myers. He tossed a 34-yard touchdown pass to running back to Charles Sims, which was aided by some of the worst tackling you will ever see. Winston led the Bucs to touchdowns on each of their first two possessions of the second half. The first was a 30-yard strike to tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins. The next came on a 45-yard bomb to wide receiver Mike Evans. Winston will have the Bucs in good position for years to come.