The excitement of Week 1 in the NFL is palpable. New coaches, new players, new beginnings. Hope is everywhere. The road to the Super Bowl is wide open.
But for several teams with big expectations, Week 1 was kind of a dud.
Those media-darling, Super Bowl-bound Cleveland Browns? Lost by 30 points at home to the Titans.
The new-look Jets? Blew a 16-0 lead at home and lost to the Bills.
The Falcons, Steelers, and Giants looked listless and ill-prepared. The eight new head coaches combined to go 1-6-1, with the one win going to the Packers’ Matt LaFleur, whose exciting new offense scored a whopping 10 points against the Bears.
Several games were simply noncompetitive, as three teams won by at least 30 points, the most in a Week 1 since 1997.
And we haven’t even mentioned the Dolphins losing by seven touchdowns at home in Brian Flores’s debut.
The opening slate of games turned out to be the Week of the Dud, which is where we begin our Week 1 Review:
■ Everyone knew the Dolphins would be bad, but the 59-10 loss to the Ravens was historically bad. The 49-point deficit is the fifth-largest in Week 1 history, and the biggest blowout since the Browns beat the Steelers, 51-0, in 1989.
The Dolphins allowed eight touchdowns, allowed Lamar Jackson to compile a perfect 158.3 passer rating, and were outgained, 643 yards to 200. It was so bad that several Miami players reportedly called their agents after the game, begging to get traded.
And the road doesn’t get any easier, with the Dolphins’ next three games against the Patriots, Cowboys, and Chargers. Start stitching those aqua Tua jerseys.
■ No team was a bigger dud than the Browns, who followed up six months of hype with an embarrassing 43-13 home loss to the Titans. Baker Mayfield threw three interceptions, and Odell Beckham’s debut was a yawner, with seven catches for 71 yards and no touchdowns.
The game was competitive late in the third quarter, with the Browns trailing only 15-13, but they fell apart over the final 17 minutes, allowing four touchdowns. That doesn’t bode well for first-year coach Freddie Kitchens.
■ Of the other first-time head coaches, the best performance was by Cincinnati’s Zac Taylor, and his team lost. But the Bengals were feisty in Seattle and nearly pulled off the upset as Andy Dalton threw for 418 yards in a 21-20 loss.
And the second-best performance came in a tie. Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals couldn’t get anything going for 3½ quarters, but he and Kyler Murray deserve credit for pulling off an impressive fourth-quarter comeback. Murray’s 54 pass attempts were the second-most in a quarterback’s debut (Sam Bradford, 55).
Otherwise, the new coaches fizzled. LaFleur got the victory, but he clearly hasn’t clicked yet with Aaron Rodgers, who threw for just 203 yards and looked discombobulated trying to run the new offense. The Jets’ Adam Gase couldn’t get anything going with Sam Darnold (175 yards on 41 attempts) or Le’Veon Bell (92 total yards and a touchdown) and blew a big lead at home to a division rival.
The Bucs’ Bruce Arians, brought in to salvage Jameis Winston, couldn’t prevent his QB from throwing two pick-sixes in a 31-17 loss to the 49ers. And Vic Fangio’s defense didn’t register a single sack or even a quarterback hit in the Broncos’ 24-16 loss to the Raiders.
■ Three teams with returning coaches had serious flops, which will turn up the heat on their job security.
Mike Tomlin’s Steelers have been a major disappointment the past two seasons, and his team was woefully underprepared in its 33-3 loss to the Patriots. Dan Quinn replaced all three of his coordinators this offseason, and the Falcons responded with a heartless 28-12 loss to the Vikings. And the Giants look no closer to turning it around in Pat Shurmur’s second season following a 35-17 loss to the Cowboys. Eli Manning wasn’t the problem, but he wasn’t the solution, either.
■ Jacksonville’s debut was also a dud, but only because of bad injury luck. Nick Foles’s big debut lasted just 11 snaps, as he suffered a broken clavicle midway through the first quarter of the 40-26 loss to the Chiefs.
The Jaguars were considered a strong bounce-back team by many this year, but now will have to rely on sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew for at least the next couple of months (they also traded for Steelers backup Josh Dobbs Monday).
Minshew actually looked OK in his debut, completing 22 of 25 passes for 275 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. But it’s asking a lot of him to keep the Jaguars afloat until (if?) Foles returns.
■ Yup, the Chiefs still look awesome. Pat Mahomes threw for his typical 378 yards and three touchdowns, Sammy Watkins exploded for nine catches, 198 yards, and three touchdowns, and the Chiefs came away with an impressive two-touchdown win in the scorching heat of Jacksonville.
The Chiefs did lose Tyreek Hill to a clavicle injury that should keep him out for weeks, though it appears he avoided a major injury and should return. But the Chiefs look explosive and ready to pick up right where they left off last year.
Is there a way the NFL can let the Patriots and Chiefs play in the Super Bowl?
■ You do NOT want to face the Ravens in Week 1. They have won four openers in a row, and their last three by a combined score of 126-13: 59-10 this year over Miami, 47-3 over Buffalo last year, and 20-0 over the Bengals in 2017. John Harbaugh is 9-3 overall in Week 1, and also has wins of 44-13 and 35-7 on his résumé.
The Ravens’ 643 yards were the second-most for Week 1 in NFL history (the Rams had 722 in 1951). The Ravens also set a franchise record for total yards by nearly 100 (553 in 2011).
■ I’m going to be tracking the new pass interference/instant replay rule this year to see how often the plays get challenged and overturned.
Coaches challenged this play only four times in the 16 games, and only one call was overturned: Tampa Bay challenged an incomplete pass and won, with Richard Sherman being given a defensive pass interference penalty. It marked the first time in NFL history that a flag was “put on the field” by a replay challenge.
Minnesota and Seattle both lost a challenge to take away a defensive pass interference, and the penalties were upheld. Green Bay lost a challenge looking for a defensive pass interference, and the no-call was upheld.
The Jets had a touchdown nullified by an offensive pass interference that was called upon replay, but this was an automatic review, not a challenge.
Director of officiating Al Riveron established a very high bar for overturning calls during the preseason, and stuck to it for Week 1.
■ Even after the Texans drafted a left tackle in the first round, and traded the moon for Laremy Tunsil two weeks ago, they still can’t protect Deshaun Watson, who is coming off a 62-sack season. Watson took six sacks and 11 hits in Monday night’s 30-28 loss to the Saints, and was in and out of the medical tent during the first half.
Perhaps Watson’s fearlessness in the pocket and willingness to extend plays is what leads to him taking so many hits. And no matter how many resources the Texans sink into their offensive line, they won’t be able to protect Watson unless he changes his style.
■ Now we know why the Raiders gave $22 million guaranteed to free agent receiver Tyrell Williams, even after trading for Antonio Brown. Williams had six catches for 105 yards against the Broncos. The Raiders probably had an inkling this spring that they needed to sign a second receiver, in case this Brown thing doesn’t work out.
■ Titans CB Malcolm Butler: Had a 38-yard pick-6, his second career touchdown, to cap the win over the Browns.
■ Niners QB Jimmy Garoppolo: Not the best performance in his return from ACL surgery, completing 18 of 27 passes for 166 yards, one touchdown, and a pick-6. But he got the win.
■ Colts QB Jacoby Brissett: Was an efficient 21 of 27 passing for 190 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions in a 30-24 overtime loss to the Chargers. Brissett marched the Colts 80 yards for a tying touchdown in the final minute of the fourth quarter.
■ Lions DE Trey Flowers: Had two tackles and no other stats, playing 53 of 89 snaps in the Lions’ 27-27 tie with the Cardinals.
■ Lions WR Danny Amendola: Had seven catches for 104 yards and a touchdown.
■ Raiders RT Trent Brown: Played all 58 snaps at right tackle, helping Derek Carr complete 22 of 26 passes as the Raiders didn’t allow a sack or QB hit.
■ Lions coach Matt Patricia: Tied the Cardinals. Better than last year, when he lost, 48-17, to the Jets.
■ Dolphins coach Brian Flores: His 49-point loss was the second-largest in a coaching debut in NFL history (Saints’ John North, 55 points, 1973).
■ Titans coach Mike Vrabel: Established an early lead for Coach of the Year with win over the Browns on the road.
■ Houston coach Bill O’Brien: His team fought hard in a tough loss to the Saints on the road. But he still doesn’t know how to manage the clock or timeouts.
Stats of the week
(With help from NFL Research and ESPN Stats and Info)
■ The 49ers had three interceptions against the Bucs, topping their total (two) from their previous 17 games.
■ Ravens rookie WR Marquise Brown had an efficient day, scoring a touchdown on each of his first two catches. He is the first player in NFL history with multiple 40-yard touchdowns in his debut. Brown played just 14 snaps.
■ Texans DE J.J. Watt failed to record a tackle or QB hit for the first time in 105 career games.
■ Lions TE T.J. Hockenson’s 131 receiving yards were the most by a tight end in his debut in NFL history.
■ Colts K Adam Vinatieri missed two field goal attempts and an extra point in the same game for the first time in his 24-year career.
■ Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins, who had zero drops on 163 targets in 2018, had three drops Monday night.
■ Ben Roethlisberger’s streak of 26 games with a touchdown pass was snapped, ending the longest streak in the NFL. Kirk Cousins now has the longest current streak at 17 games.
■ Dolphins QB Ryan Fitzpatrick became the first player to start and throw a pass for eight teams.
■ Melvin who? RB Austin Ekeler became the first player in Chargers history to compile 150 total yards and three touchdowns in a season opener.
■ Future Hall of Famer DeSean Jackson? The Eagles WR scored his 30th touchdown of 50-plus yards, surpassing Randy Moss for second all time. Jerry Rice has the record (36).