The humiliation of Aaron Rodgers, and other takeaways

There were also sacks, an interception, and so many dinks and dunks that even Kirk Cousins started to get a little embarrassed. And of course there was lots of RBF: Rodgers Bemused Face, the priceless expressions Rodgers makes in television close-ups which convey messages like a skunk just sprayed my dog, I left my headlights on all night or (most appropriately for Rodgers) no human beings are worthy of anything except my contempt, but especially not these receivers.

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, Davante Adams was doing everything possible to spark a Raiders comeback against the Los Angeles Chargers. At about the same time as Rodgers’ last-gasp series ended with an ugly blown-up slot screen to Watson on third down and a prayer to a well-covered Robert Tonyan on fourth, Adams was capping a Raiders drive by reaching to grab a short touchdown pass at the right pylon. Adams’ 10 catches for 141 yards weren’t enough to beat the Chargers, but Packers receivers Christian “Whoopsie” Watson, Romeo Doubs, Sammy Watkins, Juwann Winfree, and Randall Cobb combined for just 120 yards on 12 catches. And of course, Jefferson’s heroics were enough to fuel an entire series of Rodgers offseason manifestos.

Lest Walkthrough be accused of jumping to any conclusions: the Packers were playing without starting tackles Elgton Jenkins and David Bakhtiari, who are expected back soon. So the Packers dink-dunk-screen-reverse-punt game plan was not exclusively the result of replacing Adams with a bunch of guys from a Senior Bowl Sleepers article. Allen Lazard should also return soon to help the receiving corps. Better days will come for Rodgers and associates. Heck, they host the Chicago Bears, who are coming off a soppy win, in Week 2.

But the Packers are a Super Bowl frontrunner, so they are graded on a different curve. Sunday’s loss had significant Super Bowl implications. It’s both a conference and a divisional loss on the playoff tiebreaker ledgers. More troublingly, the Vikings looked like the better team at every position on the field except quarterback. The Rams’ Thursday night loss to the Bills was an unmitigated disaster, but it’s one thing to fall flat against an out-of-conference Super Bowl favorite and another to do so against a familiar foe that has spent four years defining the exact median NFL performance level. Packers fans who aren’t worried must have spent Sunday with their fingers in their ears. And Rodgers? He was humiliated on Sunday. You better believe he’ll be sharing the misery all week long.

Matt Ryan, Baker Mayfield, and Beyond: NFL Week 1 Debut Roundup

Week 1 of the NFL season is all about debuts and first impressions, of course. Rodgers’ Adams-less Junior Achievement Receiving Corps made an awful first impression. Adams himself made a fine one for the Raiders in a losing effort. But there are lots and lots of others to talk about. Let’s get rolling!

The New England Patriots’ Ask Madden Patricia Offense

The Patriots’ biggest problem isn’t that clueless Matt Patricia is calling the offensive plays with Bill Belichick looming over his shoulder and waiting for him to make a mistake like a toxic Little League dad. No, the Patriots’ biggest problem is that they lack any speed whatsoever on offense.

The Patriots committed few glaring tactical errors in Sunday’s 20-7 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Oh, there was a false start here, an unnecessary timeout there, a second-and-17 handoff, a sense that Patricia failed to install a solution to the Brandon Jones safety blitz that led to a Mac Jones strip-sack, and so forth. But the larger issue is that when Jones needed a big play down the field, he was forced to throw to DeVante Parker (early-game tip-drill interception), Jonnu Smith, Nelson Agholor, or Hunter Henry. Rarely did any of them have separation. Josh McDaniels could scheme these slow-pokes open AND do a fine job of keeping the Patriots ahead of the sticks so Jones wouldn’t be forced to flutter too many third-/fourth-down deep shots. And even McDaniels needed Jets-caliber opponents or typhoon-force winds to maintain the illusion. Patricia doesn’t stand a chance while operating out of Baby’s First Playbook. When your greatest offensive highlight is Ty Montgomery rolling into the end zone after a flair pass to break a shutout late in the third quarter, it’s a sure sign that your team lacks the sizzle it needs to hang with opponents such as the Bills.

The Patriots defense still looks stout enough to win a bunch of games if the offense can make it to 21 points. Based on what we saw on Sunday, that’s not gonna happen very often.

Tyreek Hill and the Tua Tagovailoa Experience, Miami Dolphins

Let’s see, there’s:

  • Tyreek catching the quick underneath smash route, then trying to elude seven defenders for a gain of 5 yards;
  • Tyreek motioning across the formation, then part of the way back, then doing a little back-‘n’-forth boot-scoot behind the tight end before the snap, only to catch a flare pass and get immediately flattened by Kyle Dugger;
  • Tyreek running a would-be deep route, realizing that Tua couldn’t reach him if he had a golf cart, then stopping and out-leaping one of the Patriots defensive backs named Jones (it’s not gonna be worth learning which one is which this year) for a 23-yard gain and a very Tua-worthy highlight.
  • RPO? Heck yes, we’re still the Dolphins.
  • End around! Didn’t see that coming! Oh yeah you did. Anyway, gain of 6.

Hill finished with eight catches for 94 yards, plus that 6-yard run. The Dolphins offensive line is still five mall cops trying to stop a looting spree. And Tagovailoa’s Sunday blooper reel features lots of throws directly into the turf while getting sacked.

In summary: the new Mike McDaniel Dolphins offense is chaotically, entertainingly bad, but still bad.

Matt Ryan, Indianapolis Colts

Ryan threw a screen-pass interception, got strip-sacked, fumbled a snap, and often looked a lot like that fellow who got run out of Indianapolis in 2021 through three quarters against the Houston Texans. Then came the Lovie-ing, when the Texans reached the 20-point barrier at the edge of their known universe and began playing not to lose. And not lose they did, despite Ryan finding his rhythm and helping the Colts score 13 fourth-quarter points in a 20-20 tie.

To be fair to Ryan: Alec Pierce and Ashton Dulin dropped passes in the end zone on drives that ended with a fourth-down stuff (on a Nyheim Hines Wildcat play, no less) and a field goal. And the Colts would be 1-0 if not for Rodrigo Blankenship’s 42-yard overtime misfire.

But that’s enough Ryan benefit-of-the-doubt! The Colts’ game-tying final drive featured 49 Jonathan Taylor rushing yards against the Lovie-2 defense. Frank Reich more or less shrugged instead of trying to be aggressive when the Colts got the ball with 1:16 to play and two timeouts in a tied fourth quarter. This is not the veteran franchise quarterback experience you were sold, Colts fans. Instead, it’s the veteran franchise quarterback experience the Falcons have been dealing with for the last four years.

Baker Mayfield, Carolina Panthers

Mayfield spent the first 25 minutes of the Panthers’ 25-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns bobbling snaps, taking sacks, tripping over himself while scrambling, getting multiple passes tipped, and misfiring over the middle of the field. It’s almost as if he joined the team in July and didn’t get as many first-team training camp reps as he should have or something!

Mayfield, like other veteran quarterbacks who started out flat on Sunday (Matt Ryan, Jameis Winston), settled down against a Browns team that plans to never throw downfield at all this season until the Lifetime Network switches to all Christmas movies, and will therefore keep a lot of opponents in games. Mayfield’s handful of splash plays and a fourth-quarter comeback weren’t enough, however, as the Browns mustered a late game-winning field goal drive out of grit and roughing-the-passer penalties. Also, the botched snaps never really went away; one nearly cost the Panthers the game while they were trying to line up their go-ahead field goal after the two-minute warning.

Bottom line: “Baker Mayfield Revenge” is a rather silly concept, anyway. And now we can stop pretending to pay attention to the Panthers.

Mitch Trubisky, Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers’ plan entering this year was to win a bunch of games with their pass rush while Trubisky took care of the ball and mixed screen passes with other YAC-heavy passing concepts to his playmakers. That plan worked about as well as it possibly could in Sunday’s 23-20 overtime victory over the Bengals. There are only three problems:

  • T.J. Watt may have torn a pectoral muscle late in Sunday’s game. There go many of the sacks;
  • Najee Harris got hurt in the fourth quarter and was seen leaving the stadium wearing a boot. There might go one of the playmakers, though initial reports are that Harris’ injury is not that serious;
  • The Steelers settled for eight punts and allowed the Bengals to stay in the game, then come back to force overtime in the fourth quarter, even when everything was working optimally.

So now it appears that the new Watt-less plan is for Trubisky to keep up appearances until Mike Tomlin thinks Kenny Pickett can take the field without getting clobbered. Which, really, isn’t that much different from the original plan.

The Rebuilt Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Line

Yuck! Joe Burrow was sacked seven times, twice in the first quarter. Steelers defenders were credited with 11 quarterback hits and Burrow spent much of his late-game comeback effort running for his life or calling his own number when he saw a running lane.

So far, Bengals 2022 football looks a lot like Bengals 2021 football: Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and the other playmakers drawing plays in the sandlot dirt with stunning success and little help from their blockers or coaches. But the Bengals should be better after spending big bucks to upgrade 60% of their offensive line, and they need to be better to keep up with the AFC arms race.

Mickey Loomis’ New Orleans Saints Escrow All-Stars

Jameis Winston was under constant pressure from the Falcons defense—repeat, the Falcons defense—for three quarters. He mixed off-target throws with turnover-worthy plays as a result. The lone Saints touchdown through the first three quarters came on some signature Taysom Hill Wildcat nonsense.

Then came the fourth quarter, the Falcons witching hour, and Winston began completing deep passes to wide-open Michael Thomas, Chris Olave, and Jarvis Landry as if they were practicing against air in a come-from-behind, Falcons-gonna-Falcon 27-26 victory.

Overall, the Saints were inconsistent on offense and surprisingly ordinary on defense: perfect for second place in the NFC South, but not ideal for the Team That Debt Consolidation Loans Built. Still, Landry caught seven passes for 114 yards and Thomas hauled in two touchdowns instead of sitting at home with his leg elevated atop a pile of Loomis Bucks, so the Saints have some success to build upon.

Marcus Mariota, Atlanta Falcons

Arthur Smith unveiled a Big Ol’ Bucket O’ Bootlegs offense for Marcus Mariota. For three quarters, the pistol-formation rollouts and read-option concepts were enough to produce some points against the mighty Saints defense.

Ultimately, Smith ran out of misdirection, and the Saints figured out that Atlanta’s 10th player down to the bottom of the roster would barely cut it in the USFL. The result was a wacky new variation on the heartbreaking last-second Falcons loss. Falcons football is still tortuous with Mariota under center, but in a different way.

Khalil Mack and the Retooled Los Angeles Chargers Defense

Mack recorded three sacks, including the fourth-down strip-sack that iced the game, in the Chargers’ 24-19 win over the Las Vegas Raiders. Slot cornerback Bryce Callahan, a quiet offseason addition, pitched in a fourth-quarter interception. And the Raiders rushed 13 times for just 64 yards, with nary a third-and-forever draw play for a first down in sight. The Chargers even produced a third-and-1 stuff! The Chargers have a few issues yet—Justin Herbert and the Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread Offense still settled for lots of three-and-outs and a goal-line stop against a so-so defense—but a bumbling run defense no longer appears to be one of them.

Howie Roseman’s Latest Philadelphia Eagles Science Experiment

A.J. Brown caught 10 passes for 155 yards. More importantly, he and Jalen Hurts connected several times over the middle of the field, opening up a new element for the Eagles offense. James Bradberry added a pick-six. The Detroit Lions came out of the tunnel like the entire team had just taken an adrenaline needle to the heart and surged back late to backdoor cover as only they can. But the Eagles held on for a 38-35 victory.

Both the Eagles and Saints won by close final scores against bottom-feeders, but the Eagles appeared dominant for stretches, while the Saints needed a fourth-quarter wakeup call to stave off an upset. Let’s give both Howie and Mickey Loomis a “W” for their offseason strategies, but the Eagles were more impressive when you look past the similar final scores.

Carson Wentz, Washington Commanders

Welcome to the Carson Coaster, Commanders fans: three quarters of Competent Carson, then an early fourth-quarter of Carson Comedy Classics featuring two interceptions (and a third which was nullified by a penalty), followed by a late fourth-quarter cameo by the rarely-seen 2017 Great Carson. That’s as good as it gets, and Commanders fans should be thrilled that Wentz exorcized his Jaguars demons in a 28-22 vengeance victory over the team that humiliated him with the playoffs on the line last season. Lotta demons left, folks. Like: nothing but demons.

Week 1 NFL News ‘n’ Notes

Your weekly roundup of off-field developments.

Lamar Jackson reportedly turned down a six-year contract with $133 million guaranteed, more guaranteed money than Russell Wilson or Kyler Murray.

There’s “betting on yourself” and then there’s “Leave that heap of roulette winnings on the table. I’m gonna play Powerball instead!”

Los Angeles Rams considered adding Jimmy Garoppolo as insurance against Matthew Stafford’s injured shoulder.

But Matthew Stafford with an injured shoulder IS Jimmy Garoppolo.

Indianapolis Colts sign Quenton Nelson to an extension making him the highest-paid guard in the NFL.

The four-year extension guarantees that Nelson will be blocking for the Colts’ next three starting quarterbacks.

Le’Veon Bell TKO’s Adrian Peterson in a Saturday night boxing match.

Gonna be awkward when they’re both on the Ravens roster by Week 9.

Week 1 NFL Awards

The most important weekly awards in the world are back!

Offensive Line of the Week

The Kansas City Chiefs opened their 44-21 drubbing of the Arizona Cardinals with 11-play, seven-play, and 11-play touchdown drives. They ended the game with a trio of run-heavy, clock-munching touchdown drives. And Patrick Mahomes was not sacked once, though he did suffer what sounds like a minor wrist injury when he landed hard after taking a hit on an all-out blitz. So this week’s award goes to some familiar names: Orlando Brown, Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, and Andrew Wylie, plus Nick Allegretti, who filled in for the injured Smith for much of the game.

Defender of the Week

We mentioned Khalil Mack’s three sacks earlier. He shares this trophy with Pittsburgh Steelers edge rusher Alex Highsmith, who recorded three of his team’s seven sacks and forced one fumble that led to a Steelers field goal. If T.J. Watt really did tear a pectoral muscle on Sunday, the Steelers are gonna need more big games out of Highsmith, who will also be getting a wee bit more attention from opposing offensive lines.

Special Teamer of the Week

Minkah Fitzpatrick blocked what would have been a game-winning extra point for the Bengals. Fitzpatrick also returned an interception for a touchdown on the Bengals’ second play of the game, but that doesn’t count toward Special Teamer of the Week!

Honorable mention goes to New York Giants punter Jamie Gillan, who pinned the Tennessee Titans inside their own 20 five times on six punts. That’s right, the Giants can now win games due to special teams and field position after Joe Judge leaves. Enjoy your crackerjack coaching staff, Patriots fans!

Best Supporting Actor in Someone Else’s Highlight

Ladies and gentlemen, the Atlanta Falcons football experience, as exemplified by someone named Dean Marlowe (21), here seen having a fainting spell just as he’s about to tackle the invincible Taysom Hill:

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