What we learned in NFL Week 1: Bummed Bengals, Love for Packers and more


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Football is finally back.

The San Francisco 49ers want you to know they are, too.

Tom Brady returned to New England, in his old No. 12 jersey, not for the start of 24th season but to celebrate his unrivaled run with the Patriots.

And Sean Payton was back, too, back on an NFL sideline for the first time in a year, his debut in Denver spoiled by a late rally by the Raiders.

Here’s what stood out from a busy opening Sunday in the NFL:

Bengals shouldn’t panic — yet

The most stunning score from the early window came in Cleveland, where the Browns whipped the Bengals 24-3. Cincinnati — a popular pick to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LVIII in February — looked rusty and unprepared, and it starts, somewhat stunningly, with the quarterback. Four days after becoming the highest-paid player in league history (hello, $275 million) Joe Burrow played perhaps the worst game of his career, finishing 14-for-31 for 81 yards and no touchdowns. Burrow, a perennial MVP candidate, was actually pulled late in the fourth quarter as the Browns put the finishing touches on their rout in the rain.

It was by far the worst passing game of Burrow’s career; all told, Cincinnati managed just six first downs and finished 2-for-15 on third down. That’ll get you beat against anybody in this league, especially an in-state rival that’s now won nine of 11 in the series.

“This isn’t the team that we are going to be,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “We all understand that.”

It likely won’t be. An ugly Week 1 loss isn’t anything to overreact to. Burrow missed most of training camp while he recovered from a calf injury. The Bengals have started slow before and recovered (see: the 2022 season.) There’s no reason to panic.

Still, it was stunning to see one of the league’s premier teams — and one of its premier players — get absolutely handled in this fashion.

A Lovely start for Green Bay

Maybe the Packers knew something we didn’t.

And maybe Jordan Love, like his predecessor, was more ready than anyone realized.

It’s just one week — and it’s just the Bears — so caution is essential here. But Green Bay’s easy 38-20 win in Chicago felt like just about every Packers-Bears game over the past decade, save Green Bay’s new quarterback. In the first game of the post-Aaron Rodgers era, the Packers didn’t look much different.

After sitting for three seasons behind Rodgers, Love was excellent, throwing for 245 yards and three touchdowns. It was an encouraging start. Problem is: You can’t play the Bears every week.

The 49ers are still a problem

Maybe Brock Purdy is as good as the 49ers believe he is.

In his first start since the UCL injury he suffered in January’s NFC Championship Game loss, the 49ers starter looked every bit as good as he did late last season — maybe even a bit better.

And the 49ers, a team with genuine Super Bowl aspirations, reminded everyone why they’re one of the most complete teams in football.

San Francisco dismantled Pittsburgh 30-7 in a game that was never close. Purdy finished a very Purdy-like 19-for-29 for 220 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions, leaning on the bevy of playmakers at his disposal. Start with running back Christian McCaffrey, who carried the ball 22 times for 159 yards and a touchdown, and don’t forget the 49ers vaunted defense, which intercepted Kenny Pickett twice and didn’t allow a first down until 39 seconds remained in the first half.

At one point in the second quarter, the total yards looked like this: 49ers 184, Steelers 1.

“We got kicked in the teeth today, in a lot of ways,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin vented postgame.

That just about tells the story from Pittsburgh.

San Francisco? Still very good.

The Steelers? So much for that first-team offense lighting up the preseason.

Payton sees task ahead

How’s this for a start? Never lacking in guts, Payton rolled the dice to start his coaching career with the Broncos, calling an onside kick to begin the game against the Raiders. It was reminiscent of Payton’s famous call to open the second half of Super Bowl XLIV against the Colts — a successful onside kick that swung the game in the Saints’ favor.

This one didn’t work out as well: Broncos cornerback Tremon Smith touched the ball before it reached the 10-yard mark, gifting the Raiders excellent field position, which they took advantage of by scoring a touchdown.

Denver quarterback Russell Wilson was sharp in the first half, completing 17 of 19 throws for 125 yards and two touchdowns, but he cooled after the break, accumulating just 52 more yards. Couple that with some special teams blunders from the Broncos — kicker Brandon McManus missed an extra point and a 55-yard field goal — and the door was left open for a Raiders comeback. Las Vegas QB Jimmy Garoppolo made the throws needed to complete it.

Rookie QBs struggle

Three quarterbacks went in the first four picks of April’s draft; by late August, all were named Week 1 starters for their respective teams. In an era defined by the most important position on the field, teams are hungrier than ever to find out if they’ve got the right young quarterback.

Sunday’s debuts went about as expected: All three took their lumps.

For Carolina, top pick Bryce Young managed just 146 passing yards — not completing a single pass longer than 14 yards — and threw two interceptions in a 24-10 loss to Atlanta. For Houston, No. 2 pick C.J. Stroud completed his first career pass to … C.J. Stroud … then struggled for most of the game, finishing 26-for-44 for 229 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions in an ugly 25-9 loss in Baltimore.

And in Indianapolis, fourth pick Anthony Richardson played a clean game through three quarters that had the Colts believing they could do something they haven’t in a decade — win a season opener. But then Richardson badly underthrew tight end Mo Alie-Cox in the fourth quarter, a crucial interception that sealed the Colts’ 31-21 loss to the Jaguars. Richardson finished 24-for-37 for 223 yards, one passing touchdown, one rushing and the interception.

(Photo: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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