N.F.L. Week 1: The Saints Toppled Aaron Rodgers and the Packers


N.F.L. Week 1: The Saints Toppled Aaron Rodgers and the Packers The Packers managed only a field goal in the first half against the Saints, Patrick Mahomes did what Patrick Mahomes does, and a pair of Alabama quarterbacks duked it out in New England. Emmanuel Morgan, Alanis Thames, Ben Shpigel and Image Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, left, threw two interceptions in the first three quarters. With the game out of reach, he was benched for backup Jordan Love. Credit… Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press After an off-season of grumpiness on both sides, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers vow renewal got off to a rough start with a loss to New Orleans in Jacksonville (try to keep up). The Browns’ near-perfect start was dashed in a way that was on brand for both Cleveland and Kansas City. Around the rest of the league, Week 1 yielded some feisty finishes.

Patrick Mahomes undid all the Browns’ hard work. The Browns made few mistakes through the first three quarters of Sunday’s divisional round rematch against the Chiefs. None of it mattered. Quarterback Baker Mayfield, trying to avoid a sack on a potential game-winning drive, heaved up a dangerous pass with a little over a minute left in the game, and Chiefs defensive back Mike Hughes snatched it out of the air, taking with it Cleveland’s hope for a season-opening road victory against an A.F.C. opponent it is desperate to beat. The Chiefs overcame a 12-point halftime deficit to drop the Browns, 33-29, at Arrowhead Stadium. Mike Hughes seals the win for the @Chiefs! #ChiefsKingdom #CLEvsKC — NFL (@NFL) September 12, 2021 With no Odell Beckham Jr. (he missed the game nursing an A.C.L. injury suffered last October) and a need to prove they could continue their offensive production from a season ago, the Browns almost looked as if they’d pull it off. The offensive line had given Mayfield the time he needed to hit his receivers. Their running back duo Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb both found their way into the end zone before the halfway point of the fourth quarter. And the Cleveland defense had held Chiefs to a single touchdown in the first half. Things went bad for Cleveland with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Possibly because of a roaring crowd at Arrowhead who unleashed the Tomahawk chop chant despite calls from Indigenous groups for the team to ban it, Browns punter Jamie Gillan dropped a snap, gifting quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense possession at Cleveland’s 15-yard line. Mahomes, who only needed a single play to give the Chiefs a 75-yard score on their previous possession, hit tight end Travis Kelce three plays later. Kelce pounded through two defenders for his second touchdown of the day. He finished the game with six catches for 76 yards. Mahomes threw for 337 yards with four touchdowns (one rushing, three passing). Receiver Tyreek Hill, who caught the 75-yard ball from Mahomes, had 197 yards on 11 catches. A game Cleveland had in hand in the first half turned into a dogfight. Early on, the Browns took advantage of a Chiefs defense that was missing safety Tyrann Mathieu, who came off the team’s reserve/Covid-19 list Saturday but was ruled out before the game. With three minutes left in the first half, Browns running back Nick Chubb took a handoff from quarterback Baker Mayfield and scampered into the end zone for an 18-yard score. Browns are COOKING the Chiefs’ defense 😳

(via @NFLBrasil) — Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 12, 2021 Not a single member of the Chiefs defense got a hand on Chubb, and the play was indicative of a near-perfect first half of offense for the Browns. Chubb finished with 83 yards on 15 carries and a pair of touchdowns, scoring the Browns’ first touchdown, a 4-yard carry on Cleveland’s opening drive. The Browns possessed the ball four times in the first half and scored touchdowns on three drives. For their second score, receiver Jarvis Landry took an end-around into the end zone, muscling his way to the goal line for a 4-yard score on fourth down. Pure Determination from @God_Son80.

📺: #CLEvsKC on CBS

📲: Browns mobile app — Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 12, 2021 If not for the late-game interception, Mayfield’s 2021 debut would have been largely blemish free. He was 21-of-28 passing with 321 yards. He was sacked twice. The game started with a bit of controversy, though. Browns safety Ronnie Harrison was ejected in the first quarter after an altercation with a member of the Chiefs sideline. The #Browns almost pulled this off 😂

📺: #CLEvsKC on CBS

📱: NFL app — NFL (@NFL) September 12, 2021

Saints are crushing Packers, 38-3, thanks to the defense. Image Saints safety Marcus Williams, left, intercepted an Aaron Rodgers pass meant for Packers receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the second half. Credit… Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press For more than a decade, with some exceptions, the New Orleans Saints leaned on its offense to win. Now, in the first game of the post-Drew Brees era, the defense is carrying the team. Make no mistake, quarterback Jameis Winston is playing well, completing 14 of 20 passes and throwing five touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers midway through the fourth quarter. But the smothering defense is the reason the Saints lead, 38-3. The Packers’ offensive line has not been able to contain the Saints’ front seven. That resulted in only 29 rushing yards for the Packers, causing Coach Matt LaFleur to lean heavily on the pass. But even that adjustment hasn’t been fruitful — quarterback Aaron Rodgers has thrown for only 133 yards. With over 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, second-year quarterback Jordan Love entered the game. At least eight different Saints defenders have posted at least two tackles, led by linebacker Demario Davis with four. Defensive end Marcus Davenport also secured a sack.

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Rams’ and Raiders’ multibillion dollar stadiums finally welcome fans. Image The Rams’ owner, Stan Kroenke, paid at least $5 billion to privately finance construction of SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. Credit… Harry How/Getty Images The stands in the freshly constructed billion-dollar stadiums sat dormant for an entire season, collecting dust while fans watched games from home as the coronavirus raged. Now, as Covid restrictions have eased, SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., and Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas both open their doors to the faithful, and will do so in prime time. The Los Angeles Rams face the Chicago Bears on Sunday night, a precursor to what fans across the nation can expect when the stadium hosts Super Bowl LVI in February. The Rams’ owner, Stan Kroenke, paid at least $5 billion to privately finance the project, which rests 100 feet below street level and boasts a man-made lake just outside. N.F.L. team owners approved the proposal to relocate the team from St. Louis to Los Angeles — giving the city its first pro franchise since 1995 — in January 2016, based in part on the promise of a new stadium. Crews broke ground on SoFi in November 2016. The proposal beat out a competing bid by the Raiders to build and share a stadium with the Chargers in Carson, Calif. The Chargers later agreed to share SoFi Stadium with the Rams. Team owners in 2017 approved the Raiders’ plan to relocate to Las Vegas from Oakland, Calif. On Monday, Mark Davis’s team will open Allegiant Stadium to fans when the Raiders face the Baltimore Ravens. The $2 billion, jet-black-and-silver building, known as the “Death Star,” sits about three miles from the Las Vegas Strip. It will host the Pro Bowl in January.

Through one half, the Saints’ defense has held the Packers in check. Image The Saints’ Alvin Kamara had 64 yards rushing and a receiving touchdown in the first half. Credit… James Gilbert/Getty Images New Orleans had a number of potential excuses for why they could play badly in the first game of the season. Saints players and staff relocated from Louisiana to Texas amid Hurricane Ida’s destruction, and they are now temporary borrowers of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ TIAA Bank Field as the designated home team. Sean Payton for the first time since 2005 is coaching a quarterback not named Drew Brees in a regular season game. And he is doing so against Green Bay, a team that easily could have made the Super Bowl last year and is determined to do so this year in perhaps quarterback Aaron Rodgers’s last season with the Packers. Winston to Johnson – TOUCHDOWN SAINTS! 🙌#GBvsNO | 📺: FOX — New Orleans Saints (@Saints) September 12, 2021 But at halftime, the Saints lead the Packers, 17-3, because of the responsible play of quarterback Jameis Winston and because their defense is containing one of the league’s most talented offenses. Winston, who replaced Brees after he retired in the off-season, has completed 9 of 12 passes for 65 yards and two touchdowns. More important, though, is that he has not turned the ball over, a vice that caused the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his former team, to part ways with him in 2019. Running back Alvin Kamara also added 64 yards rushing and a receiving touchdown. The Packers have struggled to establish the run, generating only 12 rushing yards. Rodgers is 7 of 12 on passing attempts for 69 yards, and he has also absorbed a sack.

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Alabama’s quarterback fortune is on display on Sunday. After sharing one of the most talented quarterbacks rooms in recent college football history, the former Alabama teammates Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa will reunite on the field Sunday afternoon, as Tagovailoa’s Miami Dolphins face Jones’s New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. With Jalen Hurts having taken over the starting job for the Philadelphia Eagles at the end of the 2020 season, Alabama’s last three quarterbacks will be under center for N.F.L. franchises in Week 1. That each made it onto Sunday’s N.F.L. schedule should validate the quarterback battles that occurred when they were there. After winning a national championship with the Crimson Tide at the end of the 2017 season, Hurts lost the starting spot to Tagovailoa in 2018. When Tagovailoa broke a hip in 2019, Jones supplanted him, starting two games to end that season. Hurts led off the Alabama alumni reunion, throwing a 17-yard strike to rookie DeVonta Smith, the first pro score for the, natch, former Alabama receiver. Hurts finished with 264 yards and three touchdowns on 27-of-25 passing against the Falcons. First NFL catch, first NFL touchdown for @DeVontaSmith_6!#PHIvsATL | #FlyEaglesFly

📺: FOX — Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) September 12, 2021 Jones led an undefeated Alabama team to a national championship in 2021 before being selected at No. 15 in the draft. His poise in training camp and preseason games so impressed Patriots Coach Bill Belichick that he crowned the rookie the No. 1 quarterback and cut last year’s starter, Cam Newton, who is now a free agent. In one season in Miami, Tagovailoa has yet to cement himself as the Dolphins’ quarterback of the future. During the off-season, rumors swirled that the team might have been searching for other options, including the Texans’ Deshaun Watson, but Coach Brian Flores threw his support behind Tagovailoa as training camp ended. Alabama head coach Nick Saban wished both of his former quarterbacks well in a news conference Wednesday. “I hope they both do extremely well in this game and in their career,” Saban said. “But somebody has to win and somebody has to lose.”

Arizona’s Chandler Jones has a game to remember. Image Chandler Jones had five sacks against the Titans. Credit… Andrew Nelles/USA Today Sports, via Reuters When you think of potential Defensive Player of the Year Award winners, the usual candidates come to mind: Aaron Donald of the Rams; T.J. Watt of the Steelers; Myles Garrett of the Browns. But in the first game of the season, Arizona Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones added his name to the way-too-early discussion. Jones, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, posted five sacks and forced two fumbles in a 38-13 win against the Tennessee Titans. His constant pressure contributed to an abysmal performance by the new-look Titans offense, which hoped adding receiver Julio Jones would force defenses in a no-win situation of defending the pass while accounting for running back Derrick Henry, who rushed for over 2,000 yards last season. Chandler Jones with his 5th SACK TODAY 😳

(via @NFL) — Overtime (@overtime) September 12, 2021 Jones did not participate in the Cardinals’ off-season program amid a contract dispute, but he reported to training camp on time. If he continues playing the way he did Sunday, another team will pay him handsomely if the Cardinals don’t. His performances drew praises on social media, including from Titans tackle Taylor Lewan, who thanked Jones on Twitter for “exposing” him and said that it would motivate him to improve.

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Wilson scores for the Jets, but the Panthers’ Darnold shines. Image Sam Darnold, who the Jets traded to Carolina before the draft, threw for 279 yards and a touchdown, completing 24 of 35 passes in a win over his old team. Credit… Grant Halverson/Getty Images Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson showed glimpses of why the team drafted him second overall this spring, but it was his predecessor, Sam Darnold, who showed his old team what could have been, in a 19-14 Panthers win. Darnold, who the Jets traded to Carolina before the draft, threw for 279 yards and a touchdown, completing 24 of 35 passes. Wilson scored two touchdowns — on a 22-yard pass to Corey Davis and an eight-yard pass to Davis — and also scrambled for a two-point conversion. But sloppy protection forced Wilson to improvise for most of the day, and he absorbed six (!) sacks. The rookie from Brigham Young finished with 258 yards, completing 20 of 37 passes, with one interception.

Bengals pull off chaotic upset of Vikings, while 49ers hold off Lions. Image Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase, left, and quarterback Joe Burrow — college teammates at L.S.U. — celebrated their 50-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Credit… Andy Lyons/Getty Images Favored San Francisco started the fourth quarter with a 21-point lead over Detroit, looking well in line to cruise to a first regular-season win. Not so fast. By the game’s final minute, the 49ers’ lead was down to 8 and the team had to defend a potential game-tying drive by the Lions, before exhaling with a 41-33 win. It was one of two down-to-the-wire finishes of the early window on Sunday, with Minnesota kicker Greg Joseph’s 53-yard field goal at the end of regulation, forcing overtime in Cincinnati after the Vikings erased a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. The Bengals pulled off the 27-24 upset at home. Late fumbles factored into both endings. On the first play after the two-minute warning of overtime, with neither the Bengals or Vikings having scored, Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook’s fumble was recovered by Cincinnati at their own 39-yard line. The Bengals moved into field goal range on a 32-yard pass from Joe Burrow to C.J. Uzomah on fourth-and-1, and Evan McPherson kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired for the Bengals win. ɪᴄᴇ. ɪɴ. ʜɪꜱ. ᴠᴇɪɴꜱ.

Not bad for your first game @McPherson_Evan! #GatorMade

📺:FOX — Gators Football (@GatorsFB) September 12, 2021 In Detroit, the Lions had scored on a touchdown run and converted a 2-point try with less than two minutes left, but still trailed by 19. Then they recovered an onside kick of a ball that bounced off San Francisco tight end George Kittle’s helmet. Detroit took advantage, scoring another touchdown and 2-point conversion, both on receptions by Quintez Cephus, to close the gap to an 8-point deficit. Quintez Cephus with the toe drag for the two point conversion 😮@NFL | — FanSided (@FanSided) September 12, 2021 It was San Francisco’s turn to recover an onside kick, though, and instead of running out the clock, receiver Deebo Samuel lost a fumble to give Detroit one last chance. Lions quarterback Jared Goff drove the offense to the San Francisco 24-yard line, but the Lions ran out of magic.

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Blocked punt jump-started Steelers’ win over Bills. Image Miles Killebrew celebrated blocking a Bills fourth-quarter punt that was returned for a Steelers touchdown. Credit… Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images Pittsburgh’s offense dragged through the first half of their season opener against the Bills with no points and just 54 yards of offense. A blocked punt by Miles Killebrew and a scoop-and-score by linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III stunned the Bills and turned the Steelers’ fortune in the fourth quarter, leading to a 23-16 Pittsburgh victory at Highmark Stadium. BLOCK. THAT. KICK. #HereWeGo

📺: #PITvsBUF on CBS

📱: NFL app — NFL (@NFL) September 12, 2021 The special teams play was a huge momentum swing for the Steelers, who scored 20 straight points in the second half before the Bills responded. Pittsburgh’s first touchdown, a juggling catch by receiver Diontae Johnson in the back corner of the end zone, came in the fourth quarter. That concentration 🔥

📺: CBS | @Juiceup__3 — Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 12, 2021 Disrupted all day by a sweltering Steelers defensive front, Bills quarterback Josh Allen finished the game with 270 yards on 30 of 51 throwing. He was sacked three times, twice by Pittsburgh linebacker T.J. Watt. The Bills’ top receiving threat, Stefon Diggs, led all Buffalo receivers with 69 yards on nine catches, though he and newly acquired receiver Emmanuel Sanders drew heavy coverage throughout. Buffalo’s lone touchdown came from receiver Gabriel Davis in the first half. Ben Roethlisberger went 18 for 32 with 188 passing yards. Pittsburgh didn’t seem to build much on a rushing attack that was virtually nonexistent last season. The team gained 75 yards on the ground against the Bills Sunday.

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Jets rookie Zach Wilson throws his first career touchdown pass. Image Jets quarterback Zach Wilson has frequently faced heavy pressure from the Panthers’ defense. Credit… Grant Halverson/Getty Images All day, the Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson scrambled behind poor protection, hoping to find an open man outside the pocket. That strategy failed for most of the game against the Carolina Panthers until late in the third quarter. At the edge of red zone, he evaded the rush and escaped the pocket to the right, then lofted a 22-yard pass to receiver Corey Davis in the corner of the end zone. But the Jets could not fully celebrate Wilson’s first career touchdown pass because offensive tackle Mekhi Becton remained on the ground in pain after suffering a lower leg injury. The Jets still trail 16-8 because their former quarterback, Sam Darnold, has thrown for 252 yards and a touchdown for the Panthers. Christian McCaffrey, the versatile running back returning from a host of injuries last season, has posted 152 all-purpose yards. First career TD pass for @ZachWilson 🙌

📺 #NYJvsCAR on CBS — New York Jets (@nyjets) September 12, 2021 Sam Darnold to Robby Anderson. 57 yards 🚀

The ex-Jets burn their former team 😤

(via @NFL) — SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 12, 2021

Russell Wilson is still Russell Wilson. Image Russell Wilson threw three touchdown passes against the Colts, through three quarters. Credit… Aj Mast/Associated Press In the Seahawks’ 2021 debut, Russell Wilson looked like, well, Russell Wilson. The 32-year-old quarterback, a consistently prolific passer his entire nine-year N.F.L. career, tossed three touchdowns and passed for nearly 200 yards in three quarters against the Colts. The Seahawks lead, 21-10, heading into the fourth quarter. Wilson’s first touchdown of the day was a 23-yard ball to deep threat Tyler Lockett, capping a nine-play, 81-yard opening drive for the Seahawks. Russell Wilson connects with Tyler Lockett on a beautiful TD toss 😤

(via @NFL) — Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 12, 2021 Wilson found Lockett again for a 69-yard bomb at the end of the first half. Russell Wilson finds with Tyler Lockett for their second TD connection of the day

A 69-yard bomb 💣

(via @NFLBrasil) — Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 12, 2021 Lockett led Seattle’s receivers with 96 yards and two touchdowns heading into the fourth. Tight end Gerald Everett, who caught the Seahawks’ third touchdown, had 20 yards on two receptions. The Russ to DK connection never gets old 🤩

(via @NFL) — NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) September 12, 2021

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The Titans’ offense hasn’t played to its potential. Image Arizona’s Chandler Jones sacked Ryan Tannehill three times in the first half and forced a fumble. Credit… Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports, via Reuters In theory, the Tennessee Titans’ offense should place defenses in unpleasant situations. With the addition of the All-Pro receiver Julio Jones, opponents should have to choose between stopping him, receiver A.J. Brown and running back Derrick Henry, who rushed for over 2,000 yards last season. But this new experiment has failed, at least during the first half against the Arizona Cardinals, as the Titans trail 24-6 at halftime. The Titans generated only 116 yards of offense, with wide receiver Chester Rogers carrying the bulk of the production with 43. Henry has rushed for only 8 yards and Jones has caught only one pass for 9 yards on three targets. The Cardinals’ defense evidently did not fear the Titans’ roster on paper. Outside linebacker Chandler Jones sacked quarterback Ryan Tannehill three times in the first half. While the Titans’ offense sputtered, Arizona’s excelled. Quarterback Kyler Murray has thrown for 201 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for a score. Chandler Jones has 99.0 career sacks, and 63.0 in 70 career games in Arizona. — Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) September 12, 2021

Washington’s Ryan Fitzpatrick is out with a hip injury. Image Journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick started for the Washington Football Team, his ninth N.F.L. franchise, before leaving the game with a hip injury in the second quarter. Credit… Patrick Smith/Getty Images The curse of FedEx Field continues. Ryan Fitzpatrick on Sunday became the most recent quarterback to be added to the list of passers to sustain a potentially serious injury in that stadium. Fitzpatrick, the journeyman who signed with Washington, his ninth N.F.L. team, in free agency this off-season, absorbed a hit from Los Angeles Chargers edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu in the second quarter. Fitzpatrick walked off the field flanked by team personnel and was officially ruled out with a hip injury. He completed 3 of 6 passes for 13 yards before his exit. It is unclear how serious Fitzpatrick’s injury is. Regardless, it follows a trend of passers who either limped or were carried off that field in pain. Robert Griffin III tore two ligaments in his knee there in 2013 during a playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks, and Alex Smith in 2018 suffered a compound fracture to his right tibia and fibula that required 17 surgeries and nearly needed to be amputated. Meantime in the stands, fans in a lower bowl posted a video to social media with what looked to be sewage leaking onto their seats. Washington needs a stadium upgrade as bad as anyone in pro sports.

How about a nice sewage leak to finish off the first half? — Ryan Fowler (@FowlerRyan1) September 12, 2021

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Bills’ breakthrough touchdown ends first half. Image Bills receiver Gabriel Davis caught a 3-yard touchdown pass against Steelers cornerback Cameron Sutton. Credit… Adrian Kraus/Associated Press Working against Steelers defensive back Cameron Sutton in the back of the end zone, Bills receiver Gabriel Davis hauled in a 3-yard touchdown pass from Josh Allen with less than 30 seconds left in the first half to put Buffalo up, 10-0. Heck of an effort by Gabriel Davis to catch it in the back of the endzone.

10-0 lead. — Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 12, 2021 The score capped a 91-yard Bills drive and punctuated a first half in which Buffalo, mostly struggling against the Steelers defense, gained just 42 yards on the ground. Josh Allen ended the half with 16 of 26 passing and 152 yards. The Steelers trail at the half after managing only 54 yards of total first-half offense. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 6 of 12 with 58 yards and was sacked twice. Rookie running back Najee Harris had seven carries for eight yards.

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The Steelers defense is hemming in the Bills, who lead 3-0. Image Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick tackled Stefon Diggs of the Bills during the first quarter. Credit… Mark Konezny/USA Today Sports, via Reuters After touting one of the league’s most dynamic offenses last season, the Bills’ first task of the 2021 season includes facing a stout T.J. Watt-led Steelers defense. Pittsburgh’s defense took no time to show why it’s one of the best in the league, allowing the Bills to gain virtually nothing on the ground. Quarterback Josh Allen had little time to get the ball out, and the Bills’ most cohesive first-half drive featured a single deep ball — a 16-yarder to receiver Emmanuel Sanders that put the team on near midfield with seven minutes remaining. The would-be third-down conversion pass was dropped by receiver Cole Beasley, which would have been negated by an offensive holding call against guard Jonathan Feliciano. After kicker Tyler Bass put the Bills ahead, 3-0, on a 37-field goal, Buffalo’s next four possessions ended with punts. Allen was held to 6 of 12 throwing with just 42 yards. On Buffalo’s second possession of the second quarter, Steelers end T.J. Watt sacked Allen at the Pittsburgh 45-yard line and forced a fumble that was recovered by Cam Heyward. [email protected]_TJWatt forces it out. @CamHeyward picks it up.

📺: CBS — Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 12, 2021

Jets look shaky on Zach Wilson’s first drive. Image Zach Wilson was 1 of 2 passes for 11 yards on his first N.F.L. drive. Credit… Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press Zach Wilson’s first drive as the Jets’ starting quarterback included two pre-snap penalties, a sack and a drop by one of his receivers. In other words, it was sloppy. Wilson attempted only two passes on the drive against the Carolina Panthers, completing one on a seven-yard flare route to tight end Ryan Griffin. But an illegal formation and a holding penalty killed any offensive momentum. He also absorbed a nine-yard sack from Panthers defensive end Brian Burns. Welcome to the NFL, Zach Wilson

Meet Brian Burns 🤝 — PFF (@PFF) September 12, 2021

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Saquon Barkley is in. Here’s who’s out. Image Giants running back Saquon Barkley is expected to return to play for the first time since Week 2 last season. Credit… Noah K. Murray/Associated Press Coming into Week 1, most teams’ optimism hinges on the health of their rosters. A few star players whose status had been murky this week, including Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, and Colts guard Quenton Nelson, are good to go. Elsewhere, the absence of injured players will temper their teams’ game plans. Notable injuries in the 1 p.m. Eastern games: Jets at Carolina Panthers Jets receiver Jamison Crowder (reserve/Covid-19) will miss Sunday’s season opener, while receiver Keelan Cole (knee) will be a game-time decision. And the Panthers will be without receiver Shi Smith, who missed practice this week with a shoulder injury. Los Angeles Chargers at Washington Football Team The Washington Football Team placed receiver Curtis Samuel on the injured reserve list earlier this week, so he will miss at least three weeks to nurse a groin injury. Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans The Titans will be without kicker Sam Ficken, who is on the injured reserve list with a groin injury. Seattle Seahawks at Indianapolis Colts The Colts’ veteran cornerback Xavier Rhodes (calf) will miss Sunday’s opener, along with receiver T.Y. Hilton, who re-aggravated a lingering neck injury during a practice last month. Hilton, the Colts’ top receiver, is expected to miss the start of the regular season. Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is out for their season opener against the Jaguars. Watson, who has 22 civil suits alleging sexual misconduct filed against him, isn’t expected to suit up for Houston this season. (He has denied the accusations.) Tyrod Taylor will start in his place. Houston will also miss kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn (leg), as well as defensive back Lonnie Johnson Jr. (thigh). The Jaguars will be without cornerback Tre Herndon, who’s out with a knee injury. Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills Bills running back Zack Moss was not on the team’s injury report leading up to Sunday’s game against the Steelers, but he will miss the team’s opener. Notable injuries in the 4:25 p.m. Eastern games: Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last season, will not play against the Chiefs. Beckham had been a game-time decision but was scratched about an hour before kickoff after taking the field for warm-ups. Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu will also miss the game despite being activated from the team’s injured reserve/Covid-19 list on Saturday. Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots Dolphins receiver Preston Williams, who’s been nursing a foot injury, is reportedly not expected to play against the Patriots. Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints The New Orleans Saints will be without receiver Michael Thomas for the start of the season after he underwent ankle surgery in June. They’ll also miss receiver Tre’Quan Smith (hamstring). Denver Broncos at New York Giants Giants tight end Evan Engram (calf) is out.

With T.J. Watt back, the Steelers defense should test the Bills. Image Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt, left, joined teammates including safety Minkah Fitzpatrick during the team’s practice Wednesday. Credit… Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, via Associated Press T.J. Watt might have grown up in Wisconsin, and he might play for the Steelers, but according to Coach Mike Tomlin, he is just “visiting from another planet.” Tomlin said this toward the end of last season, which Watt finished with a league-leading 15 sacks. The team’s front office acknowledged Watt’s otherworldly talent with a four-year extension worth $80 million guaranteed, according to multiple reports. Fresh off that signing, Watt beams into Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., on Sunday to lead a Steelers defense that represents an immediate, and stern, test for the Buffalo Bills and their superlative quarterback, Josh Allen. [email protected]_TJWatt forces it out. @CamHeyward picks it up.

📺: CBS — Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 12, 2021 Last season, Pittsburgh allowed the third-fewest points in the league and they are again stacked at every level, from secondary (Minkah Fitzpatrick) to linebacker (Devin Bush) to defensive line (Cam Heyward). Watt, though, is the best of them all, a supreme edge rusher who bypasses double-teams to torment quarterbacks, usually from the left side. Only Shaquil Barrett of Tampa Bay (76) recorded more pressures than Watt (73) during the 2020 season, according to Pro Football Focus. As he waited for his contract negotiation to get resolved, Watt abstained from practicing with his teammates during most of training camp. He finally joined them on Wednesday, and no doubt he figures to be ready to play. The Bills better be, too.

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The Ravens stockpiled running backs after losing three to injuries. Image Baltimore Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins was carted off the field after tearing his A.C.L. in a preseason game against the Washington Football Team. Credit… Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press In the span of just 12 days, the Baltimore Ravens lost their top three rushers on the depth chart to season-ending injuries. Gus Edwards tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during practice this week, the second such injury for a Ravens running back after starter J.K. Dobbins did so in the Aug. 28 preseason finale against Washington. They joined Justice Hill, who tore his Achilles’ tendon in practice, on injury reserve. Cornerback Marcus Peters also tore his A.C.L. at the same practice as Edwards. “I think you mourn for a day, and we fight today,” Coach John Harbaugh told reporters Friday. “We can move forward.” He said he did not think the playing surface contributed to the rash of non-contact injuries. To respond to the carnage, the Ravens signed Latavius Murray, the former New Orleans Saints backup, after he was released for declining to take a pay cut. Baltimore also added two players who previously had 1,000-yard rushing seasons, Le’Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman, to the practice squad with the intention of elevating them to the active roster. Bell, a three-time Pro Bowl selection during his five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was released by the Jets midway through last season for his lack of production. He briefly signed with Kansas City, splitting carries in a reserve role, and later criticized Coach Andy Reid on social media this off-season. Freeman, an elusive runner and pass catcher, rushed for 1,000 yards twice early in his six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, but his production slipped after his groin injury in 2018, which kept him out of all but two games. He signed a one-year deal with the Giants last season, appearing in only five games and rushing for 172 yards. The Saints released him during training camp after he signed a one-year contract this off-season.

Chargers’ Justin Herbert will try to make a second-year leap against Washington. Image Justin Herbert finished the 2020 season with the most passing touchdowns (31) and completions (396) of any rookie in league history. Credit… Jae C. Hong/Associated Press If Los Angeles quarterback Justin Herbert plans to make a leap in Year 2, facing the Washington Football Team’s dominant defensive end Chase Young is probably one of the most difficult ways to start. Young, the 2020 defensive rookie of the year, will meet Herbert’s Chargers Sunday afternoon. It will be the second straight season where the reigning offensive and defensive rookies of the year will meet in their season opener: Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray faced Nick Bosa’s San Francisco 49ers in Week 1 last season. Justin Herbert to Mike Williams for the back shoulder — Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 12, 2021 In 2020, Young anchored one of the league’s best defenses, which allowed just over 300 yards per game, second fewest in the N.F.L. Herbert finished the season with the most passing touchdowns (31) and completions (396) of any rookie in league history.

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