Sep 8, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) is sacked and pushed down by Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller (58) in the fourth quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Winner: Denver Broncos Defense
All offseason long, critics of the Denver Broncos questioned whether or not the team’s No. 1 ranked defense from 2015 could repeat its historic dominance.
The departure of two standouts in Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan spurred such thoughts, as did the season-ending injury to key starter Vance Walker.
Those notions of regression, however, were quickly put to rest versus the Panthers.
2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton and the rest of Carolina’s improved offense were held in check for much of their Thursday night matchup. Denver’s defense set the pace, registering three sacks and eight quarterback hits.
The Panthers held the ball roughly five minutes more than the Broncos and still couldn’t quite shake their offensive inconsistencies.
After yet another proficient outing, it’d appear as though the home to the league’s best defensive unit will again be Denver.
Sep 11, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) is pressured by Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman Dontari Poe (92) and defensive lineman Chris Jones (95) at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City won 33-27. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Loser: San Diego Chargers
Surrendering a 21-point lead is a good way to ensure your spot as a loser on lists like these. Up 24-3 in the second half, the Chargers were on track to blowout the Chiefs just before everything went downhill.
A soon-to-be mentioned Alex Smith absolutely shredded San Diego’s revamped defense to the tune of 24 second-half points.
Not to be outdone, little-known tailback Spencer Ware added 199 total offensive yards and made clutch play after clutch play for the Chiefs.
Kansas City would eventually take home the Week One showdown in overtime by a score of 33-27. Not only did San Diego lose in historically embarrassing fashion to an AFC West rival, but star receiver Keenan Allen suffered a season-ending torn ACL.
It was a rough day for the Chargers, to say the least.
Sep 11, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) scrambles to pass against the San Diego Chargers in the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City won 33-27. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Winner: Alex Smith
In leading the largest comeback victory in the Chiefs’ 56-year history, Alex Smith also enjoyed one of the finest games of his professional career.
Sep 11, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson (L) greets Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson (R) on the field after the game at Lincoln Financial Field. The Philadelphia Eagles won 29-10. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Loser: Hue Jackson
Losing in his debut as head coach of the Browns to Carson Wentz – the rookie passer he thought little of during the draft – surely stung.
Watching his own quarterback, Robert Griffin III, get sidelined for at least the next eight weeks with a shoulder injury must’ve hurt even more.
There were little positives to point in Jackson and Co.’s 29-10 drubbing in Philadelphia on Sunday, as Cleveland proved once again that it’s home to the worst club in the NFL.
In all fairness, the Browns were actually able to keep things relatively tight until the third quarter came along. A high snap that sailed over Griffin’s head into the end zone for a safety ultimately made the difference.
Still, a 19-point loss is a 19-point loss, especially when it’s to an Eagles team that had only recently named Wentz as the starter.
It’s a new era for the loveable losers, but the final result remains the same.
Sep 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) in the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Cardinals 23-21. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Winner: Jimmy Garoppolo
There may have been no bigger winner in the NFL than Jimmy Garoppolo.
In his first start as a pro, Garoppolo tossed for 264 yards and one touchdown to give the Patriots a 23-21 upset victory over the Cardinals.
He was cool as can be at the center of New England’s complex offense, continuously completing strikes all over the field.
Filling in for the suspended Tom Brady, few gave the third-year signal-caller a real chance. Considering four starters – tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back Dion Lewis, tackle Nate Solder, and guard Jonathan Cooper – were inactive Sunday night, it’s hard to blame those many skeptics.
A rout of Arizona would’ve likely taken place had Gronkowski or Lewis alone played.
Regardless, Garoppolo handled the pressure similarly to way his suspended teammate would have, squeaking out a primetime win on the road in the process.
Sep 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro (7) is embraced by quarterback Carson Palmer after missing the game winning field goal in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Cardinals 23-21. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Loser: Arizona Cardinals
Despite being the popular pick to be the NFC’s representative in Super Bowl 51, the Cardinals dropped their season-opener to a Patriots team missing a plethora of starters, of which included Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.
It was an all-around ugly loss, one that left fans with doubts as to if Carson Palmer is the right fit under center in Arizona.
For much of the contest, Palmer appeared to be out of sorts. It was almost as if the horrible outing he had in last January’s NFC Championship Game had been on the forefront of his mind throughout the night.
Palmer’s teammates weren’t far behind in that respect, though, as the Cardinals’ loaded offense grossly underwhelmed.
A repeat performance cannot become a common occurrence in Arizona if the team wants to make a return trip to the conference title bout.
Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio celebrates as he leaves the field following a win against the New Orleans Saints in a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Raiders defeated the Saints 35-34. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Winner: Jack Del Rio
After charging back from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit, Raiders’ head coach Jack Del Rio opted to go for the 2-point conversion.
With the game hanging in the balance, Derek Carr completed a perfectly executed fade pass to Michael Crabtree, and that was all she wrote.
Oakland’s 35-34 heart-stopping victory in New Orleans was nothing short of incredible, but Del Rio’s gusty call to go for the win is the headliner here. Given the poor performance of his defense on Sunday, the Raiders might’ve lost had he elected to play it safe with the extra-point try.
These days, most coaches would’ve simply tied everything up in spite of the consequential implications that may follow.
Del Rio was not one of those coaches on Sunday, and his team is all the more better for it.
Sep 8, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano (9) misses a fifty yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Panthers 21-20. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
It was a miserable week for kickers in the NFL.
On top of the easy gimmies and extra-points that were missed all around the league, shanked clutch kicks became the norm.
More notably, Panthers kicker Graham Gano missed a 50-yard field goal that gave the Broncos the win. Saints kicker Will Lutz also missed a 61-yarder that would’ve beaten the Raiders, and Cardinals kicker Chandler Cantanzaro hooked a 47-yard attempt wide left in the closing moments versus the Patriots.
At least maligned rookie Roberto Aguayo had a nice start to his pro career, drilling a 43-yard field goal, as well as four extra point attempts.
Nevertheless, the three aforementioned examples just go to show that leaving a game in the hands of a kicker is never a good idea.