There was a lot to unpack after the first weekend of the NFL season including an impressive debut for Patriots quarterback Mac Jones. But first we take a look at a story involving Jones that floated beneath the radar Sunday morning and try to make some sense of a seemingly implausible scenario.
During ESPN's Sunday morning coverage ahead of the Week 1 slate, Adam Schefter revealed an interesting story involving the Patriots, Jones and the San Francisco 49ers. According to a source, Schefter said, Niners coach Kyle Shanahan was concerned the Patriots were interested in Jones and that was part of the reason San Francisco made the bold move to jump from 12 to 3 in the first round.
The thought was San Francisco wanted to position itself ahead of New England to block Bill Belichick from taking Jones.
The problem with that theory is pretty simple: the Niners didn't take Jones. Instead, Shanahan tabbed Trey Lance with the third overall pick, helping to allow Jones to be available at 15 where the Patriots stood. It's hard to imagine a team deciding to make such a daring move (San Francisco surrendered a pair of first-round picks to swap from 12 to 3 with Miami) with the intention of keeping a player from another team, and then not taking that player.
Again, it makes little sense, unless there were elements at play that went unreported by Schefter. It's possible that there was some truth to the Niners thinking – that Belichick liked Jones – but perhaps in reality the impetus behind Shanahan making the move was more related to Jimmy Garoppolo.
Trade rumors involving Garoppolo's return to New England permeated the local football landscape all offseason, but the sides never consummated a deal. Is it possible that Shanahan wanted Belichick to think he would be taking Jones, thus offering a nudge toward getting a deal done for Garoppolo?
Various reports indicated Shanahan was steadfast in his desire to get fair market value for Garoppolo, and even though he clearly was ready to move on from the veteran he wasn't willing to give him up for peanuts. Belichick and the Patriots likely were interested but not willing to meet the asking price. By moving up into prime position and ostensibly showing interest in Jones, the Niners may have been trying to persuade Belichick to take the deal for Garoppolo.
In the end the Niners move to 3 likely had very little to do with Jones and the Patriots despite Schefter's claims, but it very well may have had the Patriots in mind.
Speaking of Jones, his NFL debut didn't end the way the Patriots wanted but there was a lot to be encouraged about. He completed 29 of 39 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown, but more importantly he protected the ball and did a nice job of avoiding negative plays.
In fact, his most egregious mistake came on his first pass attempt, when he tried to avoid the rush by turning his back to the line before throwing the ball backward at Jonnu Smith’s feet. The tight end recovered the fumble, but Jones never again put the ball in peril and played well enough for his team to win.
It wasn't all perfect as the offense managed just 16 points and found the end zone just once in four trips inside the Miami red zone. His passes were mostly short – 22 of his completions traveled less than 10 yards – and he rarely pushed the ball downfield.
But considering it was his first start, and the fact that Miami blitzed him early and often, the fact that Jones handled the pressure well enough to convert 11 of 16 third downs and consistently threw accurately while under duress should be cause for plenty of excitement in New England.
Week 1 thoughts
*Nice start for a few of the rookie head coaches. Philly's Nick Sirianni, the Chargers Brandon Staley and Houston's David Culley all won their NFL debuts. The Eagles looked like a team capable of making some noise when the Patriots visited for joint practices last month, and nothing they showed in Atlanta against the Falcons did anything to change that view.
The Texans were supposed to be hard-pressed to win at all let alone post a blowout victory to open the season. Culley has been forced to endure the nightmare situation involving Deshaun Watson while watching new GM Nick Caserio making transactions at a dizzying pace. Still, it was another rookie head coach – Jacksonville's Urban Meyer – who looked overmatched and unprepared. The Jaguars struggled to support their rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence and were never really in the game.
But the most impressive opening day win for the rooks belonged to Staley. The Chargers are one of those franchises that always seems to find ways to lose. Last season former coach Anthony Lynn became the subject of countless memes for his inability to manage late-game situations and the clock, leading to several examples of the Chargers snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Playing on the road in Washington, LA dominated the game but struggled through a host of Chargers-like calamity. The most glaring example came on a second-and-goal play in the second half when quarterback Justin Herbert was hit as he threw and the ball fell in the end zone before rolling out of bounds. It was originally ruled an incomplete pass, but replays changed the called and ruled it a fumble, which led to a turnover and touchback. Later in the fourth quarter while still trailing by 3, Herbert threw a pick deep in Washington territory. The two lost scoring chances were just the kinds of things that have prevented the Chargers from consistently winning in the past.
But Staley's troops overcame the misfortune and quickly forced a fumble, which led to Herbert's touchdown pass for the go-ahead score. After forcing a Washington punt, the Chargers took over with 6:43 left and never gave the ball back. Too early to tell if the change in outcome had anything to do with Staley's presence, but that was a game the Chargers almost certainly would have lost in 2020.
*The NFC West continues to be a bear. All four teams won their openers, and none was particularly close. Included in that success were impressive road wins for Arizona in Tennessee (38-13) and Seattle in Indy (28-16). Overall the Seahawks, 49ers, Cardinals and Rams outscored their opponents by a combined total of 141-76. While it's unlikely, all four have a chance to make the playoffs with all three wild cards possibly coming from the NFC West.
*Speaking of dominance in the West, the AFC turned the same trick by going 4-0 in Week 1. The Chiefs, Broncos and Chargers took care of business on Sunday before the Raiders took a wild Monday night affair in overtime over Baltimore. Las Vegas appeared to have the game won in OT but replays showed Bryan Edwards' knee was down just short of the goal line, forcing the Raiders to try to punch it in from the 1. They couldn't, and the Ravens eventually picked off a pass in the end zone on third down. However, Baltimore returned the favor when Lamar Jackson fumbled for the second time, setting the stage for the game-winner. Jon Gruden initially called for a field goal on second down but when the unit was slow getting into formation and the Raiders were called for a delay of game, he changed course. Derek Carr returned and faced an all-out Ravens blitz before lofting the winning touchdown pass to Zay Jones. It had to be one of the wildest finishes the league has seen – although as many pointed out on Twitter probably not even in the top 10 of crazy things happening in Vegas at the time.
*Lastly, the most bizarre game of the weekend may have taken place in Buffalo as the Bills somehow managed to drop a 23-16 decision to the Steelers. Pittsburgh was outgained 371-252, went 4-for-12 on third down and held the ball for less than 27 minutes – yet still won. A blocked punt returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter ultimately was the difference as Josh Allen and the Bills squandered a number of scoring chances early and it came back to bite them. Bad loss at home for the Bills, who have aspirations to play deep into January.
The Bills loss seemed like an aberration given the manner in which the game was played but still deserves some attention. We won't punish Buffalo too bad … for now …
- Tampa Bay (1-0) – The Bucs weren't overly sharp in the opener, turning it over four times and committing numerous penalties, but that Brady guy generally finds a way.
- Kansas City (1-0) – The Chiefs also weren't at their best at home against Cleveland, but that Mahomes guy generally finds a way as well.
- L.A. Rams (1-0) – The Matthew Stafford era in LA looked pretty scary as he passed for 321 yards on just 26 attempts.
- Cleveland (0-1) – The Browns held a 12-point lead in the first half and were up 9 in the fourth quarter but couldn't pull off the upset in Kansas City.
- Buffalo (0-1) – The Bills are no longer considered upstarts and sometimes teams have trouble adapting to that mindset. Buffalo seemed uncomfortable in that role on Sunday and that bears watching moving forward.