The Pittsburgh Steelers made a colossal statement in the AFC North in Week 1.
By punching the defending conference champion Bengals in the mouth, and leaving Cincinnati with a 23-20 overtime win, Pittsburgh looks the part of a somewhat surprising contender and like it put last season’s defensive woes behind it.
But, the Steelers’ win comes at a significant cost.
Watt is the heart and soul of the Steelers’ defense, and Sunday afternoon produced 6 total tackles, sacked Joe Burrow once, and intercepted a pass — before disaster struck late in the fourth quarter.
The margin for error in the AFC North promises to be razor thin, and the Steelers answered many of their doubters with one of the more dominant defensive performances we have seen in recent memory; intercepting Burrow 4 times and sacking him 7 times.
In Sunday’s wild, seemingly never-ending game that finally came to a conclusion with Chris Boswell’s game-winning field goal as time expired in overtime, Pittsburgh announced to the world it is plenty capable of competing in one of the deepest divisions in football.
How well the Steelers withstand losing Watt for the season will determine just how high their ceiling is in 2022.
Here are 10 takeaways, and some awards, from Week 1 of the NFL season.
1) Davante Adams’ Departure Already Wreaking Havoc on Packers, Aaron Rodgers
The irony of the universe can be cruel, sometimes.
Early in Sunday’s Packers-Vikings clash, Aaron Rodgers aired it out to a wide-open Christian Watson, who burned Patrick Peterson off a double-move, only to have the pass fall harmlessly between his hands in Minnesota. Just as seconds later, in real-time, Davante Adams caught a contested pass from Derek Carr in traffic and streaked downfield for a 25-yard gain, 1,940 yards away at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.
Rodgers can’t be happy with the state of his receiving corps. He said as much over the summer.
As one current personnel executive recently told Heavy, the Packers might have underestimated the impact of dealing away one of the two-time reigning MVP’s most dangerous weapons.
“I understand you have a damn good quarterback,” the executive said. “But, you gave away his weapon. His most dangerous and most consistent weapon. All of these people think the Packers will be better, and I’m sitting here just asking myself, ‘How’? Now he’s going to spread the ball around to four different wide receivers rather than one, well, that one caught 24 touchdowns last year.”
Green Bay’s offense was a series of fits and starts against the Vikings, and struggled to find any identity as the Packers were drubbed 23-7.
Rodgers and the Packers better hope the young receivers quickly figure it out.
As for Adams, he looks worth every penny of his $140 million deal with the Raiders, catching 10 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown.
2) The Bills Look Like a Super Bowl Juggernaut
For all of Sunday’s insane comebacks and prolific individual performances, we are all certain to overreact to, the Buffalo Bills’ 2022 debut cannot and should not be overshadowed.
The Bills-Rams matchup was billed as a possible Super Bowl preview, but only the Bills rose to the moment.
Josh Allen looked like the MVP, passing for 297 yards with 3 touchdowns to a pair of interceptions. Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis were uncoverable as they combined for 12 catches for 210 yards and Allen’s 3 touchdown passes.
Meanwhile, the Bills’ defense swarmed around Matthew Stafford all night long, sacking him seven times, and picking him off three times.
Buffalo looks like the most complete team in football, and maybe even the toughest to beat.
3) Patrick Mahomes Is a Magician
If there were any doubt that the Chiefs’ offense with Mahomes would pick up without Tyreek Hill where it left off with the All-Pro speedster last season, Kansas City quickly put them to rest in the opener in Arizona.
Not only did Mahomes finish 30-for-39 passing for 360 yards and 5 touchdowns, but he also made several plays worthy of appearing in commercials promoting Chiefs’ prime-time appearances.
Maybe more importantly than Mahomes not skipping a beat without Hill, is the fact that if you took the No. 25 off second-year running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s jersey, you might have thought you were watching Hill. Or, at least Hill’s former role in the Chiefs’ offense.
Edwards-Helaire caught all three of his targets for 32 yards and 2 touchdowns, while running similar route concepts to how the Chiefs used to deploy Hill. Plus, Edwards-Helaire averaged six yards per carry, while rushing for 42 yards.
Following a frenetic offseason that saw the Chargers, Raiders, and Broncos all load up to make a run at the division crown, Mahomes and the Chiefs wasted no time reminding why no other team has been able to hang an AFC West banner since 2015.
4) Eagles’ Jalen Hurts Picks Up Where He Left Off in Critical Area
When Jalen Hurts scrambled for a one-yard touchdown run to tie the game at seven for the Eagles in the first quarter, Hurts continued what has been a strong start to his career inside the red zone.
Hurts’ touchdown run was the 13th red zone rushing touchdown of his career, to go with his 16 touchdown passes inside the 20-yard line.
“He’s a really good runner, it’s his best attribute,” an NFC scout told Heavy.
Hurts opened the game with 5 incompletions on his first five passing attempts, but the Eagles’ commitment to begin funneling the passing game through A.J. Brown beginning with Philly’s second possession paid huge dividends.
Brown caught a game-high 10 receptions for 155 yards, as Hurts finished 18-for-32 passing for 243 yards, leading an Eagles’ offense that scored on four of five trips into the red zone in a 38-35 win.
One AFC evaluator has high expectations for the Eagles’ signal caller.
“The thing about that dude is he is going to work his entire ass off to get better,” an AFC scout told Heavy. “Everywhere he’s been, he’s done that, and he’s well on his way for the Eagles.”
5) O.J. Howard Already Key Piece for Davis Mills, Houston Texans
A veteran tight end can be vitally important to a young quarterback’s development.
In O.J. Howard’s Houston Texans debut, it quickly became evident he already has a strong rapport with second-year quarterback Davis Mills.
Howard was only targeted twice by Mills, in Houston’s 20-20 tie with the Indianapolis Colts, but the veteran caught both for 38 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Released by the Bills during final roster cuts, after underachieving as a former No. 19 overall pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Howard now figures to play a prominent role in the Texans’ red-zone offense this season.
6) Lamar Jackson Shows His Value…In a Big Way
The Ravens and Lamar Jackson failed to reach a long-term contract extension prior to the quarterback’s self-imposed Friday deadline, and Jackson played Sunday against the Jets as if he is on a personal revenge tour for not being offered a fully guaranteed pact.
Not only did Jackson finish 17-of-30 passing for 213 yards with 3 touchdowns to 1 interception, but there were moments throughout Sunday’s contest that will be added to the 25-year-old’s resumé for his second MVP award.
Jackson’s 55-yard touchdown pass to Rashod Bateman was an absolute strike, and was one of the most impressive passes from action around the league.
As long as Jackson stays healthy, and if he plays at as prolific a level as he did Sunday, Baltimore is going to make a legitimate worst-to-first run in the AFC North. And Jackson will undoubtedly secure his bag, and maybe even another MVP.
7) Jahan Dotson Shows Exactly Why He Was a 1st-Round Pick
Jahan Dotson played his NFL debut like a player who spent the offseason reading about skepticism of being worthy of being a first-round pick.
Dotson, who had one of the more impressive catch radiuses in the 2022 NFL draft class, wasted no time making an immediate impact on the Washington Commanders’ offense, in his debut against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
With 9:36 remaining, Dotson made a diving reception in the end zone with Jaguars defensive back Tyson Campbell draped all over him, for the game-winning score, on a 24-yard touchdown. Dotson’s sliding catch was his second touchdown of the game.
Dotson’s ability to get behind a defense, reliable hands, and catch radius give him a significant chance to develop into Carson Wentz’s favorite target. He took a big step towards reaching that mantle with his 3-catch, 40-yard and 2 touchdown effort in Washington’s Week 1 win.
8) Saquon Barkley Is Back
Saquon Barkley has sounded like a player on a mission throughout the course of the offseason, and he quickly in Sunday’s opener against the Titans reminded the world how explosive a player he is, and why the Giants chose him No. 2 overall, out of Penn State, in the 2018 NFL draft.
Barkley hadn’t had a run of 50 yards or more since 2018, and he produced two against the Titans, as he rushed for a league-high 164 yards and a touchdown, while averaging a whopping 9.1 yards per carry.
After consecutive injury-riddled campaigns, including a torn ACL that ended his 2020 season after just two weeks and seemed to linger much of last season, Barkley burst onto the scene by almost singlehandedly leading the Giants to victory in Brian Daboll’s first game as head coach.
Sunday might have been the most impressive performance of Barkley’s career, and if he’s able to maintain that level, he’s going to run away with Comeback Player of The Year.
9) 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo Hedge Looks Smarter After Sunday
San Francisco’s decision to rework Jimmy Garoppolo’s contract, paying the veteran quarterback $6.5 million guaranteed plus incentives this season, was hailed as a win-win by executives across the NFL in August.
After Sunday’s disappointing 19-10 49ers loss to the Bears, in Chicago, the 49ers’ move looks downright prescient.
Preface everything with the fact that this game was effectively played in a slip-and-slide, amid miserable rainy conditions at Soldier Field. But, Trey Lance’s performance was downright uninspiring.
Lance, making his third NFL start, was held to 128 yards on 13-of-28 passing with 1 interception, while rushing for 54 yards.
It would seem unlikely 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan pulling the plug on Lance in the immediate future.
But, if Lance doesn’t turn things around in dramatic fashion, and light up the Seahawks, Broncos, and Rams over the next three weeks, there could be some very difficult conversations being had in the Bay area by month’s end.
10) Minkah Fitzpatrick Is Incredibly Opportunistic
Defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick scored the first defensive touchdown of the NFL season, and the Steelers’ first defensive touchdown since 2020 on Sunday afternoon.
When Fitzpatrick intercepted Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow in the first quarter and returned it 31 yards on Cincinnati’s opening possession of the game, it was a reminder of what makes him one of the premier safeties in the league.
Fitzpatrick’s pick-six was the fourth of his career, which places him tied for third among active players.
Last season, Fitzpatrick held opposing quarterbacks to an 83.4 passer rating when targeted. Against one of the game’s most cerebral passers, in Burrow, Fitzpatrick got his 2022 off to a really fast start.
Week 1’s Breakout Star: Buffalo Bills WR Gabriel Davis
Gabriel Davis is going to be a household name by season’s end, if he isn’t already.
Playing opposite Stefon Diggs, Davis has all the traits of a No. 1 wide receiver; he’s 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, elusive in the open field, possesses game-breaking speed, and reliable hands. Thursday night during the Bills’ opening night shellacking of the defending champion Rams, Davis showed he’s more than worthy of that moniker.
Davis caught 4 of his 5 targets for 88 targets against the Rams. Perhaps more importantly, as Pro Football Focus points out, Allen had a nearly flawless 158.3 passer rating when targeting Davis. This connection is only going to get stronger as the season goes along.
MVP of the Week: Minnesota Vikings WR Justin Jefferson
The word “impressive” doesn’t come close to describing Jefferson’s performance against the division rival Packers.
Jefferson caught 6 passes on 7 targets for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns. Oh, apologies, that was his stat line in the first half.
The Vikings star was in absolute lockstep with quarterback Kirk Cousins, catching 9 of 11 targets for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns, as Minnesota made an absolute statement that they have the pieces on both sides of the ball to run past the Packers in the NFC North. Jefferson may be the biggest piece of all.