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What we learned from Week 1 of the NFL season


Travis Kelce caught 8 of 9 targets for 121 yards and one touchdown, leading all Kansas City receivers on Sunday. (Photo by Mark J. Rebilas via The New York Times)

By Derrik Klassen


The first week of the NFL’s regular season never fails to make a mess. Upsets, mistakes, miracles and everything in between come pouring out as the season starts anew. Week 1’s false starts may have been a wake-up call to teams and their fans that the games count again — and that even a shaky start can offer firm takeaways.


Mahomes-to-Kelce defines Kansas City’s offense.


The Arizona Cardinals, like most everyone else, figured that Patrick Mahomes might struggle to create big plays without Tyreek Hill, the three-time All-Pro receiver Kansas City traded to Miami this past offseason.


Throughout his career, Mahomes has been magical against blitzes, often beating them with his vision, quick trigger before defenders penetrate or using his athletic ability and creativity to break the pocket. Still, Arizona defensive coordinator Vance Joseph bet Hill’s departure would leave Mahomes in the lurch: He sent at least five rushers at Mahomes on more than half the quarterback’s drop-backs Sunday, an approach that seemed doomed to fail from the start. It did and Arizona lost 44-21.


According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Mahomes had 137 yards on 15-of-21 passing and four touchdowns just against the blitz.


Mahomes shined against standard defensive rushes, too. It helps that his go-to safety valve, tight end Travis Kelce, is still a stabilizing option. Kansas City coach Andy Reid made sure Kelce could get open for middle-distance throws that repeatedly burned the Cardinals. Kelce caught 8 of 9 targets for 121 yards and one touchdown, leading all receivers.


On a third-quarter play, Kansas City came out in a 13 personnel (one running back and three tight ends) tight bunch formation with Kelce as the outside player in the bunch. He ran a deep over route, cutting just behind the middle player, who ran a deep corner route in front of him. Mahomes nailed him with a pass over the middle that zipped just over a linebacker’s outstretched arms for a first down.


Mahomes still has third-year receiver Mecole Hardman and Kansas City added former Pittsburgh receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to the roster in the offseason to help plug the hole left by Hill’s departure. But the Mahomes-to-Kelce connection is still the most important one to the Kansas City offense.


Around the NFL


Buccaneers 19, Cowboys 3: The Bucs’ offense picked up where it left off Sunday night. Tom Brady pushed the ball beyond 10 yards all night long while still getting the ball off in a hurry, a combination only he can pull off consistently. Dallas, on the other hand, looked nothing like the team that set the league ablaze early last season. Dak Prescott completed fewer than half his passes, threw an interception and couldn’t lead the offense to a single touchdown, thanks in part to reserve Noah Brown and rookie undrafted free agent Dennis Houston being forced into significant roles at wide receiver. Prescott also left the game late in the fourth quarter with a hand injury. It’s unclear for now if he needs surgery — team owner Jerry Jones said he would, but coach Mike McCarthy said Prescott had yet to see a doctor — but he is likely to miss some time. If Prescott misses longer than even a week or two, Dallas’ season could start to spiral out of control.


Chargers 24, Raiders 19: Davante Adams caught 10 of his 17 targets for 141 yards and a score, but tight end Darren Waller was the only other Raiders pass-catcher with more than three catches, for 21 yards. The Chargers pulled ahead early behind Justin Herbert’s three touchdown throws and Los Angeles got a look at their new edge pairing of Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa, who combined for 4 1/2 sacks.


Chiefs 44, Cardinals 21: Playing without receiver DeAndre Hopkins, the Cardinals trotted out multiple wideouts who are 5-foot-9 or shorter, save for A.J. Green, and asked Kyler Murray to find them. It didn’t work. Patrick Mahomes finished with five passing touchdowns, the eighth time he has done so since 2018. No other quarterback has more than three such performances over that span.


Giants 21, Titans 20: Daniel Jones was under relentless pressure all day, taking five sacks and turning the ball over via fumble and interception. But Jones was exceptionally accurate (17 of 21 passing for 188 yards and two touchdowns) when he did not have to pick grass out of his face mask, and running back Saquon Barkley looked as explosive as he has in years, finishing with 164 yards on 18 carries thanks in part to some creative gap scheme runs from coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka. With about a minute to go, Daboll’s gutsy 2-point conversion call was the difference.


Vikings 23, Packers 7: Kirk Cousins connected with Justin Jefferson on 9 of his 11 targets for 184 yards. Jefferson kicked off the game’s scoring with a simple slide route across the formation on fourth-and-goal. In the second quarter, Jefferson split Green Bay’s safeties on a deep post for an explosive play, before ripping a crossing route for a 36-yard touchdown just before the end of the first half. The Packers? Well, they’re going to need some time to figure things out.


Saints 27, Falcons 26: The Saints salvaged an otherwise brutal showing with a monster fourth quarter. Through most of the game, quarterback Jameis Winston got beat up every which way while the Falcons offense found ways into the end zone thanks to quarterback Marcus Mariota’s athleticism, a strong debut from rookie receiver Drake London (five catches for 74 yards), and a surprising effort between the tackles from Cordarrelle Patterson. But, y’know, the Falcons are going to Falcon.


Bears 19, 49ers 10: The torrential downpour before the game dictated that this game would be a run-heavy brawl, which in theory should have benefited a Kyle Shanahan team. But the Bears persisted, coming alive in the second half after laying an egg early. Quarterback Justin Fields finally got a few chances to rip it down the field, finding the end zone twice, and the Bears new-look defense completely shut out San Francisco’s new starter, Trey Lance, when he needed to drop back and throw the 49ers back into the game.


Steelers 23, Bengals 20 (OT): This was a tale of two Steelers units. On defense, Pittsburgh looked as suffocating as it ever has in the Mike Tomlin era. On the other side of the ball, the offense completely ran out of steam after finding some success with screens, flea flickers, and other cheap nonsense despite being gifted the ball time and time again. Joe Burrow’s late-game magic fell short of 2021’s standard through no fault of his own as kicker Evan McPherson whiffed a potential game-winner in overtime.


Eagles 38, Lions 35: It took the Lions a long time to make this a game. Quarterback Jared Goff was 3-for-10 with 6 yards passing and a pick six early, but he got a boost in the second half from D’Andre Swift, who ripped off a number of chunk gains to keep the offense ahead of the sticks. It wasn’t enough, though, as the Eagles rode A.J. Brown’s 155 receiving yards to a win.


Dolphins 20, Patriots 7: Both offenses came into this game with questions about their new schemes and young quarterbacks. Only the Dolphins left it feeling optimistic about their makeover. Even with a useless Miami running game, Tua Tagovailoa rattled off 23-of-33 passing for 270 yards and a touchdown, and no picks, finding Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle for 163 of those yards. New England’s Mac Jones wasn’t so fortunate as he was constantly under siege, making it difficult to do anything but get the ball out quickly to the flat or throw up hope-and-a-prayer go balls.


Ravens 24, Jets 9: The Jets decided that making backup quarterback Joe Flacco throw 59 passes was the way to win a game. In the year 2022. Against Lamar Jackson. The Ravens quarterback found his stride on vertical passes, connecting with Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay for touchdowns of more than 25 yards. Jackson’s contract campaign is off to an excellent start.


Commanders 28, Jaguars 22: Carson Wentz had an extremely Carson Wentz game, tossing four touchdowns (a couple of which required excellent touch) and appearing to try to throw the game away in the second half. His two interceptions led to 10 Jaguars points and jolted Trevor Lawrence back to life. In the end, Wentz led Washington on a 13-play touchdown drive to put this one away.


Browns 26, Panthers 24: Baker Mayfield led a valiant 17-point fourth quarter, but the shock was how much the Carolina offense struggled to run against Cleveland’s unproven interior defensive line. Christian McCaffrey earned just 33 yards on 10 carries and watched as the Browns’ Nick Chubb trucked along through the Panthers front for 141 yards on 22 carries. With the team playing behind backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, Chubb’s output gave the Browns’ offense just enough stability for a win.


Colts 20, Texans 20 (OT): It took the Colts’ defense three quarters to stop Davis Mills from putting up MVP numbers. For a good portion of the game, Mills had more than 8 yards per attempt, regularly finding his tight ends down the seams for explosive plays. Jonathan Taylor wore down the Texans defense, plowing through for 161 yards and a score on 31 carries, but Indianapolis still left with a tie thanks to a 42-yard missed field goal attempt from the goggle-god, Rodrigo Blankenship, with 2 minutes remaining in overtime.

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