• Aaron Rodgers was injured in the first half of the Packers’ game against the Bears, but returned in the second half.
• The Dallas Cowboys didn’t score until late in the game and ultimately lost to the Carolina Panthers, 16-8.
• The Cleveland Browns didn’t lose … but they didn’t win. Their first game of the season, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, ended in a 21-21 tie.
• The Patriots, behind Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, beat the Texans, 27-20.
Rodgers Returns From Injury to Lead Historic Packers Comeback
The Green Bay Packers got a brief scare when Aaron Rodgers had to leave the game with a knee injury, and they got a far more enduring fright from the play of Khalil Mack who was a huge difference-maker in his first game for the Chicago Bears.
Neither seemed to matter when Rodgers got the ball back with 2 minutes 39 seconds remaining and his team down by just six points. With so many dramatic comebacks under his belt, the result felt like a given, and sure enough, Rodgers needed just three plays to find Randall Cobb for a go-ahead 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown that sealed a 24-23 victory for Green Bay.
That Rodgers was even on the field was surprising after a second quarter play in which he had his right knee buckle awkwardly under him on a sack by Chicago’s Roy Robertson-Harris. An evaluation on the field led to Rodgers heading back to the locker room on an injury cart, with the worst outcomes being assumed by Packers fans online.
Rodgers, though, jogged out for the start of the second half, and despite Chicago’s lead having swelled from 10-0 to 20-0 in his absence, the veteran quarterback, who recently signed a contract extension with nearly $100 million in guaranteed money, calmly shredded Chicago’s defense on the way to yet another unlikely comeback victory. The 17-point deficit the team overcame in the fourth quarter was the largest such comeback in franchise history.
The shocking turn of events helped allay the fears instilled in the Packers faithful by the performance of Mack, the 2016 defensive player of the year, who was acquired by Chicago in a trade with the Oakland Raiders on Sept. 2. Mack, a linebacker acquired with a second-round pick in exchange for two future first-round picks, took full advantage of Rodgers’ injury absence by forcing turnovers on consecutive possessions, one by strip sack and the other by snatching a DeShone Kizer pass out of the air and running it back 27 yards for a touchdown.
But even with Rodgers’ movements clearly limited by the knee injury, he proved far too much for the Bears in the second half. He finished the game having completed 20 of 29 passes for 286 yards and three touchdowns, outdueling Mitchell Trubisky, who passed for 171 yards and ran for 32 as part of a Chicago running attack that generated 139 yards.
Green Bay finished the game having outgained Chicago 301 to 155 in total yards despite the Bears having a nearly seven-minute advantage in time of possession.
With the win, Rodgers improved to 16-4 against Chicago and he will have to hope his knee is in good shape for a difficult road game against Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings next week.
Carolina Panthers 16, Dallas Cowboys 8
This off-season, the Dallas Cowboys said goodbye to Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Dan Bailey. The team would likely take all three veterans back after they stumbled their way to a 16-8 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
Nothing seemed to go right for the Cowboys despite the potent duo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott being together free of any legal entanglements or playoff pressure for the first time since the 2016 season.
Elliott had a fairly quiet game for him, with 69 rushing yards and one touchdown, but of far greater concern, Prescott failed to develop much with the passing game, completing 19 of 29 passes for 170 yards in his first game without Witten and Bryant. He had the ball and a chance to tie the game in the last two minutes but fumbled at the tail end of a sack, essentially giving the game away.
Without Bryant and Witten, Cole Beasley was the closest thing Prescott had to a No. 1 option and he finished the game with seven catches for 73 yards. None of the team’s other receiving options made any impact, with Dallas’ lone score coming on Elliott’s 4-yard touchdown run.
Bailey’s departure was probably the least noted of the three veteran players, but his absence was certainly felt in the third quarter when his replacement, Brett Maher, missed a 47-yard attempt. Bailey’s career field goal percentage from 40 to 49 yards is 88.1 percent.
While a road loss is not a disaster for Dallas, the Panthers came away with plenty of enthusiasm for their defense and reason to believe that Christian McCaffrey and C.J. Anderson can be a potent backfield going forward; they combined with Cam Newton to lead a rushing attack that generated 150 yards and two touchdowns.
Kansas City Chiefs 38, Los Angeles Chargers 28
The Kansas City Chiefs seemed remarkably confident that replacing Alex Smith, who had gone 50-26 in five years as the team’s starting quarterback, with Patrick Mahomes, who had one career start, was the right decision. After watching Mahomes utilize the Chiefs’ top receiving threat, Tyreek Hill, the team just might have been right.
Mahomes and Hill were a nearly perfect combination in Kansas City’s 38-28 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. They connected for seven passes on eight attempts, with Hill gaining 169 yards and two touchdowns, including a 58-yarder. Hill also scored the first points of the game on a 91-yard punt return and appears ready to break out into superstardom after a complicated start to his career as a result of a domestic violence incident that dropped him to the fifth round of the 2016 draft.
Overall, Mahomes completed 15 of 27 passes for 256 yard and four touchdowns in a start that was perhaps not as efficient as some of Smith’s best work but was far more electric.
The Chargers, expected to compete with the Chiefs for the A.F.C. West division title this season, got yet another good performance out of Philip Rivers, who threw for 424 yards and three touchdowns, but their two turnovers — both of which were followed by Kansas City touchdowns — along with seven points allowed on special teams, proved fatal.
Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Cleveland Browns 21
The Browns did not lose. That they did not win either seemed almost secondary as Cleveland settled for a 21-21 tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers that was easily the team’s best performance in recent memory.
The overtime thriller — which came courtesy of Tyrod Taylor having solidified the offense and the defense forcing six turnovers — allowed the dramatically-reworked Browns to avoid the franchise’s 18th consecutive regular season loss and improved the team’s record since the start of the 2016 season to 1-31-1. It was the N.F.L.’s first Week 1 tie since 1971.
If the Browns could find something of a win in the tie, Le’Veon Bell of the Steelers could easily be taking the same result as a personal loss, as it could work against him in his contract holdout. Bell, who has contended that he is so valuable to his team that the salary that comes with a franchise tag is insufficient, had to watch as James Conner, a second-year running back out of Pitt, did a fine job in his place, carrying the ball 31 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns, while adding another 57 yards as a receiver.
The Steelers needed every bit of Conner’s productivity in a game in which Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted three times and fumbled once. Pittsburgh couldn’t get the win, despite outgaining the Browns by nearly 150 yards.
Cleveland’s offense may not have been electric, but Taylor, asked to keep the quarterback seat warm for this year’s No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield, showed that he could move the ball against a quality opponent as he passed for 197 yards and ran for 77, while committing just one turnover.
Coach Hue Jackson, who has presided over the last two-plus seasons of futility, was not ready to declare victory after a tie.
“Disappointed for our fans,” he told reporters when he was asked how he felt after the game. “Did not want them going home without a victory. I did not want our players to go home without a victory. We were not able to get it done. Did not finish it, but obviously, a tie. A tie.”
The Browns will get another chance at their first win since Week 16 of the 2016 season when they travel to New Orleans to play the Saints next week.
Jacksonville Jaguars 20, New York Giants 15
A technological glitch left the microphones in the news conference room at MetLife Stadium dealing with an echo, and for a few moments, Giants Coach Pat Shurmur was forced to talk over himself.
“It’s disappointing when you lose,” Shurmur said after Sunday’s game.
“Disappointing, disappointing, disappointing.” The words kept resounding.
Glitches were to be expected. The transition to a new coach is not always seamless. Sometimes, there are echoes from the past.
There were some good memories revived: Odell Beckham Jr. streaking across the field with defenders giving chase, Eli Manning connecting on pass after pass and the Giants’ defense strengthening in the second half.
But, more evocative of last season’s 3-13 campaign were the futile performances along the offensive line, crucial turnovers and missed opportunities that marred Shurmur’s debut and led to a 20-15 defeat against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Baltimore Ravens 47, Buffalo Bills 3
Sam Darnold is expected to become the youngest Week 1 starting quarterback in N.F.L. history Monday when the Jets play the Detroit Lions, but he lost his chance to be the first quarterback of the 2018 draft class to get into a game when both Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens and Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills played in Baltimore’s 47-3 victory over the Bills on Sunday.
The game was almost immediately a blowout, with Joe Flacco shredding the Buffalo defense and Nathan Peterman continuing to look lost in his second stint as a starter for the Bills. By the time the score was 40-0 in the Ravens’ favor, both teams had turned to their rookie quarterbacks.
Jackson, the 32nd pick in the draft, had actually entered the game earlier for a few plays in a wildcat formation before also taking over as a passer, while Allen, the seventh pick, came in after Peterman had completed just 5 of 18 passes for 24 yards with two interceptions.