Saquon Barkley had never won a season opener in the NFL prior to Sunday. If it weren’t for his 24 touches and 194 yards from scrimmage, Barkley would be starting an NFL season in a 0-1 hole for the fifth time in his career. Instead, Barkley’s high usage day kept the New York Giants afloat in their 21-22 win over the Tennessee Titans. He outgained Daniel Jones who accounted for 188 passing yards, ran for 25, but lost 32 yards on five sacks. Yet, it was a tough two-yard run courtesy of Daniel Jones’ shovel pass that earned him the top spot in Week 1’s Most Valuable Player rankings.
Derrick Henry was the running back who was expected to mince an opposing run defense, not Barkley, who has been largely out of sight and out of mind since his rookie season in 2018. Daniel Jones, who is just riding out the final year on his contract, didn’t have to do much except piggyback ride Barkley, who caught passes, shredded the Titans’ front seven, infiltrated the endzone, and scored the game-winning 2-point conversion. Only three running backs in NFL history have a single game with 160 rushing yards, 30 receiving touchdowns, a touchdown, and a 2-point conversion.
In Week 1, Barkley paced the entire league in yards from scrimmage. If the Giants are going to make any waves in the NFC East, Barkley is going to have to rumble like this every weekend. When the Giants selected Barkley with the second pick in the 2018 Draft, they dreamed of days like this being commonplace. It’s an unfair request to make of a running back still playing on his rookie deal, but it’s a necessity for a squad that’s constructed its offense so poorly that their first-round pick at wide receiver in 2020, Kadarius Toney played just seven snaps despite not being listed on the injury report and their premier wideout Kenny Golladay was targeted just twice, which is an improvement over 2021 when he was an abject disappointment. In Week 2, they’ll host the Panthers who were just carved up for 217 yards on 5.6yards per touch by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Week 1 was highlighted by other notable offensive skill position players who gave us slow starts. The reigning Super Bowl champions Los Angeles Rams and a rusty Matthew Stafford were among that group of struggling stars. The defense tasked with stopping them in the NFL’s Kickoff Game was responsible for most of their offensive woes.
Stafford must have felt like he was caught in a landslide on Thursday Night Football as he was hurried out of his comfort zone, picked off three times, and sacked on seven dropbacks. The Bills’ defense left him submerged on Thursday Night Football and Von Miller led the charge. Miller only played 35 snaps, a little over half of Buffalo’s total defensive snap count, and sacked Stafford twice, pressured him four times, and had Pro Football Focus’ highest grade among Bills defenders. To do so against the team he just won a Super Bowl which made his debut even sweeter.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette was equally pivotal in a low-scoring affair against the Dallas Cowboys.
There have been questions all offseason pertaining to how much of a share of the offense Tom Brady could shoulder at age 45. Those inquiries were compounded by a Week 1 hamstring injury to receiver Chris Godwin, who is also recovering from a torn ACL. The offensive line lost Ali Marpet to retirement, Tristan Wirfs missed much of training camp with a strained oblique, Ryan Jensen is on the IR, and left tackle Donovan Smith injured his elbow in the first half. In 2021, Brady led the entire league in passing yardage, attempts, completions, and touchdowns, therefore protecting him behind a makeshift offensive line is their primary objective.
Whereas Bruce Arians’ preference would have been to throw it, Todd Bowles’s solution was to put the ball in Leonard Fournette’s hands. Last season’s disproportional run-pass play distribution left them 26th in rushing yards and 31st in attempts. Fournette was the fulcrum of Tampa Bay’s more balanced offense.
In Week 1, they finished in the top eighth of the league in attempts, and yards. Fournette gobbled up 137 yards and for good measure, flattened a blitzing Micah Parsons. Serving as Tom Brady’s protection detail is an equally important duty for the Bucs’ running backs. Fournette’s chip block on Parsons gave Brady enough time in the pocket to complete a 48-yard completion to Julio Jones.
Fournette revitalized his career in Tampa Bay as “Playoff Lenny” during the team’s 2020 Super Bowl run and his touchdown gallop on 4th and 1 in the final minute against the Rams nearly completed an iconic comeback. If Fournette is going to keep running like he’s back at LSU, Bucs foes are going to be in for a long day.
If we were basing this decision on one half of football, Joe Burrow would have run away with the baton and spiked it across the finish line. Alas, he picked himself off the mat in the fourth quarter against Cincinnati.
However, Trey Lance was even more frustrating to watch. Both Fields and Lance were contenders, especially Lance after he got played by Eddie Jackson on a late interception. The rain and field conditions were more comparable to a Tough Mudder race than a professional football game at Soldier Field. Here’s how bad it was in the early going.
The rain accounts for why Lance was 13-for-28 in his debutLance faded down the stretch while Justin Fields rose to the occasion, but gets a break this week because of Mother Nature.
The Least Valuable Player for Week 1 has to go to Derek Carr for his musty showing against the Chargers. With all the expectations heaped on his shoulders, Las Vegas was owed more than what they got from “that motherfucker.”
Carr seemed a little overeager to play pitch and catch Davante Adams again, targeting him 17 times at the expense of Darren Waller (six) and Hunter Renfrow (six). The last time Adams and Carr were in the same uniform, they connected on 24 touchdowns during the 2013 season at Fresno State. Carr’s arm downfield heave to Davante Adams on what should have been a touchdown throw in the fourth quarter ran out of gas on the way and was picked off by Asante Samuel, Jr.
In total, Carr puked up three interceptions, two fumbles, was sacked three times by former teammate Khalil Mack, and was a bronze statue in the pocket when it collapsed. In a 24-19 loss, just one fewer mistake could have swung the outcome in the Raiders’ favor.