Both professional teams in the state of Texas dropped tight contests on the road in part of a thrilling opening week of the NFL season.
The Texans were tasked with traveling to Foxborough, Massachusetts to take on Tom Brady and the Patriots. Deshaun Watson and the Houston offense were stifled early in the game by the New England defense, but lost by just 7 points due to to some late miscues by the home team.
Brady quieted the annual whispers of a possible regression right off the bat with a touchdown strike to Rob Gronkowski after a Watson fumble deep in Houston territory. New England struck again twice in the second quarter and took a commanding 21-6 halftime lead.
Watson was able to lead two scoring drives in the second half with the help of a strong ground game while the Patriots tried to burn the clock. Alfred Blue capped off a 10-play, 68-yard scoring drive in the third with a short touchdown run. After a botched punt by New England late in the fourth, Watson found Bruce Ellington from five yards out for a score to cut the deficit to one possession. The Texans forced a punt with under a minute left, but were pinned at the 1-yard line and had no chance to march the length of the field with no timeouts.
Despite a mediocre performance by Watson and the offense as a whole, they got their toughest matchup of the season out of the way early. Everyone knows about Brady and the New England offense, but their defense is one of the most well-coached and prepared units in football as well. The Texans will have a chance to rebound in week two with a divisional matchup in Tennessee.
The Cowboys also had a slow start in week one, but theirs may be a little more alarming. Dallas has shown confidence in Dak Prescott’s ability to be effective without any big name targets, but he had nowhere to go against the Panther defense in a 16-8 loss in Carolina.
Ezekiel Elliot was a non-factor in the first half, but stepped up the production late to make his stat line more respectable. He finished with 69 yards on 15 carries and punched in the only Cowboy touchdown of the afternoon.
Dallas gained just 232 yards against a stingy and experienced Carolina defense with Prescott throwing for 170. Prescott had a chance to lead the Cowboys on a scoring drive to potentially tie it at the end of regulation, but was stripped by Mario Addison of the Panthers to seal the deal. Cam Newton kept the Cowboy defense guessing with 58 yards on the ground and did enough to pull the Panthers through despite a slow day through the air.
If Dallas learned anything week one, it is that Prescott and Elliot are not enough to compete in the NFC. Without Dez Bryant and Jason Whitten, the Cowboys have no threats to stretch the field and will continue to expose their young running back up front.
The most shocking finish came in the late slot on Sunday night at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. After an optimistic offseason that culminated with the addition of pass rushing super star Khalil Mack, the Chicago Bears came out firing against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Mitchell Trubisky led the Bears on an efficient 86-yard scoring drive on Chicago’s first offensive possession of the season, which he polished off with his legs from two yards out. Chicago jumped out to a 10-0 lead early and terrorized Rodgers with their new pass rush. In the second quarter, Roy Robertson-Harris of the Bears dropped Rodgers in the backfield and landed hard on his knee. After walking back to the sideline with help, Rodgers was wheeled off to the Packer locker room on a cart. While the fans in Green Bay were concerned with the longterm health of their quarterback, the action on the field turned ugly. Mack and the Chicago front dominated backup quarterback DeShone Kizer for the rest of the half. Mack essentially ripped the ball away from Kizer for his first turnover and then brought back a pass for a touchdown on the next possession.
But Rodgers was not done. Trailing 17-0, he reentered the game in the second half and led the gutsiest comeback since Super Bowl 51. Chicago struggled offensively throughout the game after the first possession and came up with just two field goals in the second half. Meanwhile, Rodgers used a much quicker release and led three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter.
It was impressive work by Rodgers and the Packers, but they were assisted by a total meltdown on the opposite sideline. After cornerback Kyle Fuller allowed Green Bay’s first touchdown of the night, a 39-yard strike to Geronimo Allison, he dropped one of the simplest interception opportunities of his life to start the final Packer scoring drive.
Rodgers connected with Randall Cobb just two plays later, who outran the entire defense for a 75-yard touchdown after safety Eddie Jackson attempted to jump the crossing route. The Bears officially succumbed to a 24-23 defeat when Trubisky fumbled on fourth down with just over a minute left to play.
Aaron Rodgers once again showed that the Green Bay Packers will go as far as he is able to take them. He missed the majority of 2018 with an injury and fans spent about an hour worrying that it would be his fate again this year. The mood in Lambeau Field went from that of a funeral to pure elation on Sunday night and the Packers proved that they are still a force as long as their quarterback is healthy.
It was the opposite mood for the other fans as they watched the revamped Bears crumble down the stretch after a dominant start. It was as if a higher power teased the Chicago faithful with a fairytale first half after four straight losing seasons, only to watch reality comes crashing down in the form of Aaron Rodgers the Boogeyman. It is still safe to say the Bears have improved immensely, but Matt Nagy’s team has a long way to go and an embarrassing loss to overcome.
The Cleveland Browns have already ensured a more successful campaign than a season ago after they hosted Pittsburgh on Sunday. They did not pick up their first win since December, 2016, but they waited out the Steelers at home and the game ended in a 21-21 tie after a scoreless overtime period.
The Browns had multiple chances to win the game, including a missed field goal in overtime, but they also exceeded expectations and showed immense improvement with a new-look roster.
The Steelers, however, will fly out of Cleveland feeling like losers. Ben Roethlisberger helped the Browns erase a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter with a total of five turnovers in the tie, three interceptions and two lost fumbles. Star running back Le’Veon Bell has still not joined his teammates in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers are 0-0-1 entering an important week two matchup with the Chiefs.
The week’s biggest upset came at the Superdome in New Orleans. With quarterback Jameis Winston absent due to suspension for the first three games, journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick stepped in and put on a show with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Fitzpatrick tossed for 417 yards and four touchdowns in a 48-40 shootout victory over the Saints.
After an impressive campaign in 2017, the Saints are favored by many to make another deep run in the postseason. Last year, they were able to break out thanks to a dynamic ground attack and a much improved defense. All of the flash was present offensively with huge performances from Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, but with Sunday’s loss came an ugly reminder of the lousy defensive efforts that have held New Orleans back in the past.