The first Sunday of the NFL season was wild. The NFC's worst team from 2019 won, while the defending NFC champs lost. The team everyone insisted was tanking for top 2021 quarterback prospect Trevor Lawrence won, in part because Philip Rivers threw an interception while his team was trailing late in the fourth quarter. (OK, some things weren't so unexpected.)
The biggest passing day for a winning quarterback came from an old guy we've started to count out, and the worst performance came from a young star we were expecting to break out. And somewhere in the middle of that, two of the greatest quarterbacks who ever lived dueled in front of an empty stadium in New Orleans.
Let's run through a range of quarterback performances from Sunday to try to get a closer look at what we saw and what it might mean for the weeks to come. Last year, when I did this for Week 1 of the 2019 season, it was pretty clear that Cam Newton's foot was a problem, Baker Mayfield and the Browns' offense weren't handling pressure well and Lamar Jackson's impressive performance was more than just mashing up the Dolphins. Week 1 can be misleading, but here are a few quarterback awards for the opening week of action:
The Matt Schaub Award for Prolific Pick-Sixes
Let's start with the biggest game on the slate and make an unexpected comparison between Schaub, the longtime Texans starter, and Brady, who has joined Schaub in a piece of ignominious trivia. After throwing a pick-six to Janoris Jenkins during Sunday's loss to the Saints, Brady has now thrown pick-sixes in three consecutive games, with former teammates Eric Rowe and Logan Ryan getting the best of Brady in Week 17 and the wild-card game, respectively, last season.
The last player to do that is Schaub, who threw pick-sixes in three consecutive games between 2014 and 2015. If Brady throws a pick-six next Sunday against the Panthers, he'll tie the NFL record for the most consecutive games with one, matching ... Schaub, who threw four in a row in 2013. Yes, those are two separate streaks, and if you want a reminder of how many chances NFL teams give certain quarterbacks, Schaub has earned more than $13 million since the last streak ended.
Brady threw two interceptions Sunday, and according to Bucs coach Bruce Arians, they were both his fault. The first came on a miscommunication with Mike Evans, with the star receiver cutting off his route and Brady expecting otherwise, leading to a gift for Marcus Williams. After the game, Arians blamed his quarterback, noting that Evans made the correct sight adjustment against the coverage. It looked like Brady thought he was facing Cover 2 and wanted to hit the hole beyond the linebacker and in between the two deep safeties. Even if that had been the case and Evans had continued his route, the throw didn't really seem to be open.
The second throw was more egregious. The Bucs were setting up a screen to the left and had a speed out to the right to try to attract attention away from the screen. Brady likely has (or expects to have) the latitude to throw the out if he thinks it's open or preferable to the screen, but it's a dangerous pass for a 43-year-old quarterback making a throw from the left hashmark all the way to the opposite sideline.
As it turned out, the pass was too dangerous: Jenkins read the out and jumped the attempt to Scotty Miller for a pick-six. It's the sort of throw Jameis Winston would attempt or the pass a 25-year-old or even 35-year-old Brady would make to prove to the opposing defense that they had to defend every inch of turf. Brady's game was never about overwhelming arm strength, but as we saw last season, his arm is not quite what it was five or 10 years ago.
Outside of the interceptions, I thought Brady played better than I would have expected in his Bucs debut. I thought he had solid zip on his throws and was able to get the ball downfield when necessary, most notably on the three-play touchdown drive after the pick-six.
His numbers weren't especially impressive, as he finished 23-of-36 for 239 yards with two touchdowns and those two picks, but his line doesn't include a massive amount of pass interference yardage. The Saints committed DPI four times for 101 yards, which is in line with what some quarterbacks would get in terms of pass interference yardage over an entire season. Add those to his totals and Brady throws for 340 yards on 40 attempts, or an average of 8.5 yards per pass. Doing that against a great pass defense in his debut with a new team is solid work.
If anything, I would be more concerned about Brady's receivers. Evans, who battled through a hamstring injury, had one catch for 2 yards on four targets, although he did draw two of the pass interference calls for 69 yards. More concerning was that Rob Gronkowski didn't do much in his return to the league, as the legendary tight end ran 20 routes and managed to muster up only two catches for 11 yards on a pair of designed screens. It's only one week, of course, but Brady looked more like his old self than his fellow Tampa newcomer.
The Ominous Victory Award for Questionable Performance in a Win
For the player who still raised questions in victory, I'm at least a little worried about Brees. Both he and Sean Payton described their performances in Sunday's win as "awful," and while I wouldn't go that far, the performance raised some questions about both Payton's expectations and how Brees feels heading into the 2020 season.
To start, especially early in the game, I can't recall a more conservative game plan from Payton with Brees in the fold. The Saints seemed vigilantly focused on getting the football out of his hands with screens, swing passes and smoke and mirrors; it reminded me of the game plan the Steelers had for Mason Rudolph's starts last season. Brees is not a quarterback who needs to throw downfield for 10 yards at a clip, but his average pass traveled just 4.1 yards in the air on Sunday. Out of 153 Brees starts since the start of 2010, this ranked 148th in average depth of target.
Brees hit Jared Cook with a great throw for a 46-yard completion to boost his totals, but he averaged just 5.4 yards per attempt Sunday, topping only Baker Mayfield. He did miss out on 48 yards of pass interference penalties, but one of those calls was a questionable decision that bailed out an uncommonly poor decision from the ultra-careful quarterback. He got away with a pair of would-be interceptions, which is out of character for a guy who threw just four picks in 2019.
Brees usually makes a low average depth of target work by completing passes at astronomical rates. The three best completion percentages in NFL history are Brees in 2018, Brees in 2019 and Brees in 2017, a three-year span in which he has combined to complete a staggering 73.5% of his pass attempts. You can argue that it's easier to complete passes in a dome under the league's current passing rules, but even then, the right comp for him is late-career Sandy Koufax, racking up crazy numbers in a pitcher's paradise in Los Angeles.
On Sunday, though, Brees didn't approach his usual lofty heights. He completed just 60% of his passes. NFL Next Gen Stats tracks completion percentage over expectation (CPOE), measuring a quarterback's actual completion rate versus what its machine-learning model suggests would be an average completion percentage for a quarterback throwing the same routes to similarly placed receivers against similarly placed defenders.
Brees' expected completion percentage on Sunday was 68.8%, meaning he was 8.8% below what would have been considered an average performance. This was the third-worst mark for any quarterback in Week 1, ahead of only Dwayne Haskins and Carson Wentz. The Next Gen Stats data only goes back through 2016, but over that time frame, that 8.8% mark was the worst we've seen from Brees in any start. Only 32.3% of his passes were considered successes by the Next Gen Stats model, which was his second-worst start since 2016.
Even alongside the incompletions, though, I don't think the completions were up to his usual standard. Passes he usually puts in stride, most notably on a shallow cross to Emmanuel Sanders inside the 10-yard line, were in the wrong place and didn't allow his receivers chances to create yards after the catch. The ball seemed to get stuck in his hands at moments, and he missed a couple of open receivers. Other quarterbacks have this happen, of course, but this stuff doesn't really happen to Brees very often.
The last time I seriously worried about Brees falling off the aging cliff was after a late-season dip in 2018. Then, I took a closer look and didn't think there was much to be worried about. He then showed little signs of any decline in 2019. One game isn't enough to sound any alarms, and even an "awful" version of Brees still posted a Total QBR of 71.9 in a key divisional victory. It's just something worth paying closer attention to in the weeks to come.
The Philip Rivers Award for Ill-Timed Interceptions
Let's give this one to the legend himself, who found himself in the exact same situation we saw time and time again with the Chargers. With the Colts unexpectedly trailing to an inferior Jaguars team after losing a key contributor to injury (Marlon Mack) and struggling on special teams (a missed 30-yard field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship), Rivers took over down 24-20 and proceeded to force a third-down pass into coverage, where it was picked off by Andrew Wingard.
Rivers was unquestionably trying to make a play at the expense of a punt, but it wasn't his only mistake, as his interception earlier in the game was a misread. He thought he had a quick out available to T.Y. Hilton, but rookie corner CJ Henderson came off what looked to be his man and trapped the throw at the sticks for a pick.
The two picks led to 10 points for Jacksonville, and while Rivers didn't get much help from Hilton on the final drive of the game, it's fair to worry about what we'll see from the 38-year-old in Indy. Rivers dropped a few of his usual rainbows into his receivers' hands and hooked up on a nice day with Parris Campbell, but the Colts didn't do enough to lock up the game early and didn't have a quarterback who could win it for them late. That same formula tortured Chargers fans over the past few years.
The Nothing to Lose Award for Excellence in a Hopeless Situation
This one's gotta go to Minshew, who went 19-of-20 passing for 173 yards and three touchdowns in Sunday's victory. This game essentially came down to red zone efficiency, and Minshew punched in touchdowns on each of his trips. He benefited from a badly blown coverage on the game-winning touchdown pass to Keelan Cole, and rookie Laviska Shenault did most of the work in beating Kenny Moore across the field for his first pro touchdown, but Minshew worked in rhythm and didn't make many mistakes.
Everyone expects the Jaguars to end up with Trevor Lawrence or a new quarterback in 2021, but Minshew has a clear path over the rest of the year to convince Jacksonville otherwise. Its new offense under Jay Gruden on Sunday was fun, mixing in some run-pass options to create easy decisions for the quarterback while getting the ball to guys such as Shenault and James Robinson with the opportunity to run after the catch. I don't think Minshew is going to go 19-for-20 every week, but the Jags don't look like anybody told them they were supposed to be tanking.
Prettiest Throw Award
I'll give this one to Carr, who dropped a perfect third-and-2 pass into the bucket for Nelson Agholor on a 23-yard touchdown in the second quarter of the Raiders' win over Carolina. The Panthers aren't going to be the stiffest defensive competition for any team in 2020, but Carr's stretch of above-average effectiveness from 2019 continued into 2020, with the 29-year-old quarterback finishing 22-of-30 for 229 yards and a passer rating of 107.5.
The competition will be tougher next week, when Carr and the Raiders open their new stadium in Las Vegas against the Saints.
The Left It Late Award for Fourth-Quarter Success
Trubisky's final pass of the afternoon was also in the running for prettiest throw. While you can take issue with his decision-making and accuracy, Trubisky's best throws have always been the sort of tantalizing passes that led the Bears to treat him like their quarterback of the future. We saw one on his game-winning touchdown pass to Anthony Miller from 33 yards out late in the fourth quarter against the Lions.
Through three quarters, Trubisky was undoubtedly getting booed by Bears fans watching at home. The former second overall pick was 12-of-26 passing for 153 yards with a QBR of 27.7. In the final 15 minutes? Naturally, he caught fire and went 8-of-10 for 89 yards with three touchdowns, including that game winner just after the two-minute warning. In addition to the Miller score, he did a great job of escaping a free rusher to create a 17-yard completion to Jimmy Graham, which set up a 1-yard Javon Wims score late in the fourth.
The Lions helped by handing Trubisky a pair of short fields, courtesy of a missed 55-yard field goal from Matt Prater and a Matthew Stafford interception on third-and-5 with 2:42 to go. I would say it was a crushing loss for a Lions team that blew a league-high five leads in the fourth quarter a year ago, but it's really closer to routine.
Detroit coach Matt Patricia was asked whether he was part of the problem afterward and actually cited his call in the Super Bowl against the Seahawks as proof that he can win games in the fourth quarter, which would be akin to someone asking you why you hadn't gone to the gym over the past few months and you cited the fact that you ran a 5K in 2015. (I wouldn't know anything about this.)
The bigger problem for the Lions, perhaps, is that they were down their three top corners by the end of the game. Rookie Jeff Okudah missed his NFL debut with a hamstring injury, and fellow starters Desmond Trufant and Justin Coleman went down with injuries. The touchdown pass to Miller came with the third-year wideout isolated in man coverage against journeyman corner Tony McRae. Patricia's team still could have won the game, but rookie running back D'Andre Swift agonizingly dropped a go-ahead touchdown with six seconds to go.
As for Trubisky, I'm not sure what's next. While he didn't throw an interception, it wasn't for lack of trying, as the Lions dropped at least two. Even late in the game, the Lions forced him into a spectacular fumble while scrambling on Chicago's one unsuccessful fourth-quarter drive, while Miller needed to make an incredible catch on an overthrown pass. I'm not sure Trubisky actually changed all that much between the first three quarters and the fourth, but he's a quarterback whose performance fluctuates with his confidence level. That fourth-quarter showing gives him something to build off, and with the Giants and Falcons on deck, he might have his confidence boosted further in the weeks to come.
The Messiest Pass of the Week
While there were things to like in his first pro start, Burrow had the two most curious passes of the day in the Bengals' loss to the Chargers. One came early in the first half, when he tried to throw a backward pass to Joe Mixon and ended up fumbling out of bounds while under pressure. It wasn't as disastrous as Blaine Gabbert's inexplicable backward pass to nobody, but it was the sort of thing rookies are quickly asked to get out of their system after one ill-advised decision.
Later in the game, though, he pulled off the rare feat of throwing an interception on a shovel pass when Melvin Ingram stepped in front of a lackadaisical flick. This was actually a really costly interception, since the Bengals had a first-and-10 in field goal range down 16-13 with 5:20 to go. First overall picks have had worse starts to their careers -- remember that Jameis Winston threw a pick-six on his first regular-season pass -- but Burrow probably wants that one back.
The former LSU star also badly missed a wide-open A.J. Green for what would have been a touchdown earlier in the game. I'm not handing out a Miss of the Day Award, but if I were, it probably would have gone to the winner of our next award ...
The Josh Allen Award for Welcoming All Takes
This one also goes to its namesake, as he had a wild day in Buffalo's 27-17 win over the Jets. When I wrote Allen's progress report in July, I mentioned that his performance in the loss to the Texans in the playoffs was topsy-turvy enough to support any possible opinion of Allen. Sunday was a better performance from the third-year quarterback, but it also held that same sort of wild range of results.
Let's start with the good. Allen threw for 312 yards, topping the 300-yard mark for the first time as a pro, and added 45 more yards on two pass interference penalties. He also assumed a significant rushing workload, adding 57 yards, five first downs and a touchdown on 14 carries. Perhaps most importantly, Allen showed signs of solving his biggest problem from a year ago by completing two of his three deep pass attempts, including an excellent lob to Stefon Diggs moving across the field for 22 yards. The Bills would have scored more if it weren't for rookie kicker Tyler Bass, who missed from 34 and 38 yards on consecutive drives in the third quarter.
While the good outweighed the bad Sunday, the negatives were more egregious. Allen lost two fumbles in the red zone, including one play in which he was nearly flipped onto his own head in the process. Early in the game, he rolled to his left in the red zone and missed a wide-open Dawson Knox in the corner of the end zone. He threw a touchdown on the next play, but later in the game, he again turned to his left and somehow missed an even more open John Brown. I mentioned Allen battling his footwork in the progress report, and both of these throws are a result of poor footwork after scrambling.
He also had a pair of dropped would-be interceptions inside the red zone. The other deep completion I mentioned earlier was to Cole Beasley, and while the pass was completed, Allen's pass forced Beasley to drop down and stop running when a better throw would have resulted in a long touchdown. Those 312 passing yards required 46 attempts, for a middling 6.8 yards per attempt.
Those differences didn't matter against a Jets team that seemed anxious to simulate to the end of the season for most of the day, but I would be concerned about them mattering against stiffer competition. If you think Allen is a budding star, Sunday was a breakout day from a quarterback who is set for a big season. If you think Allen is perennially one moment of pressure away from a panicked mistake, Sunday had a handful of those moments for you. The one thing I know for sure: Few quarterbacks in the league are more entertaining to watch.
The Top Chef Award for Expert Cooking
You know this one has to go to Wilson, who had a historic day as he sliced up the Falcons. As ESPN sports analytics writer Seth Walder noted on Twitter, Wilson went 22-of-23 passing with two scores against man coverage Sunday, which was the highest completion percentage for any quarterback who faced man-to-man coverage on more than 50% of his dropbacks in a game since 2016. The incompletion wasn't even Wilson's fault, as his pass was dropped by DK Metcalf.
What I found particularly interesting, though, is what the Seahawks did early in their 38-25 win: throw the football. In the first quarter, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer officially called up 14 plays. Eleven of those plays were passes, and while two of them were sacks, Wilson went 9-for-9 for 86 yards on the other pass attempts. He added a 28-yard run out of the option and 41 yards on a pass-interference penalty, which was drawn by Tyler Lockett. (The Seahawks also had one running play called back for holding.)
If we use that 11-for-14 mark, 78.5% of Seattle's first-quarter plays were called passes in the huddle. That's the highest ratio for any first quarter of any Seahawks game in the Wilson era. And crucially, despite leading comfortably most of the way, they never let off the gas. They finished with a 65.5% pass ratio, which was the first time in the Wilson era in which they won a game by 10 or more points and finished the game having called for passes more than 60% of the time.
There are two reasons I think the Seahawks skewed so pass-heavy, and one isn't very exciting. They had five other games with a first-quarter pass ratio of 75% or more before Sunday, and four of those games came on turf against the Cardinals, Saints and Rams (in St. Louis). It's possible that the Seahawks are more comfortable going pass-heavy indoors.
The second argument is that the Seahawks, finally, are letting Wilson take over as the focal point of their offense for the entirety of games. I wrote before the season that Seattle's 2019 formula -- staying close for three quarters before letting Wilson dominate in the fourth -- wasn't sustainable. They didn't turn into the Chiefs -- four of those completions were screens or short passes to Chris Carson -- but just putting the ball in Wilson's hands early in the game was exciting enough.
The You Did It to Yourself Award for a Self-Inflicted Mistake
Here's where we introduce Garoppolo, whose 49ers started their defense of the NFC title with a 24-20 upset loss at home against the Cardinals. Garoppolo's raw numbers look good, as he went 19-of-33 for 259 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 103.0, but he wasn't anywhere near as impressive as those numbers indicated. (For one, 76 of those yards came on a Raheem Mostert completion in which Mostert racked up 71 yards after catch.)
The key moment of this game came just before the end of the first half. Facing a Cardinals team that had been ripped to shreds by tight ends in 2019, George Kittle was already up to four catches for 44 yards. The 49ers were up 10-7 and facing second-and-4 from the Arizona 8-yard line with 44 seconds to go. They tried to dial up a bubble screen to Kittle, but Garoppolo's pass to Kittle sailed, forcing the star tight end to unsuccessfully leap for the football. Kendrick Bourne missed his block on the outside, allowing Budda Baker to hit an exposed Kittle in the leg. Kittle limped off, and while he returned to the game, he didn't catch a pass the rest of the way.
With a better throw and block, all Kittle would have had to do was run over Dre Kirkpatrick on his way to the end zone. The 49ers stopped the clock on that incompletion, and after a third-down completion for 2 yards, the Cardinals called timeout before a 49ers field goal. By holding onto their two timeouts, Arizona left itself with just enough time to get in field goal range and kick a 56-yarder before the half, making the score 13-10. That one snap amounted to a seven-point swing.
In the second half, Garoppolo went 8-of-17 for 89 yards, 41 of which came on one pass to Kyle Juszczyk. He threw a terrible interception on the run, only to be bailed out by a questionable pass-interference call. On the final drive, Garoppolo wasn't able to get the ball to an open Bourne in the end zone for what would have been a game-winning touchdown. His throw on fourth-and-5 at the end of the game led color commentator Chris Spielman to say, "I think the route was fine; I think the pass was bad," which is the sort of criticism you don't typically hear of quarterbacks who just went to the Super Bowl.
Even in his seventh NFL season, Garoppolo's pocket presence remains a work in progress. He is alternately flat-footed or wildly jumpy in the pocket, with one sack on Sunday in which he appeared to be riding the Mad Tea Party ride. Coach Kyle Shanahan has a habit of responding to bad Garoppolo moments by following up with running plays regardless of down or distance, and he followed this one by calling for a draw on third-and-goal from the 17-yard line that actually gained 16 yards, only for the 49ers to get stuffed on fourth-and-1.
This is a game the 49ers should have won, given that the Cardinals were dysfunctional on offense for most of the first half and overwhelmed by the San Francisco defensive line before the line tired late. Arizona scored 14 points on its two red zone trips, which was more than the 10 points the 49ers scored on four possessions inside the 20. Garoppolo isn't the only one at fault for the loss, but there was talk over the summer that he might make a leap and have an MVP-caliber season in 2020. That doesn't seem in the cards based on Sunday, and while injuries to his weapons are partly to blame, he didn't help matters with his pass that exposed Kittle on that hit.
The Return to Form Award for Getting Back to Your Old Tricks
It's time to talk about Newton, who successfully returned to football after missing virtually all of 2019 with a Lisfranc injury. While the Dolphins weren't particularly stiff competition, his debut as the Patriots' starter has to be considered a success. Newton ran the ball 15 times for 75 yards, eight first downs and two touchdowns while also going 15-of-19 passing for 155 yards. He likely would have added a passing touchdown if N'Keal Harry hadn't fumbled through the end zone for a touchback.
Let's start with the most important thing: For the first time since the first half of 2018, Newton is healthy. There was no sign of the shoulder injury that zapped his velocity during the second half of that season or the foot injury that caused him to sail his throws during an abbreviated run in September 2019. He was accurate as a passer, and while his game as a runner was more about power than blistering speed, the 2011 first overall pick had no trouble getting to the pylon on his 11-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Tellingly, the Patriots used Newton like he was healthy. They had no qualms about using him as a runner inside the box, with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels dialing up concepts Newton has run since his time at college, like inverted veer and QB power. The Patriots brought out their evergreen play-action stick concept for him, and they had a lot of success with slants when the Dolphins crowded the line of scrimmage to try to take away the slow-developing running plays Newton excels with, but this wasn't sticking him into the Tom Brady playbook. This was a different offense for a different quarterback.
Both touchdowns came out of the same empty look, which is almost the polar opposite of how the Patriots used to try to score in the red zone with Brady. I described Newton as a replacement for Rob Gronkowski before the season, in part because Gronkowski gave the Patriots plausible versatility. When the Pats would come out with Gronk and another tight end in the red zone, they could choose to run over teams. More often, they would come out in a heavy package, force teams to match with a linebacker-heavy defense, and then spread the field to get Gronk matched up against one of those linebackers for an easy touchdown pass.
On Sunday, Newton's two rushing touchdowns came with three wide receivers split to the left, which forced the Dolphins to both overload that side of the field and put five defensive backs on the field. New England then used motion to create a further numbers advantage, leaving Newton to run toward the right side of the field with Ryan Izzo and five linemen as blockers against six Dolphins defenders. Guard Shaq Mason actually missed his block on the second touchdown -- had he not, Newton would have had an easier time of scoring.
Next week, don't be shocked if the opposing team tries to get an extra defender into the run fit when the Patriots come out with the same look, only for him to instead throw the screen to the left side. He changes the numbers in the running game and gives the offense an advantage while forcing the defense to either sell out to stop the run or try to take him down in space with a smaller or slower athlete.
This is all subject to Newton staying healthy, of course, which will always be a question mark. For now, though, Cam is back.
The Disappointing Performance of the Day Award
The worst QBR of the day belongs to Wentz, who posted a 14.2 mark in Philadelphia's 27-17 upset loss to Washington. The Eagles have been devastated by injuries and were down to their fourth-choice tackle for 18 plays Sunday, but this was not simply about the offensive line being overwhelmed by an exciting Washington front four. As NFL analyst Brian Baldinger noted on Twitter, Wentz and his receivers both bore blame for the offensive struggles.
Even given those complaints, Wentz and the Eagles just aren't consistent. In one three-pass sequence, he made a beautiful throw to hit rookie wideout Jalen Reagor for 55 yards. After a Boston Scott run, he sailed a quick hitch to fellow rookie John Hightower, who had to leap to make the catch and had no chance of running afterward. On the ensuing third down, Wentz held the football for too long, escaped a sack, then tried to flee the pocket before taking a hit to the head and fumbling. As ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky noted, this wasn't the only time Wentz took an unnecessary hit on Sunday while fruitlessly trying to extend a play. A terrible coverage sack on the edge of the red zone pushed the Eagles on the fringes of Jake Elliott's field goal range, which produced a miss.
Wentz threw two ugly picks and had another pass that hit a Washington defender in the knees. As the game went on, he missed a number of would-be completions over the middle of the field, although the fourth-and-3 incompletion that basically sealed the game was a Zach Ertz drop. There was a lot of talk about how the Eagles were going to unlock Wentz by adding speed this offseason, and they did indeed have plenty of burners in their lineup with Reagor, DeSean Jackson and Hightower. Most everything else was the problem. Given that the Eagles get the Rams, 49ers, Steelers and Ravens in four of their next five games, he and the offensive line need to get things together quickly.
The Uh-Oh Award for Possibly Waking Up a Sleeping Dragon
When the Packers drafted Jordan Love in the first round in April, I wondered whether the move might light a fire under Rodgers. I'm not entirely sure that sort of motivation is a real thing, but in Week 1, the Rodgers who showed up to face the Vikings looked a lot more like the MVP candidate of old than the low-risk, low-reward passer of the past few years.
In a vintage performance, he went 32-of-44 for 364 yards with four touchdowns and no picks, posting a QBR of 93.0, which was topped in Week 1 only by Lamar Jackson. (There's no Jackson award in this piece, because what do you give the reigning MVP when he has a great Week 1? Another MVP?) Rodgers could have had two more scores and topped 400 yards, but Marquez Valdes-Scantling dropped a 62-yard throw in the second quarter, while the otherwise-dominant Davante Adams wasn't able to bring in a fourth-and-goal slant from the 1-yard line. The star wideout had to settle for a mere 156 yards and two touchdowns on 17 targets.
The Vikings are rebuilding on defense, but they offered shockingly little in the way of resistance to their division rivals. Rodgers wasn't sacked once and was knocked down only two times on 44 dropbacks. The future Hall of Famer was pressured on just 15.9% of his pass plays, the seventh-lowest rate for a Mike Zimmer-led Vikings defense in 97 tries, while a new-look Vikings secondary was able to break up only one of Rodgers' passes. Even with Billy Turner inactive, Elgton Jenkins making his first career start at right tackle and returning guard Lane Taylor leaving the game with a knee injury, the 36-year-old quarterback was playing pitch-and-catch for most of this game.
It's entirely possible that this is just one random great start for Rodgers. Remember that he had one of the games of his career last season by throwing for 429 yards and five touchdowns without Adams against the Raiders and then added 305 yards and three scores in a win over the Chiefs the following week. Over the next three weeks, however, he averaged 148 passing yards per game while narrowly topping the Panthers and losing to the 49ers and Chargers.
Rodgers gets the banged-up Lions next week, though, so another big game might be in the hopper. The game on the horizon is the Sunday night matchup with the Saints in New Orleans seven days later; if Rodgers can outduel Brees, it might be time to start talking about him as an MVP candidate again. Maybe the Packers knew what they were doing in April after all.