Cam Newton is running again. Philip Rivers is starting strong but fading late again. And Tom Brady looked more like Old Man Brady than the Brady of old. Lots of old quarterbacks produced surprisingly familiar results in new places on Week 1, and our NFL Recap is here to get you all caught up.
Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The recap: Brady completed 23-of-36 passes for 239 yards, two TDs, two interceptions, and a one-yard touchdown on a sneak. The numbers look better than the performance thanks to 90 yards and a touchdown on a late drive with the Saints leading by three scores in what ended as a 34-23 victory for Drew Brees.
The skinny: Brady looked spry on the first drive. He delivered a few crisp touch passes in clutch situations. He also served up an ugly pick-6 to Janoris Jenkins early in the third quarter which looked like something from the Mark Sanchez blooper reel, crumpled in the pocket under pressure several times, uncorked a few wild pitches, and often looked out-of-sync with his new receivers.
The Buccaneers’ most effective offensive strategy for most of the game was for Brady to launch a moon ball toward his receiver and hope for a pass interference flag. It worked four times for 101 yards, more than any Buccaneers receiver gained.
There will be plenty of columnists declaring that Brady is too old to lead his team to a Super Bowl anymore after Sunday’s loss. NFL Recap is proud to have declared that Brady was too old to lead his team to a Super Bowl anymore last year. The question is whether Brady still has enough signature moments left to keep the 2020 Buccaneers from becoming a cautionary tale.
Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina Panthers
The recap: Bridgewater completed 22-of-34 passes for 270 yards and one TD as he led the Panthers back from a 27-15 deficit, only to fall short when RB Alex Armah was stuffed on a 4th-and-1 plunge on the final Panthers drive. The Raiders held on after that stop for a thrilling 34-30 victory.
The skinny: Bridgewater spent most of the afternoon scrambling, distributing micro-passes to his top targets, and leading the Panthers on drives which ended with Joey Slye field goals. A 75-yard bomb to Robby Anderson to give the Panthers the lead proved that Bridgewater is aware that the playing surface does not become molten lava 20 yards downfield.
Curiously, head coach Matt Rhule and play-caller Joe Brady opted to feature Christian McCaffrey (as a runner, not a receiver) when trailing by four late in the fourth quarter, then turn to Armah instead of McCaffrey on 4th-and-1. Bridgewater has overcome a lot in his career, so he should be able to handle a little rookie coach self-outsmartment.
Cam Newton, New England Patriots
The recap: Newton rushed 13 times for 65 yards and two touchdowns and added 155 yards on 15-of-19 passing. We listed the rushing stats first because the Patriots called so many designed runs for Newton that it looked at times like they dusted off their old “what would happen if we were forced to start Rex Burkhead at quarterback?” gameplan.
The skinny: It was great to see Newton looking healthy, running hard, meshing with the running back for three minutes before pulling the ball away, and doing other Newton stuff. Newton also looked fairly comfortable distributing short passes to Julian Edelman and what’s left of the Patriots post-Brady receiving corps.
Tanier’s Season Preview: Patriots have problems that a QB swap won’t fix
Our NFL Recap questions moving forward: a) is it a good idea to give Newton 13 rushes per game when his odometer warranty expired long ago? b) Will 21 points be enough against opponents that are doing more than just waiting for their rookie quarterback to finish baking in the oven? and c) Are the Patriots saving their deep passing game for when they need it, or do they not actually have one?
Philip Rivers, Indianapolis Colts
The recap: Rivers threw for 363 yards, one TD, and two interceptions, including a devastating fourth-quarter misfire, as the Colts fell to the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars by a 27-20 final score.
The skinny: Just to fill you in if you tuned out of Los Angeles Chargers last year, what happened on Sunday was the full Rivers late-career experience. His 38-year old junkballer routine looked great on the first few drives; no one flutters off-speed pitches past defender’s arms and into the hands of nine different targets quite like Rivers. But Rivers has no velocity on tight-window throws, and he really struggles in the fourth quarter when the defense has adjusted and his arm may be a little weary.
Rivers threw nine fourth-quarter interceptions last season, and he’s picking up right where he left off. The Colts are paying $25 million for a quarterback who turns into Jameis Winston in the fourth quarter. They could have had the real (still young, potentially salvageable) Winston for a fraction of the cost.
Tyrod Taylor, Los Angeles Chargers
The recap: Taylor completed 16-of-30 passes for 208 yards and rushed six times for seven yards as the Chargers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 16-13.
The skinny: Did you know Taylor was the Chargers starting quarterback? Have you thought about Taylor even once in the past three years? Taylor is the placeholder while Justin Herbert develops, and as the stats above indicate, he did just enough to beat a rebuilding team.
Taylor’s brief highlight reel was dominated by the kind of wacky, scrambling playground adventures that Buffalo Bills fans used to hate, not to be confused with Josh Allen’s wacky, scrambling playground adventures, which Bills fans love.