Welcome to our new series where two of the Full 10 Yards crew, Shaun Blundell and Sean Tyler, pick six (see what we’ve done there?!) talking points from the previous week’s slate to highlight and dissect. And with Week 1 of the new season now in the books, let’s jump straight in!
Drop three, pick six
Well, wouldn’t you just know it? Our opening talking point from the first game of the season – the Thursday night curtain-raiser between the upstart Lions and the defending champion Chiefs – was inspired by a pick six from Lions rookie safety Brian Branch. I don’t want to do Detroit a disservice – it was a great play and the Lions deserved the W – but it soon became apparent that the Chiefs were missing TE Travis Kelce (knee injury), not least because of the offensive weapons it left Patrick Mahomes with.
Skyy Moore dropped two targets, rookie wideout Rashee Rice dropped one and even RB Jerick McKinnon joined the party, but the major culprit was Kadarius Toney, with three drops. The butter-fingered receiver’s worst miss was in the third quarter when the ball ricocheted off his hands to Branch, who ran it back for a 50-yard score to tie the game at 14-14. Later in the quarter, Toney dropped a third down pass, forcing Kansas City to settle for a field goal, and his final whoopsy, with 2:25 remaining and the Chiefs trailing by one, saw a slingshot come through his grasp and away. A catch would have set up a game-winning FG try.
After the 21-20 loss, Toney deleted his Twitter/X account to avoid the inevitable flak for his ‘zero net gain’ stat line (one catch for 1 receiving yard, one carry for -1 rushing yards). Despite his 29.7 PFF grade, the lowest given to a receiver since 2018, his QB still had his back. Mahomes said of Toney “I have trust that he is going to be the guy that I go to in those crucial moments.” Let’s see if that’s true next week. [ST]
Bang, bang, bang for your buck
When we talk about players celebrating a hat-trick, the focus is usually centered on someone on the offensive side of the ball. The Atlanta Falcons, however, relied on a star performance from their marquee summer acquisition to spark them to a 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers. Jessie Bates III, take a bow.
Fresh from an eye-popping four-year, $64 million deal in free agency, Bates wasted little time in starting to repay some of the faith his new team has placed upon him. He twice picked off rookie quarterback Bryce Young.
The first was a classic interception from a safety. Watching the eyes of the quarterback and closing quickly on the ball, Bates beat former Falcon Hayden Hurst to the ball as he was crossing over the middle. It set the Falcons up in the red zone and four plays later, they had the lead. The second was almost a carbon copy. With a crossing route from the right-hand side of the Panthers formation, Bates again jumped the route beating Terrance Marshall to the ball. This time, it led to a field goal.
The trifecta was capped off on the next Panthers possession. Miles Sanders had seemingly ripped off a nice chunk of yardage only for Bates to punch the ball out and be credited with a forced fumble. The Falcons would recover and score a touchdown on the ensuing drive. One game, three turnovers and 17 points from those turnovers. Not a bad debut at all, sir! [SB]
**STOP PRESS** On Monday Night Football last night, the New York Jets went one better. Safety Jordan Whitehead played lights out, picking off the Bills’ Josh Allen THREE times as the Jets squeaked out a 22-16 OT win. What with that, a game-winning 65-yard punt return TD by rookie Xavier Gipson and Aaron Rodgers’ Achilles injury after just four plays, it’s a shame all five Hard Knocks episodes are now in the can.
Tua and Tyreek rewrite records
Other than my own Bengals, the game that most intrigued me this week was the Dolphins vs the Chargers: two AFC teams with high hopes underpinned by notes of fragility and under-achievement. It turned out to be an absolute barnstormer, with Miami prevailing in a wild, come-from-behind 36-34 win, thanks in no small way to the lethal combo of Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill.
The Chargers played their part for sure but there’s no disgrace in coming up short against a Dolphins team intent on winning a shootout (their 16 explosive plays were the most by any team since 2014). In his first appearance since a Week 17 concussion, Tua silenced his doubters to the tune of 28 completions for 466 yards and 3 TDs. Two of those tuddies went to Hill – including a clutch game-winner with 1:45 left on the clock – as he amassed a staggering 215 yards from just 11 receptions.
Rewriting the Super Bowl-era record books, Hill now has three games of 200+ yards and 2+ receiving TDs – a new NFL high – while Tua’s 466 yards were the most ever against the Chargers and the third-highest of any QB in Week 1.
Ever-humble HC Mike McDaniel summed it all up afterwards by saying “That’s kind of what I expected to happen with the work that he (Tua) has done.” I feel “expected” may be a tad rich but Miami’s QB has certainly laid down a gauntlet to the rest of the league. [ST]
Riddle me this
Welcome back Calvin Ridley! An almost-forgotten move due to its timing was the shrewd business the Jaguars pulled off by acquiring the former Falcons receiver. Fresh off his return from suspension following gambling misdemeanours, Ridley picked up right where he left off.
He led the Jags in targets (11), receptions (8) and yards (101) along with a trip to pay dirt. It had been a whopping 686 days between regular season games for the receiver but he showed all of his class with some crisp route running and his elusiveness, tacking on plenty of yards after the catch.
The Jags as a whole stuttered to a win over what many presume will be a Colts team in rebuild mode. The offensive line had some issues and the run game was pedestrian at best. Maybe they should just let Trevor Lawrence air it out more? A great stat from Next Gen Stats summed it up perfectly: “Trevor Lawrence’s 18-yard TD pass to Zay Jones was one of three completions of 20+ air yards on the day. On passes over 10 air yards, Lawrence finished 8 of 11 for 147 yards and 2 TDs (+27.8% completion percentage over expected).”
Expect the Jags to get better as the season progresses. [SB]
It has been a relatively quiet off season in Cleveland. After years of headline making for different reasons in years gone by, the Browns have fallen under the radar somewhat. In a division that has seen two star quarterbacks re-signed and resetting the market in the process, many tip Cleveland to occupy the AFC North cellar once again. Ja’Marr Chase may have lit the touchpaper ahead of kick-off with some ill-advised comments but Jim Schwartz and his unit served up a huge dose of humble pie to not just Chase, but to the entire Bengals offense.
The Browns brought the heat to Joe Burrow all day. The tone was set on the first play of the game with Za’Darius Smith getting his hands on the quarterback. The Browns would go on to record 10 QB hits and four tackles for loss, and were credited with two sacks. The second of those inevitably came from Myles Garrett who, along with his mates up front, had a field day against a sloppy Cincy offense.
Increased pressure up front was backed up by stellar play in the secondary. Tee Higgins was held to zero catches from eight targets. Their longest completed pass of the day went for just 12 yards to Chase, on the Bengals’ opening drive. That was on a third down play, and the Bengals would only complete one more third down from 14 attempts the rest of the way. Despite his fiery words, Chase couldn’t back it up and was held to a lacklustre 39 yards.
There is plenty for the Browns to sort out on offense but defensively, this was an unbelievably brilliant start to the campaign. [SB]
Giants belittled by Cowboys D
At first glance, a 40-point win against the Giants in Sunday’s late game suggests that the Cowboys offense was cooking. Sure, Tony Pollard rushed well (82 yards, 2 TDs) but Dak Prescott completed just 13 of 24 passes for 143 yards and no TDs. So be in no doubt, the 40-0 drubbing of their divisional rivals was all about special teams and defense. Admittedly, Big Blue’s offense isn’t all that but take nothing away from Dallas DC Dan Quinn, who engineered the largest shutout win in franchise history.
His charges had Giants QB Daniel Jones under the cosh all night. They sacked him seven times, with Dorance Armstrong and Osa Odighizuwa bagging two each. Micah Parsons also got one to stall New York’s opening drive and that set the tone for the rest of the evening, with seven different Dallas players also posting tackles for loss. Brian Daboll’s team also coughed up three turnovers, including a blocked FG returned 58 yards for six by CB Noah Igbinoghene. Dallas led the league with 33 takeaways last season and carried on in a similar vein, with DaRon Bland’s 22-yard interception return TD giving the Cowboys a 16-0 lead in the first quarter (even though their offense had completed just one drive). Even Stephon Gilmore got an interception in his first outing in Cowboys colours.
As Parsons said after the game, “I think we made the statement that I’ve been trying to make: we’re the best defense in the NFL.” It’s only Week 1 and there’s a long way to go but so far, we’ve seen nothing to suggest that he’s wrong. [ST]