The 2021 NFL season is upon us and with a new season comes new storylines, new hopes, new opinions and this new weekly article. I will try to do my best to unravel at least some of all this information overload with some takeaways that I have seen. With the preseason behind us and all 32 teams jockeying for position in the polls all eyes center around the rookies making a name for themselves, the veterans pumping up their hall of fame credentials, feel good comeback stories and drama of the trade game.
All these came full bear on Thursday, when the Dallas Cowboys traveled down to Tampa Bay to face off against the reigning champion Buccaneers. The Bucs brought back all 22 starters from their banner season to attempt a repeat of last year. Of course everyone wanted to see how Tom Brady looked but the real test was for Dak Prescott who sustained a season ending injury in week 5 of the 2020 season. Although Prescott had started his season red hot, a compound fracture and dislocation to his right ankle put a damper on any plans he had for the season. Dak came out in this game looking strong, if not a bit timid at first, and back to his fighting form. Tampa bay scored first but Dallas answered quickly with a 22 yard touchdown pass to CeeDee Lamb, but then the troubles began to appear for Dallas when Tampa drove the ball down the field punctuating the drive with a haul in from Rob Gronkowski. The game was looking to be a real shootout until Greg Zuerlein missed a 31 yard field goal. Dallas was able to force a fumble on kickoff giving them a second chance at redemption crossing the plane and ringing in another touchdown, and unfortunately, another missed field goal from Zuerlein, this one on the point after. Again, the sports gods shined on Dallas when Trevon Diggs picked off Brady getting Zuerlein in position to finally kick true giving the Cowboys their first lead of the game. The Bucs would not go away quietly however, scoring again before the half to regain the lead going into the locker room. After a heated back and forth in the third quarter, rife with big moves on both sides of the gridiron, the final quarter began with Tampa Bay still hanging onto a 2 point lead. Dallas would take the lead one final time with another Zuerlein boot. The clock, unfortunately for the Cowboys, was in favor of Tom Brady who had ample time to get his kicker into position. Ryan Succop drove the final nail in the coffin defeating Dallas 31-29 in one of the best season openers I have seen in years. Gronkowski and Brady connected for their 100th touchdown, the most in the NFL by a duo. The Dallas offense looked especially good as well combining for over 450 yards of total offense.
Sunday’s games brought their own storylines and drama. Miami and New England featured two young quarterbacks who just a few short years ago called each other teammates at Alabama. While Mac Jones had a slight edge in terms of stats, it was Tua Tagovailoa and his Dolphins that would win the day narrowly beating the Patriots 17-16.
Another former Crimson Tide QB was busy himself as Jalen Hurts led the Eagles against the Falcons. In an absolute barn burner, Hurts and Philadelphia easily pummeled Atlanta. Hurts accumulated 264 yards and 3 touchdowns while Matt Ryan was a pretty much non-factor only registering 164 yards and his offense barely squeaked out a field goal to save the skunk but lose a miserable 32-6 raising even more questions about a severely depleted team both on offense and defense that can only be answered in the weeks to come.
Part of that depleted Falcons team is due to an offseason trade for Julio Jones to the Titans, who had their own trials on Sunday. After a fairly successful 2020 season, a highly touted offseason shakeup and solid draft class many fans were looking for big things from Tennessee, but Arizona would not be undersold. Kyler Murray was an absolute animal, producing 289 yards in the air culminating in 4 touchdown passes. While Ryan Tannehill did a respectable job at trying to stop the bleeding with 212 yards passing it would not be enough to slow the machine and the Cardinals would ultimately win the day 38- 13 leaving many to reevaluate both teams and their potentials for the post season.
The Jets and the Panthers game brought a sense of new beginnings and new hopes for both franchises. Carolina welcomed back their golden boy, Christian McCaffrey who has been sidelined with injury since week 2 of last season while also welcoming in Sam Darnold as starting quarterback. Meanwhile, New York looked to shake things up themselves with a strong draft including rookie quarterback Zach Wilson. Wilson still looked pretty good in his debut game, recording 258 yards and 2 touchdowns. Darnold and fellow former Jet Robbie Anderson would get their revenge on their old team by connecting for a touchdown solidifying the win for Carolina 19-14.
The Bills and the Steelers faced off in a game that looked like a steal for the young up and comer Josh Allen. Veteran Big Ben Roethlisberger would not be outdone and after taking the lead in the 4th quarter never looked back. Dionte Johnson punched in a 5 yard reception stealing the game away from Buffalo and giving Pittsburgh their first taste of victory with a 23 -16 win in a historically long season to come.
Joe Burrow also made a return from injury, leading his Bengals against the Vikings. Picking up where he left off last season, Burrow impressed with 261 yards 2 touchdowns and a 20/27 completion rating. The Veteran Kirk Cousins showed he is not quite ready for the retirement home yet, registering 351 yards in the air and 2 touchdown passes. The day was in Cincinnati’s favor though. After a hard fought overtime thriller, Minnesota finally went down losing 27-24.
In a game just about everyone had circled as a potential game of the week, the Browns vs. the Chiefs did not disappoint. While Cleveland ran the show on Kansas City for most of the game, the Chiefs finally kicked it in high gear in the 3rd quarter scoring their last 13 points unanswered and giving the Dawg Pound their first loss 33-29. Both Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes played great, both quarterbacks ended the game with less than 10 incomplete passes.
Another highly efficient game was had between Indianapolis and Seattle. While Carson Wentz played very well recording 251 yards and 2 touchdowns, he just could not hold a candle to Russell Wilson and a very tough Seahawks team. Wilson only threw 5 passes incomplete, while connecting for 254 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 28- 16 win over Indianapolis raising questions about the Colts defense going forward.
The Jaguars took on the Texans in the first of two regular season games between the AFC South foes. Tyrod Taylor, taking over point from a legally hampered DeShaun Watson, looked to remind fans exactly how good he can be going 21/33 on 291 yards and 2 touchdowns. Trevor Lawrence tried to prove himself in his debut game but even though he threw for 332 yards and 3 touchdowns, he also hurled a whopping 28/51 completion rating and 3 interceptions. In the end, consistency won the day and Lawrence lost his first regular season game of life, giving Taylor a new lease on his NFL life. Houston would take this one away from Jacksonville 37-21.
The Broncos and the Giants faced off in a physical battle, with Saquon Barkley already limited with a knee injury, the star running back was not a factor in this matchup with Daniel Jones actually taking the majority (though few they were) of carries. Jerry Jeudy suffered a high ankle sprain relegating him to rehab and practice squad for the next 4-6 weeks. Through all the bangs and bruises, both Jones and Denver quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had very comparable numbers. With the efficiency needle pointing slightly toward Bridgewater and visibly damaged New York, Denver would end up taking this one away 27-13.
The 2020 Rookie of the Year, Justin Herbert looked to take his Chargers up against a defensively tough Washington Football Team. While he passed for 337 yards, Herbert was only able to help his team get into the endzone a few times but turned out to be enough after Ryan Fitzpatrick injured his hip sidelining him for the next month or so. San Diego was able to stand up to Washington’s defense and came away with the 20-16 win.
Then there was the altogether head scratcher of a game between the Packers and the Saints. While still cleaning up around New Orleans after Hurricane Ida decimated the area, the Saints took their jazz to their temporary home away from home in Jacksonville while the Jaguars were away at Houston. This game was over before it began as the former MVP from last year threw up an absolute stinker only throwing for 133 yards and 2 interceptions and eventually being replaced by the highly untested Jordan Love. Jameis Winston, while only throwing 148 yards, conversely found the endzone 5 times annihilating Green Bay defense and bringing in the victory for the Saints in an absolute beat down 38-3.
In contrast, the Lions surprised many with a hard fought loss against the 49ers. While Jared Goff set out to prove his worth after being traded from the Bears last season, Jimmy Garoppolo looked to push himself into the next tier of quarterbacks. Goff threw for 338 yards and 3 touchdowns nearly rallying to a win but it was not meant to be. While Garoppolo only completed 17 passes he capitalized on them with 314 yards. Deebo Samuel also helped solidify the win with 9 receptions for 189 yards pushing San Francisco to beat Detroit 41-33.
On the other end of that Jared Goff trade, Matthew Stafford looked to make himself at home with his new team in Los Angeles as the Rams took on the Bears. While Andy Dalton had a decent game stat wise, it was not enough to keep Chicago from complete domination in the air and on the ground. Chicago’s defense basically fell apart as Stafford completed 20/26 of his passes culminating in 321 yards and 3 touchdown passes. Dalton recorded 27/38 for 206 yards but left enough on the field that had Bears fans wondering if it is already time to bring out rookie Justin Fields. Rams ran away with this one, trouncing the Bears 34-14.

And then there was Monday… while the box score might not impress many, the drama of this game was, at times, overwhelming. Derek Carr looked like a man on a mission, putting it in the air for 435 yards and 2 touchdowns. While the Raiders’ defense has been a target for analysts in the last few weeks, they actually managed to make some pretty impressive stops against an injured but still highly talented Raven’s offense. While Travis Kelce was shut down nearly completely by a stifling Las Vegas defense, this opened the door for Hollywood Brown and Sammy Watkins to finally step into their roles as  leading receivers. Lamar Jackson led Baltimore in rushing as always, but a fumble early in the 4th quarter led to the Raiders scoring to tie the game at 17. Baltimore answered back with a touchdown only to be matched by the Raiders in the next drive. A 46 yard field goal looked like it would finish off Vegas but the Raiders were able to get the ball into field goal range in a head-spinning 35 seconds.

Baltimore was hopeful in overtime, but with Las Vegas winning possession on the coin flip and a first to score wins OT format, the defense would have to step up their game. Then a pass to Bryan Edwards scored a touchdown and won the game for the Raiders… until it didn’t. After review (and after opposing players had accepted the results and slapped hands) the ball was called short of the goal line. A few plays later, Carr put it in the endzone only to be intercepted by the Ravens defense giving them one last chance. Unfortunately for Baltimore, Jackson was tackled losing a fumbled ball and this time Carr would not be denied. The Raiders took only 2 plays to get it back into the endzone, this time in their own hands, finalizing this intensity in Sin City with a final score of 33-27.
If this first week’s slate of games is any indication, I believe we are in for a thrilling season of NFL football. It is still very early in the season and hard to tell who is good, who is bad and who can still change their fates. But I, for one am anxious to see how this all works out for the remainder of the season.


Jimmy Jones is a Contributor for Unwrapped Sports Network. Follow him on on Twitter @JimmyUnwrapped.