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Grading the Top Quarterback Debuts from Week 1 of NFL Action

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystOctober 21, 2016

Grading the Top Quarterback Debuts from Week 1 of NFL Action

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    The 2013 NFL season finally got underway in earnest with a full slate of action on Sunday.

    Among the 13 games, five featured quarterbacks either making their pro debuts or their first start with a new team.

    They ranged from grizzled veterans who have led clubs to the playoffs to fresh-faced rookies taking the field in the NFL regular season for the first time.

    These debuts ran the gamut, so let's take a look at grades in Week 1 for these passers.

Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs (at JAX)

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    Many big-time college teams like to begin their season with a tune-up against a clearly inferior opponent. I didn't know that the NFL had adopted the idea, but you learn something new every day.

    It certainly looked like a tune-up for Alex Smith in his first game as starter for the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs absolutely dominated the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars 28-2 in a game that, for all intents and purposes, was over before it started.

    Smith was efficient if unspectacular, but that's essentially what one would expect, both in a blowout and from Alex Smith.

    Stat Line: 21-of-34, 173 yards, two touchdowns, 94.4 passer rating, 25 rushing yards

    Grade: B

Terrelle Pryor, Oakland Raiders (at IND)

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    Technically, Sunday's start against the Indianapolis Colts wasn't Terrelle Pryor's debut. He started Week 17 last year.

    However, that was a meaningless mop-up game as opposed to a season opener, so we're making the judgment call.

    Everyone knew Pryor could hurt teams with his legs. Sure enough, he gashed the Colts for 112 yards on 13 scrambles.

    However, Pryor was surprisingly effective throwing the ball, completing over 65 percent of his passes. Yes, he threw two picks, but one was a desperation play on 3rd-and-goal from the 24-yard line near the end of the game.

    All things being equal, it was as solid a performance as Raiders fans could have dared hope for.

    Stat Line: 19-of-29, 217 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, 70.6 passer rating, 112 rushing yards

    Grade: B+

Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals (at STL)

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    The Arizona Cardinals lost to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, but you'll have to excuse star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald if he's all smiles.

    You see, for the first time since Kurt Warner retired, it appears the Cardinals may have a player who resembles an NFL quarterback.

    That player is Carson Palmer, who topped 300 passing yards and threw two scoring strikes to Fitzgerald in defeat.

    However, it wasn't all sunshine and puppies. Palmer tossed an interception and fumbled twice, but some of that lies at the feet of an Arizona offensive line that was shaky in Week 1.

    How that line holds up will be a big part of how successful the Cardinals are in 2013. Palmer showed on Sunday that if you give him time, he's still a very effective signal-caller.

    Stat Line: 26-of-40, 327 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, 96.6 passer rating

    Grade: B

Geno Smith, New York Jets (vs. TB)

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    Two rookie quarterbacks made their first career start on Sunday. Neither youngster was given much of a chance of succeeding by media types—myself included.

    Geno Smith must not read a whole lot.

    Simply put, when you consider the totality of the circumstances surrounding Smith in his first game, his performance was nothing short of outstanding.

    The Jets don't have an especially good offensive line, a go-to receiver or a powerful ground game.

    In fact, in addition to throwing for more than 250 yards, Smith was the Jets' leading rusher against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Granted, were it not for a stupid penalty by Tampa linebacker Lavonte David, the Jets would have lost.

    Here's the thing, though: They didn't.

    Stat Line: 24-of-38, 256 yards, one touchdown, one interception, 80.6 passer rating, 47 rushing yards

    Grade: A-

EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills (vs. NE)

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    The general belief was the New England Patriots would have no problem dispatching the Buffalo Bills in Week 1.

    As was the case quite a bit on opening weekend, that was an incorrect assumption.

    The Patriots did down the Bills on a late field goal by Stephen Gostkowski, but EJ Manuel kept the Bills in the game the whole day.

    Sure, Manuel's 150 passing yards are hardly eye-popping. However, he made plays when he needed to, didn't turn the ball over and showed poise under center.

    There may be no such thing as a good loss, but this one should at least give the Bills hope for the future. 

    Stat Line: 18-of-27, 150 yards, two touchdowns, 105.5 passer rating, 23 rushing yards

    Grade: B+

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