Cam Newton and the Biggest Surprises of NFL Opening Weekend
From start to finish, Week 1 in the NFL was chock-full of excitement and entertainment. Football-starved fans were greeted with an opening week that began with an illustrious quarterback duel and culminated in a Monday night double-header that featured Tom Brady throwing for more than 500 yards and Sebastian Janikowski tying an NFL record with a 63-yard field goal.
While these accomplishments are in no doubt excellent, it would be a stretch to consider them surprising. Tom Brady is, well...Tom Brady and the Polish Cannon was seen doing this in warmups prior to his record-setting field goal.
So then what performances left fans either scratching their heads or jumping up and down for joy?
Here are the five biggest surprises of NFL opening weekend.
5. Falcons Struggle in Lopsided Defeat to Chicago
The season opener at Soldier Field pitted two defending division champions, the Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears, against each other. The Falcons came into the matchup with pretty lofty expectations for themselves and were a trendy Super Bowl pick amongst analysts. Surely Matt Ryan and Co. would take care of business in Chicago, right?
Not only did the Falcons lose but they lost big, 30-12 to be exact, with the game ultimately being put out of reach by halftime because of Chicago's pressure on Matt Ryan and three Atlanta turnovers. In fact, the score would have been even more one-sided if not for a late pick-six by ATL defensive end Kroy Bierman.
Some may argue that since the Bears made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game last season that their victory was no surprise at all. Well, consider that zero ESPN and Sports Illustrated experts predicted Chicago to return to the playoffs while all but two picked Atlanta to make it to the postseason and you can see why this result raised more than a few eyebrows.
Now I'm by no means implying that Falcons fans should panic; this isn't the first time they've underperformed in a season opener. But with Michael Vick coming back to the Georgia Dome on Sunday, Atlanta is in serious danger of falling to 0-2.
4. Donovan McNabb's 39-Yard Day Through the Air
Seven completions for 39 yards. That's what Donovan McNabb, a six-time Pro Bowler and former NFC Offensive Player of the Year, threw for against San Diego during his Vikings debut.
I realize McNabb didn't have the greatest season last year with the Redskins but I never imagined it would get as bad as 39 yards. His stat line is especially mystifying considering that Minnesota runs a variation of the West Coast offense, a system the QB has played in his entire career.
In all fairness, Donovan did throw for a touchdown and rushed for 32 yards putting the Vikes up 17-7 at halftime. The second stanza was a different story though, with Minnesota gaining only 26 yards of total offense.
These results can't be the "winning" that McNabb and Vikings coaches spoke of when the organization acquired the veteran during the offseason. Another performance even remotely close to the one Donovan had on Sunday could see him handing the ball off to rookie quarterback Christian Ponder.
There's bad and then there's 39 yards passing.
3. Bills Pummel Chiefs in Worst Season-Opening Loss in Team History
Year after year the Buffalo Bills are among the laughingstock of the NFL. Well who's laughing now Kansas City?
The Chiefs suffered the wrath of Ryan Fitzpatrick on Sunday, as the former Harvard graduate threw for four touchdowns en route to a 41-7 Buffalo victory. The drubbing was the worst season-opening loss in KC history and occurred in a stadium that many deem one of the toughest to play in throughout the NFL.
In what many expected to be a blowout in the Chiefs' favor, the Bills completely flipped the script leading 20-0 until Jamaal Charles scored KC's first and only points of the game. Even more surprising were the two touchdown catches by Buffalo tight end Scott Chandler who had a total of one reception in his career prior to kickoff.
These are the same two teams that just last season played in an overtime game that saw Kansas City win by a field goal.
I wonder what's changed since then...
2. Cam Newton's Historic NFL Debut
Apologies to Randall Cobb, but quarterback Cam Newton had the best debut of any rookie during opening week. Actually, it could be argued that Newton had the best debut of all time.
The No. 1 overall pick by the Carolina Panthers threw for 422 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the only player in NFL history to amass 400 yards passing during their first appearance in the league. And the best part is that no one saw it coming.
Virtually every football fan knows what Cam accomplished while at Auburn last season, yet there were several question marks surrounding his abilities as a passer in the NFL. Newton's preseason play, 300 yards passing while completing 42.1 percent over four games, did little to silence these questions.
After Sunday's game the only question concerning Cam is whether or not he can repeat his 400-yard performance again this season.
1. Steelers Beat Down in Baltimore
The Pittsburgh Steelers entered their opener in Baltimore having won seven straight against the Ravens when Ben Roethlisberger starts and eight straight season openers overall. Not a single bit of that mattered to Baltimore as they blew out the defending AFC champions 35-7.
While the score itself is eye-popping, it was the way in which the Ravens beat the Steelers that was truly shocking to witness. Baltimore rushed for 170 yards, forced seven turnovers and put on the rout less than 30 seconds into the third quarter.
Spearheaded by defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and running back Ray Rice, Baltimore made the Steelers look a step slower and a lot softer on both sides of the ball. The contest was dominated so thoroughly by the Ravens that pundits across the league are legitimately questioning whether Pittsburgh's title hopes have closed.
From perennial conference favorite to second fiddle in their own division, Pittsburgh's annihilation at the hands of Baltimore stunned the majority of the NFL.
Joey Metych is a Syndicated Writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter here.
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