NFL Week 1 Takeaways: 49ers Will Need to Be Patient with Trey Lance and More
NFL fans who waited seven months for Week 1 of the 2022 season saw some jaw-dropping performances, upsets, comeback victories, two overtime games and a tie. What more could you ask for in the first slate of Sunday games?
Among the rookie first-round wide receivers, one stood out and propelled his team to victory. If you want to pick a new favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year, just take a look at Carson Wentz's newest playmaker.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles spent their money well this offseason. One of their key acquisitions had a record-breaking performance in a 38-35 victory.
The San Francisco 49ers have decided to keep quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for now, but they started a new era with Trey Lance. Is it too early to panic after the young signal-caller's underwhelming outing?
Let's discuss some of the biggest headlines from Sunday's games.
Jahan Dotson Is a Viable Offensive Rookie of the Year Candidate
Though this takeaway sounds hyperbolic after Week 1, Jahan Dotson generated buzz within the Washington Commanders organization as he built a rapport with quarterback Carson Wentz over the summer. They had some chemistry Sunday.
Wentz connected with Dotson on three passes for 40 yards and two touchdowns—one for the go-ahead score with 1:56 left in regulation. The rookie wideout delivered in the clutch, which propelled the Commanders to victory.
Over the past three years, the Commanders haven't had much production out of their No. 2 wide receiver opposite Terry McLaurin. Dotson already looks primed to fill that role. Even though Curtis Samuel recorded a team-high eight receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets, the first-year receiver's instant impact should result in more looks from Wentz.
The Commanders' one-two punch at wide receiver could elevate Wentz's production going forward after an inconsistent 2021 season with the Indianapolis Colts.
Since 2017, Washington has ranked 16th or worse in scoring, though Dotson's presence gives its offense some juice for the 2022 term.
Browns' Gritty Winning Formula Isn't Prolific, but It's Effective
The unleashed version of Baker Mayfield started slow, had a late push but fell short against his former team Sunday.
Throughout the contest, the Cleveland Browns wore down the Carolina Panthers defense with their ground attack, pressured Mayfield at the line of scrimmage and made four field-goal attempts to pull out a 26-24 win.
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett completed 18-of-34 pass attempts for just 147 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones led the Browns with 60 receiving yards. Meanwhile, Nick Chubb racked up 141 of the team's 217 rushing yards. Rookie kicker Cade York sealed the win on a 58-yard field goal with eight seconds left in the game.
Browns defensive ends Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney combined for seven tackles, three for loss, 2.5 sacks and three pass breakups.
While Mayfield had the pizzazz on some flashy plays, a seven-yard run for a touchdown and a 75-yard touchdown pass to wideout Robbie Anderson, the Browns led for most of the contest.
Without quarterback Deshaun Watson, who's serving an 11-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy, Cleveland can still string together wins with a strong ground attack and a stout defense.
The Browns didn't face a playoff contender in the Panthers, but they've re-established their hard-nosed playing style from the previous campaign. Remember, this team gave up the fifth-fewest yards and ranked fourth in rushing for the 2021 season.
With Chubb and Kareem Hunt, who scored twice Sunday, the Browns will remain competitive in the AFC.
A.J. Brown Shows He's Worth Every Penny in Record-Setting Eagles Debut
According to A.J. Brown, via ESPN's Turron Davenport, the Tennessee Titans didn't offer him enough to stay, which led to his departure in a blockbuster draft-day trade.
The Philadelphia Eagles acquired Brown and signed him to a four-year, $100 million extension. On Sunday, the organization had to feel good about that investment.
Brown caught 10 passes for 155 yards, which topped wide receiver Donte Stallworth for most receiving yards in an Eagles debut game, per the Elias Sports Bureau (h/t ESPN's Tim McManus).
To put the Pro Bowl wideout's performance into perspective, he accounted for 64 percent of quarterback Jalen Hurts' passing yards (243). No other Eagles player had more than three catches or 60 receiving yards.
At times, Brown stood out as a man among boys. He even dragged defensive back Will Harris for an extra 10 yards downfield on a long reception. At 6'1", 226 pounds, he's the ideal complement to wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who's more of a finesse pass-catcher on the perimeter.
Hurts could see exponential growth with Brown’s ability to make big plays on the outside.
Trey Lance-Led Offense Will Take Some Time to Hit Its Stride
Typically, you should expect an inexperienced quarterback to go through some rough patches, and Trey Lance isn't any different.
Lance only started twice in six appearances during his 2021 rookie campaign, though the respect for head coach Kyle Shanahan's play-calling may influence you to give the second-year signal-caller the benefit of the doubt in his first full year as a starter.
However, Lance completed just 13-of-28 passes for 155 yards and an interception against an aggressive Chicago Bears defense that forced two turnovers in a 19-10 victory over the 49ers.
In fairness to Lance, he played in rainy conditions at Soldier Field, so perhaps he will put together a more efficient performance in his next outing at home against the Seattle Seahawks.
With that said, Lance misfired on some throws, particularly one to tight end Tyler Kroft in the first half. He'll have a lot of help from the run game, though. San Francisco rushed for 176 yards despite running back Elijah Mitchell's early exit with a knee injury.
Even in fair weather conditions, the 49ers' coaching staff should exercise some patience with a young signal-caller who's only made three NFL starts.
Bengals May Be Dealing with a Super Bowl Hangover
Do you remember Joe "Cool" Burrow's run to Super Bowl LVI? He didn't rack up big passing numbers in every postseason game, but the smooth signal-caller made plays in critical moments.
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Burrow took a shovel and dug a hole for the Cincinnati Bengals. He lost a fumble and threw three interceptions in the first half, one of which came back for a pick-six. The third-year signal-caller threw a fourth interception in the second half.
Last year, the Bengals finished seventh in scoring, but they only managed to score 20 at home in an overtime contest with their division rival. Of course, in-division games usually have an extra competitive wrinkle.
However, Cincinnati's offense needed some time to heat up, though losing wide receiver Tee Higgins because of a concussion didn't help them.
Through the middle of last year, Burrow struggled with turnovers. He threw seven of his 14 interceptions in Weeks 5-9. Late in that campaign, the poised signal-caller made better decisions, but he took a step back Sunday.
The Bengals should be among the contenders in the AFC, but Burrow must take care of the football and avoid slow starts.
T.J. Watt's Injury Dims Light on Steelers' Victory
The Pittsburgh Steelers could lose arguably their best defensive playmaker in T.J. Watt, who registered six tackles, three for loss, two pass breakups and a sack in a 23-20 overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
ESPN's Field Yates used his lip-reading skills to decipher what Watt said about his injury.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Watt will undergo tests to diagnose the injury on Monday.
Though edge-rusher Alex Highsmith had a strong outing against the Bengals (nine tackles, two for loss, and three sacks), the Steelers defense would take a significant hit if it loses the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
Assuming Watt misses some time, the Steelers may turn to Malik Reed, whom the team acquired in August, to fill a starting role opposite of Highsmith.
Justin Jefferson Staking Claim as the NFL's Top Wide Receiver
Regardless of where you had Justin Jefferson ranked among the league's wide receivers, his performance against the Green Bay Packers shows he's ready to challenge for the top spot.
He's certainly earned Aaron Rodgers' respect.
Jefferson outpaced some of the top names such as Davante Adams, Cooper Kupp, Stefon Diggs and Ja'Marr Chase with nine receptions for 184 yards and two touchdowns. He captured a Minnesota Vikings' record for most receiving yards (158) through the first half.
In the first game under new head coach and lead play-caller Kevin O'Connell, the Vikings pushed the pace with quarterback Kirk Cousins and a young star in Jefferson. Expect to see more of that through the 2022 term.
Jefferson saw a slight uptick in production between his first two pro seasons. Coming off a campaign in which he caught 108 passes for 1,616 yards and 10 touchdowns, he's going to threaten Hall of Fame wide receiver Calvin Johnson's all-time single-season receiving yards record (1,964) in an uptempo offense.
Packers' Punchless Offensive Attack Will Get Better
Aaron Rodgers' poor numbers in the passing attack (195 yards) jump out as a potential problem that can derail their season with Davante Adams in a Las Vegas Raiders uniform, but the team isn't in dire straits yet.
First and foremost, they played Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings without arguably their top two offensive linemen in two-time first-team All-Pro tackle David Bakhtiari and versatile Pro Bowl lineman Elgton Jenkins. Once they fully recover from torn ACLs, Rodgers will have stronger pass protection. The Vikings sacked him four times.
Secondly, Packers running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon ran the ball well, combining for 15 carries, 94 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately for Green Bay, Minnesota jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first half. Head coach Matt LaFleur had to push the ball downfield in the passing game as opposed to a methodical approach on the ground.
Without Adams, Green Bay's pass-catching unit won't post many 100-yard games. Allen Lazard has battled an ankle injury and missed the season opener. Rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs need to develop throughout the season. On Sunday, Dillon led the team in targets (6), receptions (five) and receiving yards (46).
If the Packers don't allow their opponents to start with a three-possession lead in the first half, they can try to grind down the opposition on the ground. With the eventual return of Bakhtiari and Jenkins, Rodgers should have more time in the pocket as well.
Chiefs' Passing Attack Is Still Electric Without Tyreek Hill
In just one game, you saw the Kansas City Chiefs didn't have any issues with their aerial attack despite the departure of All-Pro wideout Tyreek Hill.
Patrick Mahomes completed 30-of-39 pass attempts for 360 yards and five touchdowns, and he posted those numbers with a bandage around his wrist. After the game, head coach Andy Reid said the quarterback will undergo evaluation for the injury.
As usual, Mahomes racked up yards with tight end Travis Kelce as one of his most trustworthy targets. They connected on eight passes for 121 yards and a touchdown.
JuJu Smith-Schuster had a solid Chiefs debut, hauling in six passes for 79 yards. Fellow newcomer Marquez Valdes-Scantling also pitched in with four receptions for 44 yards. Fourth-year wideout Mecole Hardman reached paydirt as well.
Kansas City also made use of its running backs in the short passing game. Clyde Edwards-Helaire caught three passes for 32 yards and two touchdowns. Jerick McKinnon pulled in three out of four targets for 27 yards.
The Chiefs lost a star when they traded Hill to the Miami Dolphins, but they didn't lose their offensive firepower. Assuming Mahomes' wrist doesn't impact his performances, he's going to lead another top-10 passing offense.
Khalil Mack Is Back, Healthy and Ready to Wreak More Havoc
Anyone who thought Khalil Mack would head down a path toward a sharp decline should pump the brakes. While he may not play all 17 games at 31 years old with so much wear and tear on his body, the three-time All-Pro could register double-digit sacks in a season for the first time since 2018.
Mack beat down a shaky Las Vegas Raiders offensive line and essentially sealed a win for the Los Angeles Chargers on a late-game sack to force a turnover on downs. He finished the game with six tackles, three for loss, and three sacks.
Already, Mack has logged half the number of sacks from his 2021 total.
The Chicago Bears traded Mack to Los Angeles for a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 sixth-round pick after a seven-game injury-riddled campaign. At least for now, it seems as though the Chargers made a much-needed investment in a defense that gave up the fourth-most points in 2021.
While Mack earned leaguewide recognition for his pass-rushing prowess, he can also set the edge and bolster the run defense, which is valuable for a unit that allowed the third-most yards on the ground last year.
Now on the opposite side of edge-rusher Joey Bosa, Mack could see fewer double-teams en route to the quarterback. If he can stay healthy, the Chargers will have a formidable defense to complement an elite-level offense that features rising star quarterback Justin Herbert.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.