Week 1’s Top NFL Storylines: Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray
Can Russ win MVP? Can Cam stay upright for 16 games? Is Matt Patricia the NFL's biggest turd?
With ESPN’s Monday Night Football complete with the Steelers knocking off the Giants 26-16 and the Titans outlasted the Broncos 16-14, Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season is officially in the books and open for review. While we can’t get to everything — like Tom Brady’s disastrous debut for Tampa Bay and the embarrassing behavior of Chiefs fans before the NFL opener in Kansas City — here are four of the top storylines to emerge from the football week that was, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.
Buy: Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals are for real
In Sunday’s Week 1 win over the the best team in the NFC last year, second-year quarterback Kyler Murray completed 26 of 40 passes for 230 yards, one touchdown and one interception while also racking up 91 rushing yards and another score on 13 carries.
Murray, who took a league-worse 48 sacks as a rookie, made decisive, instinctive reads as both a rusher and a passer, and his slippery 22-yard sprint up the gut to put the Cardinals ahead 20-17 late in the fourth quarter was a thing of beauty.
Murray and the Arizona offense worked at an uptempo pace throughout the afternoon, managing to run 76 plays (40 pass, 36 runs) that averaged 5.3 yards per touch.
Receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who had a career-best 14 catches for 151 yards and was stopped a yard short of what would have been a TD for him and another score for Murray, was exceptional and showed great chemistry with his young quarterback despite their limited time together.
Admittedly it is a one-game sample size, but based on the Cardinals being able to carve up the defending NFC champs on the road in San Fran, it certainly appears as if Arizona’s versatile offense, which also saw running back Kenyan Drake go for 60 yards and a score and veteran Larry Fitzgerald snag four passes for 34 yards, is here to stay in 2020.
“Kyler is the truth and has no weaknesses,” Fitzgerald said after the game. “He has supreme understanding of the system, along with great arm strength, acute accuracy and nimble agility. The dude is a real problem.”
Murray and the Cards have an excellent chance to start the season 2-0 as they will host the Washington Football Team in Arizona in Week 2.
Sell: Cam Newton can keep running the ball the way he did on Sunday
in New England’s 21-11 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, Cam Newton rumbled for 75 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries and also completed 15 of 19 passes for 155 yards and no TDs or interceptions.
The 75 yards rushing were the most for a Patriots quarterback since 1977, and the 15 attempts were the most for the 31-year-old quarterback since he rushed 17 times for the Panthers against the Bengals in 2014, a game that ended in a 37-37 tie following overtime.
Newton looked great … but it isn’t sustainable.
Prior to yesterday, Newton has missed 16 of a possible 32 games combined over the past two seasons through injury, and as of May of 2019, had taken 38 percent more hits than any other quarterback in the NFL since entering the league in 2011.
If the Patriots want Newton to make it through the remaining 15 games of the regular season and potentially lead them on a post-Brady playoff run, they need to minimize the pounding the former Panther takes each week.
That isn’t to say he shouldn’t run the ball at all, as Newton’s ability to be a dual-threat is his biggest asset as a quarterback. But designing a game plan that calls for Newton carrying the ball five times more than any running back on New England’s roster is not a recipe for long-term success.
The Patriots should keep the offense run-heavy, use two-tight-end sets and deploy Newton as a short-yardage rusher, but they can’t overdo it.
Also, no matter how much Belichick ends up using him during games, Newton may want to avoid taking any extra hits after the final whistle sounds by arguing with opposing teams about his jewelry …
“I still got my chain. I got two of them. They were reaching for my chain though,” Newton explained after the game. “They were reaching for my chain. I think that kind of got up under my skin, but throughout it all, man, listen, I don’t want nothing taken away from a great team win. I don’t want to be selfish to kind of focus for us as a team or me personally, a lot of tempers can flare. I was just teasing with coaches letting them no that College Park almost came out. Throughout it all, it was just fun and games.”
Tuck that chain next time, Cam.
Buy: Russell Wilson is going to win his first MVP award this season
Under Pete Carroll, the Seahawks had not won a Week 1 game on the road since knocking off the Panthers in Charlotte way back in 2013.
For a while, it looked like the drought might continue on Sunday, as the Seahawks clung to a two-point lead to start the third quarter on the road in Atlanta.
Then quarterback Russell Wilson got down to business and tossed a pair of third-quarter touchdown passes that basically put the game out of reach.
In the 38-25 win, Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer let Wilson attack the Falcons through the air, and the All-Pro quarterback responded by completing 31 of 35 passes (a nearly 90 percent completion rate) for 322 yards and four touchdowns.
Wilson was clearly the most dynamic player on the field for his team, and he has an excellent shot of winning his first MVP award — an honor he’s never even received a single vote for — this season if Seattle has the year many people expect them to have.
“For me, the number one and important thing is the winning part,” Wilson said last month. “The MVPs and stuff like and hopefully the votes — maybe I’ll get one, one day — but the reality is that I wake up to win it all and I wake up to be the best, too. I’m not going to shy away from that. If I do win MVP, it’s because we’re going great as a team and guys are making plays and we’re all doing it together.”
Here’s betting that happens.
Sell: Matt Patricia will survive the season as the coach of the Lions
The Lions blew fourth-quarter leads seven times in 2019 under head coach Matt Patricia, and Detroit did it again to start 2020 on Sunday.
At one point up 23-6 on the Chicago Bears and still leading by 10 points with less than five minutes to play, Patricia opted to try for a 55-yard field goal with 4:08 remaining on the clock. It missed, and the Bears subsequently scored back-to-back touchdowns, the second one coming off an interception when the Lions inexplicably tried to throw the ball instead of running it.
Detroit somehow still had a chance to win it, but rookie D’Andre Swift let the game-winning touchdown slip through his fingers with six seconds left to play.
Afterward, Patricia was asked about his coaching style and his team’s penchant for blowing fourth-quarter leads and losing games. His response was one for the ages.
Patricia seems to be referencing when he was a member of the Patriots defensive coaching staff and Malcolm Butler intercepted Wilson at the end of Super Bowl XLIX to give New England the win over the Seattle Seahawks.
While that certainly was a great play and Patricia deserves some credit for whatever role he played in preparing Butler to make it, there have been five Super Bowls since that game, and while it is not quite ancient history, it has absolutely no bearing on anything Patricia has done with the Lions.
It’s a comment that a guy who is now 9-23-1 as a head coach in the NFL makes because he’s clutching at straws and has nothing else to hang his hat on.
It’s also worth noting that Detroit’s issues in the game started long before their fourth-quarter collapse. Earlier in the game, Lions linebacker Jamie Collins was ejected for making contact with a referee after he bumped an official while trying to demonstrate what a Bears player did to him.
A dumb thing to do that is emblematic of a poorly coached team — that Patricia will no longer be in charge of by the end of the season.
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