In which we pick the one player (or coach, or equipment manager, or mascot, or drunk fan) who made the biggest impact on NFL Sunday — the one who gets people talking the most, in a good way.
Week 1 of the 2016 NFL season is all but in the books, and as a return to football gets, it pulled out all the stops. There were multiple huge comebacks, some of which fell short, there were auspicious rookie debuts, there was an overtime game, and a whole bunch of offense in general, but what stood out the most?
Looking through the box scores, not too many results were a huge surprise. Oh sure, the Patriots beat the Cardinals as 9.5-point road underdogs without Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady, but they’re the Patriots. Just because the Terminator gets shot and half-blown up doesn’t make it an upset when he keeps going; that’s what Terminators do. No, the man who won this week was Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who is a big part of the reason why Oakland entered the season with more promise and hype than it’s had in over a decade and came out of Week 1 with a gutsy comeback win over the Saints in New Orleans.
Carr passed for 319 yards on 38 attempts, good for a very healthy 8.4 YPA, a number which many used to criticize his otherwise-encouraging sophomore season in 2015. He only passed for one touchdown on the day, but the rushing game took care of the Raiders in the red zone with two short-yardage scores. More importantly, he led the Raiders on yet another fourth quarter comeback after four of those last year. He was accurate all over the field, and even showed off some athleticism running for a first down (leave this one on mute):
Carr’s only passing touchdown was a huge one too, when he found Seth Roberts for a 10-yard score to go down one point with under a minute to go. As we’ve seen for years and years, notoriously risk-averse head coaches in the NFL are reluctant to put the game on the line with one decision, and most would have opted to kick the extra point and try to win it in overtime. But head coach Jack Del Rio knew that with the ball in his QB’s hands, Oakland had a better shot than to possibly give it back to Drew Brees at home on a coin toss. Of course, it helps when that QB can win the game with inch-perfect throws like this one, even on the dreaded fade route:
Undrafted rookie cornerback Ken Crawley was covering veteran Michael Crabtree on that play after entering the game as an injury replacement to Saints starter Delvin Breaux. It was the right one-on-one matchup to attack, and it was well-executed. Even though the Raiders got off to a sluggish start on both sides of the ball, the fact that the offense has the talent and the composure to match scores with the Saints in New Orleans bodes well for the coming season. The defense will have better days than that, and if both sides can put it together, who knows where Oakland can finish in the wide open AFC West.
The Raiders may have been operating against one of the worst defenses in the NFL, but they’ll have another shot at a softie next week against the Atlanta Falcons before things get really tough. With second-year stud Amari Cooper (six catches for 137 yards in this game) and Crabtree, Carr has the weapons to run with him if he makes another leap in his third season.
Other Week 1 Winners
Jimmy Garoppolo: Yes, Jimmy did look awfully impressive in the Patriots’ Sunday night win, throwing for over 300 yards without throwing an interception (though he did lose a fumble) against what was supposed to be one of the best defenses in the NFL. It’s exciting to see the emergence of the next possibly very good quarterback in the league, but it’s mostly exciting because it will produce an implosion of the Patriots’ fanbase. It’s already started!
Carson Wentz: 278 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions is miles better than anyone expected from a rookie out of the FCS starting Week 1. Granted, he did do it against the Browns, who barely put up a fight. Remember how the Browns traded that second pick to the Eagles to shore up their roster, then rolled with RGIII as their starting quarterback? Well, if they’re going for a rebuild, they have the losing part down already. Wentz was impressive, to be sure, but he likely won’t face an easier defense all year.
A.J. Green: Julio Jones, Antonio Brown and even Odell Beckham have all gotten more hype as the possible best wide receiver in the game, but it was Green who might have sunk Revis Island once and for all. Matched up on the legendary cornerback all day, Green caught 12 of 13 targets for 180 yards and a score, burning Darrelle so badly even the nicest diner would have him sent back. Of course, there isn’t a cornerback alive who can do anything about this: