Say what you want about the level of competition, but the Jaguars absolutely got the Colts' best shot Sunday for what presented itself as a treacherous divisional road trip. Jacksonville's been a thorn for Indy in recent years, especially when the Colts were the superior team and the Colts tried their best to repay the favor on Sunday in Anthony Richardson's debut. Indy benefited from the positives of an up-and-down performance from the rookie quarterback, plus one of the more bizarre defensive touchdowns you'll ever see. But ultimately Trevor Lawrence and Jacksonville's much-hyped offense were just too much for the Colts to contain.
A strong Week 1 performance doesn't guarantee anything for the full season, but it was impressive seeing how the Jags -- picked by some pundits-- and Lawrence -- a trendy MVP selection prior to the year -- handled adversity and piled up 31 points to earn a decisive division victory.
Lawrence finished with just 241 passing yards on 24-of-32 passing but he also threw a pair of passing touchdowns, including an absolute dime to Zay Jones, who made an equally as impressive catch.
The Colts even tacked on six points courtesy of DeForest Buckner, who pulled off the extremely rare delayed scoop and score after sacking Lawrence.
Tank Bigsby learned a rookie NFL lesson the hard way, but it didn't cost his team the game, plus the rookie delivered on his name, punching in a touchdown for the Jags. Travis Etienne also scored and piled up over 100 total yards and new addition Calvin Ridley was outstanding, with eight catches on 11 targets for 101 yards and a score.
Jacksonville hasn't had this much hype since 2018 after the previous season's run to the AFC Championship Game (shoutout Myles Jack, ask if he was down when you're in Duval County) and much like the Lions, it was reasonable to ask if maybe things had gotten a little out of control for a perennial bottom feeder. Beating the Colts doesn't automatically mean the Jags are here to stay, but there were plenty of legitimate reasons to believe in this team.
Defensively there could still be some questions to ask -- Richardson's debut was impressive given how raw of a player he was, but that's a tough litmus test to apply to Jacksonville's success. The Jags will get all they can handle next week when they return home for a matchup against the defending champion Chiefs, who will not be sleepwalking in after losing to the Lions in Week 1.
San Fran statement
The Steelers were a popular sleeper pick to make some noise in the AFC and the AFC North before the year. And they still might be a good football team, they just happened to run into a juggernaut in the 49ers on Sunday. Pittsburgh finished the game with 15 first downs, but their FIRST first down didn't come until the Niners had piled up a double-digit lead.
Nick Bosa's return clearly amped up this defense, because they were swarming all over Kenny Pickett and completely shut down the Pittsburgh running game. Pickett was sacked five times and the defense finished with nine quarterback hits.
Offensively the Niners looked electric and Brock Purdy answered any questions being asked about him this offseason. The second-year starter found Brandon Aiyuk twice in the end zone, with Aiyuk finishing with eight catches for 129 yards and the pair of scores. Christian McCaffrey kickstarted an Offensive Player of the Year campaign with a gliding 65-yard touchdown run -- Aiyuk's best play of the day might have been a crushing block to help spring CMC downfield.
Watching Purdy sling it around to all of these weapons, it's impossible not to think of Jack Nicholson's famous "Batman" line. If Purdy keeps this up, the Niners are going to be a truck.
A new era
The Washington Commanders weren't exactly dominant against the Cardinals in a way you'd like to see, assuming we all believe the Cards are the worst team in football. But a win is a win and it's hard not to look at the Josh Harris-owned Commanders in a totally different light than the prior regime.
Sam Howell stepped under center and performed well enough -- the stats aren't eye-popping but he managed to navigate the offense for several scores and romped into the end zone with his signature bruising style for the game-winning touchdown. Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson didn't have the explosive games we expected but this passing game should get its feet underneath it as the season goes along.
The general energy was just completely different around this team and this franchise. Dan Snyder being gone feels like a Wicked Witch situation, with the entire stadium seeming to exude a much more enthusiastic energy before and during the game. It was constantly referenced by the announcing crew as well. Who knows if the Commanders will be good this year -- Arizona in Week 1 is just too tough to judge -- but they're no longer impossible to root for. Fans should be excited.
There were first-year players all over the place on Sunday, making plays left and right.
Desmond Ridder & Bijan Robinson (11-yd TD)— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 10, 2023
Pre-snap motion allowed Robinson to get up to 9.76 mph when the ball was snapped. Robinson gained 14 yards after the catch after evading three defenders in the open field.
The odds of Robinson scoring on the play when he caught the… pic.twitter.com/HoHKnmMGO5
My love of Bijan is well documented (he literally gives me butterflies) but it feels even more justified than ever after watching his NFL debut.
On the other sideline, Bryce Young had an up-and-down performance, throwing two interceptions that were essentially the exact same play where he got baited by Jessie Bates, who looks like a fantastic signing for the Falcons. The Panthers' protection was better than anticipated based on the preseason and despite missing several weapons, Young had his moments where he looked sharp, including his first career touchdown pass to Hayden Hurst, which nearly ended up in the hands of a lucky fan after a rookie mistake by the veteran tight end.
Yes, I blacked out and threw Bryce’s first touchdown in the seats...— Hayden Hurst (@haydenrhurst) September 10, 2023
But they threw it back and the ball is in safe hands… everyone can relax and dial it back about 30% 😂
Jonathan Mingo, the Panthers' rookie wideout from the Ole Miss (called by some the Harvard of the South) looked extremely sharp for Carolina, and he wasn't the only rookie wide receiver to stand out on Sunday.
Jordan Addison of the Vikings showed off his wheels, getting behind the Tampa defense for a touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins. And Zay Flowers, the latest Ravens gamble on a first-round wide receiver, looks like he's going to work out real well, catching nine passes for 78 yards and being used in the run game as well.