The 32 things we learned from Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season:
1. Nice league-wide tribute prior to Sunday's kickoff commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America. The NFL also produced a touching tribute video voiced by actor Steve Buscemi, a former member of the FDNY, which struck the right chord given the context of the country's current difficulties. Two decades can seem like a lifetime, yet it also feels like only yesterday when then-Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the NFL took a prominent role in navigating the crisis before helping the country heal ... to some degree anyway.
2. Is this finally the year Seattle QB Russell Wilson gets at least one MVP vote? He got off to another hot start, throwing for four TDs and 254 yards (while attempting just 23 passes) as the Seahawks opened with a road win at Indianapolis. Wilson's 2020 season perfectly illustrates the folly of charting the MVP race from Week 1. But if you're going to do that, you'd have to say Wilson and Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray (4 TD passes, 1 rush TD in a blowout of the Titans) are the verypremature front-runners. Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (337 yards, 3 TDs passing, rushing TD), the 2018 league MVP, is right there, too. More on him later.
3. Sunday's biggest shock came out of Jacksonville – primarily because the Jags weren't on site – as the Hurricane Ida-displaced New Orleans Saints embarrassed the Green Bay Packers, the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed last season, 38-3 at TIAA Bank Field. It was 16 years ago that the Saints won their opener on the road in the aftermath of the destruction Hurricane Katrina left in New Orleans. Here's hoping the 2021 Saints are far more formidable than their 2005 forerunners – Sean Payton was hired in 2006 – while wishing New Orleans a far quicker recovery from this most recent storm.
4.Welcome back, Dak Prescott. After 11 months "off," didn't expect to see you throw 58 passes in your return. But while the Dallas Cowboys seem just fine under center, they've still given us plenty to talk about – including a suspended right tackle, the struggles of rookie LB Micah Parsons (and the defense overall) in Week 1 and new worries at kicker after Greg Zuerlein's rough start.
5. Welcome back, Chandler Jones. Limited to five games in 2020 by a biceps injury, the Arizona pass rusher returned to force two fumbles while racking up a franchise record-tying five sacks of Tennessee Titans QB Ryan Tannehill. Jones' three sacks in the first quarter is a record since the NFL began officially recognizing the statistic in 1982. Since he was drafted in 2012, Jones is the only player in the NFL to surpass 100 sacks (he now has 102) in that span. His new teammate, J.J. Watt, has 95½ over the same stretch.
6. Welcome back, Christian McCaffrey. After an All-Pro effort in 2019, when he led the league with 2,392 yards from scrimmage, McCaffrey played in just three games in 2020. But he was back in force Sunday against the New York Jets and produced 187 combined yards – his most since Nov. 17, 2019 – which puts him on pace for 3,179 in the new 17-game format. Yes, that would smash the current record (2,509 by Chris Johnson in 2009).
7. Welcome back, T.J. Watt. After doing next to nothing in training camp before signing his record-breaking contract extension, the Steelers All-Pro pass rusher sacked Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen twice as Pittsburgh pulled off a surprise in Western New York. Maybe we've been talking about the wrong Rust Belt team as a challenger for AFC supremacy.
8. Welcome back, Jimmy Garoppolo. The San Francisco 49ers quarterback, who missed 10 games in 2020, returned to the starting lineup – despite sharing snaps with rookie Trey Lance – and improved his record against new Detroit Lions QB Jared Goff to 4-0.