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Biggest moments from NFL Week 1: Aaron Rodgers’ comeback and future, Browns’ tie, Tyreek Hill’s big day

September 10, 2018 at 11:17 AM

Aaron Rodgers didn’t let a knee injury stop him Sunday night and plans to play against the Vikings. (Morry Gash / Associated Press)

The 2018 NFL season got underway in full on Sunday, and it was one of the more exciting opening days in recent memory. Here is a look at the biggest moments of Week 1:

Aaron Rodgers carted off after leg injury, but returns to lead comeback

The Packers’ Sunday night game against the Bears had already gotten off to a bad start when things took what appeared to be a disastrous turn when quarterback Aaron Rodgers was carted off the field after injuring his leg in the second quarter. He was replaced by backup DeShone Kizer, but was able to return to the game and created late-night magic even as the injury raised questions about his immediate health.

Playing on a leg that many observers presumed to be significantly injured, the two-time NFL MVP led the Packers on a comeback from a 20-point deficit. He capped it with a 75-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb with two and a half minutes left, then watched as Green Bay’s defense held off Chicago to cement the remarkable rally and escape with a 24-23 win.

Up in the broadcasting booth, NBC’s Al Michaels repeatedly described Rodgers’s performance as “stunning,” while Cris Collinsworth said that the evening’s events would stick in his mind for years to come. Rodgers was hurt while getting sacked by Chicago defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris, who fell on the quarterback’s left leg. Rodgers was taken to a medical tent on the sideline, and after remaining there for a few minutes, went to the locker room on a cart.

With their team already losing 10-0, it was a nightmarish scene for the thousands of Packers fans at Lambeau Field, who saw their team struggle badly on offense last season after Rodgers was lost for nine games with a broken collarbone. Kizer, brought in from the Browns in the offseason after an underwhelming rookie campaign, started promisingly, but his first drive ended with him fumbling the ball away to the Bears’ Khalil Mack.

On the Packers’ next possession, Mack intercepted Kizer and returned it for a touchdown to put the Bears ahead, 17-0. Kizer finished the half by completing four of seven passes for 55 yards and no touchdowns.

Much to the enormous relief of most in attendance, Rodgers ran out of the tunnel at the start of the second half and took his place on the sideline. After the Bears drove for a field goal, extending their lead to 20-0, Rodgers took the field and sparked his team to a 12-play drive that ended in a field goal.

On Green Bay’s next possession, Rodgers threw an impressive, 39-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Geronimo Allison. In the fourth quarter, he connected with Davante Adams to cut the Bears’ lead to 20-17, as the Lambeau crowd roared.

According to NBC, the Packers, who were down 20-3 in the fourth quarter, had never come back from so far down in the final frame. Just as a reminder, Green Bay’s franchise history goes back to 1921, predating the NFL itself by one year.

As emotional as his return was, it raises questions about the quarterback’s health even though Rodgers said afterward that “it would have had to take some really catastrophic, injury-wise,” to keep him off the field. He said he’d suffered a knee injury, “felt something in it” and “had a hard time putting weight on it,” but after testing it, he told the coaching staff he was “coming back.” He later told reporters that he would be having tests on the knee this week.

The injury is to the same left knee on which Rodgers underwent ACL replacement surgery when he was in high school and an arthroscopy after the 2015 season. It remains to be seen, after the adrenaline and, possibly, the painkillers Rodgers may have been given wear off, how severe the knee injury turns out to be, but he vowed to be back on the field in Week 2, when the Packers host the Vikings. He has special motivation to do so because it was against Minnesota that he suffered the broken collarbone sidelined him much of last season.

In the meantime, Rodgers reminded the football world just how special a player he is.

“Well, this is what we’re paid to do,” he told reporters. “We’re paid to deal with injuries and play through ’em. That’s what everybody is doing and will be doing throughout this season. That’s the measure of a teammate, is what are you willing to put on the line for your team? And to me, it’s a no-brainer. Being out there is special. The ovation from the crowd lifts you up, gives the energy, the momentum of the game, and you feel the tide turning. It’s special.

“This will definitely go down as one of my favorite memories, especially in this rivalry.”

He wasn’t alone.

Khalil Mack makes immediate impact

Going into the Sunday night game, it wasn’t clear how much Mack would play, given how recently he was acquired by the Bears. Beyond that, it was plausible that he wouldn’t make much of an immediate impact, considering that he hadn’t been practicing with the Raiders before they traded him following an extended holdout.

Then the game began. And the 2016 NFL defensive player of the year did what he does — wreck opposing offensive lines.

Before long, Mack had accounted for a sack, an interception, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and defensive touchdown. That made him the first NFL player to stuff the stat sheet in that manner since … Mack himself did it, in Week 12 of the 2016 season, against the Panthers (per NFL Research).

The Browns don’t lose (!) while Steelers sent a message to Le’Veon Bell.

For the first time since Christmas Eve 2016, the Cleveland Browns did not lose a game. They didn’t win, either, but baby steps.

The plucky, yes, plucky Browns also were lucky with the Steelers managing to avert what would have been their largest blown fourth-quarter lead in a loss in franchise history. The teams hung on through a loopy overtime to settle for a 21-21 tie in a driving rain in Cleveland.

One Browns fan now living in Los Angeles liked what he saw from the gang.

The Browns put up 21 points in the second half, including 14 in the fourth quarter, and they tied the score with just under two minutes left, sending the game into overtime. In so doing, the Browns ended a string of 17 straight losses, while they and the Steelers combined for the NFL’s first season-opening tie since overtime was instituted in 1974. There hadn’t been a Week 1 tie since 1971, when the Dolphins and Broncos ended up dead even (per ESPN).

The game capped a week in which things were unusually ugly between some of the Pittsburgh Steelers and running back Le’Veon Bell, whose holdout, his agent hints, shows no sign of ending. James Conner, starting in his place, scored on a 4-yard touchdown run and celebrated with the offensive line, some of whom were Bell’s harshest critics. Think that was a message?

Bell had a message of his own after the tie.

Early in the second half, Artie Burns and Jarvis Landry tangled, after the Browns receiver gave Burns all he could handle. No ejections, no harm, no foul.

Tyreek Hill simply won’t stop making huge plays

So much for the thought that the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill couldn’t possibly keep up his penchant for huge plays. The undersized but turbocharged wide receiver tore through the Chargers in the first quarter for two long touchdowns, one on a punt return and one on a pass from quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Hill ended the first 15 minutes with 179 all-purpose yards, and he added 25 more in the second to top 200 before giving the Los Angeles defense a halftime breather. Hill now has a ludicrous nine touchdowns of 50-plus yards since Week 15 of the 2016 season, while no one else in the NFL has more than four in that span (per ESPN).

Hill finished the game, a 38-28 Chiefs win, with  269 all-purpose yards, including two receiving touchdowns to go with the punt-return score.

Delanie Walker suffers gruesome injury

Titans tight end Delanie Walker suffered a gruesome-looking ankle injury in the fourth quarter of his team’s 27-20 loss to the Dolphins. The three-time Pro Bowler was carted off the field with what may have been a fracture, pending updates from the team.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Walker suffered a dislocated ankle, as well as “an associated fracture.” Rapoport claimed that the tight end’s “season is almost certainly over,” which would be a major blow to the Titans, given that Walker has led the team in receiving in each of the past four seasons.

Adrian Peterson scores 100th rushing TD, climbs all-time lists

In the 12th season of his decorated NFL career, just about everything Adrian Peterson does on the field takes on historical significance. In his first game with the Redskins, the veteran running back scored his 100th rushing touchdown, breaking a tie with Barry Sanders and moving him into a tie with Shaun Alexander and Marshall Faulk for seventh in league annals. Sixth on that list is John Riggins, with 104.

Peterson, 33, also passed Faulk and Brown in terms of career rushing yards, moving into the top 10 all-time. Peterson had 96 yards on the ground against the Cardinals, giving him 12,372 for his career, and he added 70 yards on two receptions as the Redskins rolled, 24-6.

As Cowboys’ offense struggles, Dez Bryant tweets away

Being unemployed Sunday came with one distinct silver lining for Dez Bryant: he was able to grab a bucket of popcorn and watch as his former team, the Cowboys, struggled on offense against the Panthers. Did Bryant engage in just a bit of schadenfreude? His Twitter activity very much indicated that was, in fact, the case.

There had been some offseason head-scratching at Dallas’s personnel moves regarding its receiving corps, particularly given Jason Witten’s retirement. The team released Bryant and did not replace him with a top-caliber wide receiving talent, preferring instead to sign the likes of Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson, while drafting Michael Gallup and penciling in Cole Beasley for a big role.

Beasley was solid Sunday, catching seven passes for 73 yards, but the Cowboys’ other pass-catchers combined for just 97 yards on 12 receptions, in a 16-8 loss. Dallas also set itself up for second-guessing by releasing longtime kicker Dan Bailey, known for his consistent accuracy, in favor of Brett Maher, whose only professional experience came in the Canadian Football League. When Maher missed his only attempt Sunday, from 47 yards, Bryant was ready:

In another tweet, Bryant claimed that, while he didn’t want to return to the Cowboys, he would like to play for the Patriots or the Redskins.

Dolphins and Titans playing longest NFL game since the merger

The patience of fans in South Florida is being tested, as the game between the host Dolphins and Titans has experienced multiple delays because of lightning. Having started at 1:05 p.m., the contest was still midway through the third quarter as of 7 p.m., with Miami up, 7-3.

The game is already the longest since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, and it has a ways to go.

Blaine Gabbert replaces injured, ineffective Marcus Mariota

An injured elbow was listed as the reason Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota was replaced in the third quarter by Blaine Gabbert. Tennessee coaches, however, may have been thinking about pulling Mariota based on his performance.

The final two passes thrown by the fourth-year quarterback were intercepted, at which point he had completed nine of 16 passes for just 103 yards and no touchdowns. Gabbert promptly led a nine-play touchdown drive.

Tom Brady is 41. So what?

The Texans made a game of it in the second half, but fell short in the Patriots’ 27-20 victory.

Tom Brady is old, very old by NFL standards. But the 41-year-old Patriots quarterback, who was the league’s MVP last year, was, well, Tom Brady. He set the tone early, finding the magic with Rob Gronkowski on a vintage Gronk touchdown in the first quarter against the Texans. He went on to complete 26 of 39 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns.

A Drew Brees-Ryan Fitzpatrick shootout, just like everybody predicted

The Saints and Buccaneers put up 88 points and, get this, Tampa Bay sprung the upset in New Orleans, 48-40. Brees passed for 439 yards and Fitzpatrick, playing with Jameis Winston suspended, had 417 and four touchdowns.

The teams’ combined total of 88 made for the highest-scoring season-opening game in NFL history (per ESPN), and questions have already begun about whether Fitzpatrick should keep the starting gig when Winston becomes eligible to play after Week 3. Before the season, Buccaneers Coach Dirk Koetter recently would not verbally commit to giving Winston his job back, but Fitzpatrick will presumably have to maintain a high level of play, something with which he has struggled throughout his journeyman career.

Andrew Luck is back, and he took a huge hit early

One of the most compelling story lines of the season concerned the return of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who was playing in his first regular season game in 616 days.

His first pass against Cincinnati was intercepted and another time he tucked the ball and took off upfield, where he took a huge, helmet-to-helmet hit from the Bengals’ Shawn Williams. Luck bounced up and Williams was just plain bounced, ejected from the game.

Luck’s surgically repaired shoulder looked fine, though, and early in the second quarter he threw for a touchdown, finding Eric Ebron for his first touchdown since Jan. 1, 2017.

Luck completed 39 of 53 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns, but the result was the same as it has often been in the Luck era, with Cincinnati winning 34-23.

Related: [How many players will protest during the anthem for NFL’s Week 1?]

Leonard Fournette is hurt, but the Jags are fine

The Jaguars were forced to adjust to the loss of running back Leonard Fournette to a hamstring injury in the second quarter against the Giants. T.J. Yeldon came on to replace him and promptly scored. Fournette had 12 carries for 55 yards when he was injured.

What to make of the Giants? Eli Manning completed 23 of 37 passes for 224 yards and Barkley had 18 carries for 108 yards in the 20-15 loss.

The Nathan Peterman era ends

Mercifully, rookie Josh Allen replaced Nathan Peterman, whose Buffalo Bills had all of one first down while being blown out by the Ravens, in the third quarter. Peterman had 24 yards passing and two interceptions before he was removed and Baltimore went on to a 47-3 win.

The Aaron Rodgers rule is in full effect

Forget, for a moment, rules about what constitutes a catch. There’s another new rule, this one preventing defensive players from landing on quarterbacks with their weight, a la Anthony Barr and Rodgers last October. It came into play several times in the early games, with Ben Roethlisberger, Jimmy Garoppolo and Andrew Luck (twice) among the beneficiaries.

There is still some focus on the national anthem

This wouldn’t be the NFL without talk about demonstrations during the playing of the national anthem and the first Sunday of the season opened with a few and with President Trump tweeting about TV ratings and calling on networks to show the anthem as well as for players to stand for it.

Before the early games Sunday, the Dolphins’ Kenny Still and Albert Wilson took a knee during the anthem and Robert Quinn raised a fist as demonstrations were kept to a minimum.

A Gronk in any other uniform wasn’t going to happen: While Rob Gronkowski was mulling whether to retire, the Patriots were thinking about trading him. The tight end didn’t want to play for anyone other than Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, which was a big factor in his considerations. (Read more)

The NFL’s newest rookies: Say hello to male cheerleaders. (Read more)

Don’t get too used to football: Richard Sherman predicts a work stoppage after the 2020 season. (Read more)

Snowboard for sale: Andrew Luck tells of a snowboard accident that hurt the AC joint in his shoulder. (Read more)

That Nike ad: In the unlikely event you’ve missed it, here is the spot featuring Colin Kaepernick.

Watch more!
Nike chose Colin Kaepernick, the NFL free agent quarterback whose kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police shootings of unarmed black men ignited a national controversy, as one of the faces for a new ad campaign marking the 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” slogan. (Taylor Turner, Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

Cindy Boren arrived at The Post in 2000 as an assignment editor in charge of baseball and NFL/Redskins coverage. She switched to full-time writing, focusing on national sports stories and issues, when she founded The Early Lead blog in 2010.

Des Bieler writes for the Early Lead and the D.C. Sports Bog, scouring the Web to bring readers items of interest, both serious and amusing. He also covers fantasy football. He came to The Post in 1995.

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