As if making his first appearance in a regular-season game in almost a year weren’t inspirational enough, J.J. Watt has become the face of Hurricane Harvey relief and recovery, with an online fundraising effort that has now topped $31 million. The Texans honored first responders before the game, then introduced the defensive starters with, you guessed it, Watt entering last. The response was deafening.
However, shortly before halftime, Watt headed to the locker room with a dislocated finger. He described it after the game as the bone having “busted through the skin. Nothing bad, just tape it up.” He later returned. Watt wasn’t the only injured Texans player; linebacker Brian Cushing, wide receiver Bruce Ellington and tight ends C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin were out with concussions during the team’s 29-7 loss to Jacksonville. That puts the Texans in a jam with a game Thursday in Cincinnati, and Coach Bill O’Brien hasn’t said whether he’ll start Tom Savage or rookie Deshaun Watson, who entered the Jaguars’ loss in the second half and promptly delivered a touchdown drive.
The biggest uncertainty entering Sunday was the availability of the New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who is nursing an ankle injury. The Giants ruled him inactive an hour and a half before their matchup against the Cowboys in Dallas, the first “Sunday Night Football” game of the season. Last week, Beckham said, “I’m itching. I’m itching, but [it’s about] just patience and trusting.” He’ll have to be patience at least a week longer.
Perhaps the biggest injury news of the day relates to Cardinals star running back David Johnson, who left Arizona’s 35-23 loss to Detroit with a wrist injury. X-rays were negative, according to Pro Football Talk, but Johnson will have an MRI exam on Monday. Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen of ESPN report that the MRI will determine whether Johnson will miss “a few weeks” or “half the season” with his sprained wrist.
Another star running back appeared to be banged up as well: Buffalo running back LeSean McCoy. However, it proved to be a false alarm, as McCoy was cleared to return following his wrist injury.
In Pittsburgh, Watt’s brother, T.J. Watt, got off to a great start in his rookie debut with two sacks and an interception in the first three quarters.
And it isn’t easy to overshadow wide receiver Antonio Brown, whose game was on point the moment he entered the stadium. He caught 11 passes for 182 yards.
He made his fantasy owners a lot happier than his teammate Le’Veon Bell did, as Bell had 10 carries for 32 yards.
Watt wasn’t the only rookie to have an impressive NFL debut on Sunday. Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries in Jacksonville’s 29-7 win over Houston.
Before the game, all eyes were on the sidelines for possible national anthem protests. Last week Marcus Peters of the Kansas City Chiefs chose to remain seated for the anthem during the NFL opener Thursday night in New England and the Seattle Seahawks’ Michael Bennett, whose allegations of racial profiling and brutality by the Las Vegas police made headlines last week, continued his protest in the late afternoon national game Sunday in Green Bay. His brother, Packers tight end Martellus Bennett, stood on the opposite sideline, raising his right fist in protest during the anthem.
San Francisco safety Eric Reid continued to protest, kneeling during the anthem as he did during 2016. He was surrounded by several teammates.
But the Cleveland Browns took a different approach, recording a video that was shown to fans before players and police stood together for the anthem. Players stressed a message of “unity, justice, freedom and equality.”
In FedEx Field, Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadephia Eagles stood and raised a fist to, as he put it last week, “take a stand for racial equality” as the anthem played. Once again, teammates Rodney McLeod and Chris Long stood with a hand on him in solidarity.
In his first game with the Oakland Raiders, Marshawn Lynch remained seated on the bench during the anthem.
And, of course, two teams are unable to play today. The Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will instead play their game on Week 11 because of the arrival of Hurricane Irma in Florida.
Expect increased tolerance for touchdown celebrations this season. The NFL has always had an awkward dance with celebrations, but even the folks in the home office know they’re being ridiculed for their rules. You’ll know how serious the league is about heeding the “lighten up, Francis” pleas if it doesn’t fine Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs for flashing a peace sign during a 75-yard touchdown pass play against the New England Patriots in the NFL opener Thursday night. To a point, as The Post’s Mark Maske writes, the NFL really doesn’t want to be the No Fun League.
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reports that the league may fine Hill for taunting, even though he wasn’t flagged for the move, because he directed the gesture at an opponent.
Overtime, heaven forbid it occur, has been shortened to 10 minutes. However, there’s still the pesky little problem that one team may not get a crack at scoring at all. Baby steps. There were two regular-season overtime games last year and, of course, the Super Bowl in which the Patriots won the toss and the Atlanta Falcons never got the football. Feel free to either celebrate or freak out over seeing less OT. The TV networks will be doing the former because games won’t eat into each other.
The Dallas Cowboys lead the league in suspended players, but one of them isn’t Ezekiel Elliott. A federal judge in Texas granted an injunction Friday that will keep the running back on the field while his case — an appeal of a six-game suspension for violating the league’s conduct policy in a domestic violence case — is pending in court.
Will TV ratings be a story again this year? The NFL got off to a sluggish start last year, with reasons ranging from the presidential campaign to the national anthem protests, and Thursday night’s opener was down nearly 12 percent from the 2016 opener. In fact, the ratings were the lowest since 2009. Of course, Florida was preparing for a hurricane and Texas is recovering from one and that had to play into the numbers.
Sunday’s slate will be shorter, with the Bucs-Dolphins postponed and the Chiefs-Patriots in the rearview mirror. And there are two Monday night games, with New Orleans at Minnesota the early game and the Los Angeles Chargers at Denver the later game. Both are on ESPN and Beth Mowins will have the call on the latter, along with Rex Ryan. This is only the second time a woman has called a regular-season NFL game. Gayle Sierens was the first, in 1987.
The Dolphins have relocated to Oxnard, Calif., with Hurricane Irma hitting Florida, for the next week. They’ll use the Cowboys’ training facility to prepare for their Sept. 17 opener against the Chargers in Los Angeles. If they still can’t return home, Fox’s Jay Glazer reports that the plan is to relocate to the Greenbrier in West Virginia. The Jaguars plan to return home from Houston on Monday but will stay in Houston if they cannot do so. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who was in Houston for the game, said that the league was monitoring the weather to determine whether any game would need to be changed. The Bucs play Sunday in Chicago.
It’s good to be Josh McCown, believe it or not. Yes, he plays for the New York Jets, but, at the age of 38, he will earn $125,000 for every start he makes, plus his $6 million guaranteed base salary. The $125,000 per-game bonus is believed to be one of the largest in the NFL, ESPN reports, and may well be the largest.
More Week 1 highlights:
The Packers tight end discusses his close connection to Houston and how he’s trying to help the city in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. (Read More)
The Patriots opened the season with a clunker, but their opponents shouldn’t be too gleeful. (Read more.)
The Cleveland police union had been at odds with players who knelt in prayer during a preseason game. (Read more.)
Never, ever equate human suffering with football. (Read more.)
The long snapper/“America’s Got Talent” star needed emergency heart surgery. (Read more.)
It’s the defending champs. And then it’s everyone else, with a significant gap in between. (Read more.)
Will a new season and a new stadium provide the new beginning the Falcons need to shrug off their epic defeat seven months ago? (Read more.)
Updated at 6:10 p.m. Sunday
Bears wide receiver Kevin White might be lost for the year due to injury. ESPN’s Dan Graziano reported that White is feared to have broken his collarbone and would require season-ending shoulder surgery. Pro Football Talk added reporting that the injury might be a shoulder blade, but that in either case, there is a concern White’s season is over.
49ers rookie linebacker Reuben Foster, the No. 31 overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, has been carted off the field in his first game. He suffered an apparent lower leg injury.
We have an injured punter. The Detroit Lions’ Kasey Redfern was carted off after he muffed a snap as he attempted to punt from the end zone. He tried to run the ball out and was promptly clocked by two Arizona Cardinals players. Matt Prater will handle punting duties the rest of the day.
Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby was carted off after suffering looked to be a pretty gruesome ankle injury against the Washington Redskins. He was diagnosed with a dislocated ankle.
The Jacksonville Jaguars lost wide receiver Allen Robinson to a knee injury early in the game against Houston and he was ruled out for the rest of the day.
Baltimore Ravens running back Danny Woodhead left against Cincinnati with a hamstring injury after catching three passes for 33 yards.
Beckham is expected to be a game-time decision. Although Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is listed as questionable to play because of a shoulder injury, the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that he will play. So, too, will Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel, who is listed as questionable with an ankle injury.
In the least surprising but most depressing injury update, Rapoport reports that Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck isn’t likely to appear in a game until October. Luck, who had offseason shoulder surgery, still hasn’t practiced and may not do so this week, either.
Here’s the Sunday injury report for notable players:
QB Andrew Luck
K Sebastian Janikowski
G Kyle Long
LB Bud Dupree
CB Prince Amukamara
RB T.J. Yeldon
Maybe Le’Veon Bell and Julio Jones shouldn’t be such popular plays in Week 1. But maybe they should be.
At quarterback, watch the Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff. The Post’s Daniel Kelley writes:
The Colts gave up the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks a year ago, with CB Vontae Davis playing 14 games. Now, Davis is out for Week 1 (and longer), and, while the Colts did add several defensive pieces this offseason, there’s no difference-maker on the unit. Per NumberFire’s Jim Sannes on Twitter, in games Davis played under 50 percent of snaps last year, the Colts allowed nine touchdowns against one interception, compared to an 18:7 ratio when he played more than 50 percent. Goff has a new wealth of weapons (Sammy Watkins, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods) and a new elite pass-blocking tackle (Andrew Whitworth) in a plus-matchup. His sophomore season might start off in a big way. (Read more here.)
Week 1 NFL ATS picks
The top trends and insights from Las Vegas. (Read more.)