By Anthony McClean, Editor-In-Chief Emeritus
When we inaugurated the Field Generals weekly reports last season, we saw a record 11 Black/minority starting quarterbacks under center on Opening Weekend. Injuries, demotions, and other extenuating circumstances would cause the numbers to fluctuate over the season.
As we begin “The NFL’s Biggest Season Ever” over the next 18 weeks, BASN Newsroom will continue to chronicle the exploits of this much maligned, but very talented group. As is its custom, Week One offered all sorts of impressive performances, wild finishes, and all in between.
It started with Dallas’ Dak Prescott pushing the defending Super Bowl Champions to the brink before falling short. We saw two rookies in San Francisco’s Trey Lance and Chicago Justin Fields give us a taste of why they were first round picks. We saw the continued excellence of former Super Bowl champs Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson.
We also saw young veterans like “Famous Jameis” in New Orleans and Denver’s “Teddy Ballgame” ball out in the late Sunday games. The week would culminate in Vegas on Monday Night Football where Lamar Jackson would battle America’s favorite vagabonds, the Raiders.
All in all, Week One proved to be very intriguing. Let’s take a quick look back.
Dak Prescott, Dallas (Loss at Tampa Bay)
“He didn’t play enough in the preseason! He’s got a bum shoulder! He’s going to be rusty and gun shy because of the injury!” As for the game, his 42 completions and 58 attempts tied career highs. The sixth-year veteran threw for 403 yards and three touchdowns, picking apart an experienced Tampa Bay defense with a slew of short and intermediate throws. He and Brady each threw a tipped interception while combining for over 700 passing yards in Tampa’s 31-29 home opener. Dak’s biggest mistake? Leaving Ol’ No. 12 too much time on the clock. While one game is hardly a litmus test for Arlington’s Finest, it was an interesting opening act. However, in the words of noted NFL analyst Dave Chappelle, “haters gonna hate, lovers gonna love……”
Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia (Win at Atlanta)
A full offseason to relearn the playbook. New offensive weapons to play with along with an upgraded offensive line. If you’re still thinking this isn’t Mr. Hurts’ team, allow me to show you Exhibit A from Dixie. If your keeping score at home, No. 1 completed 27 of 35 passes for 264 yards and used his mobility to repeatedly neutralize Atlanta’s attempts to shake him up with a wide variety of blitzes. He rushed for 62 yards on seven carries and was sacked only once. Hurts also threw three touchdown passes, the first of them to Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, and the Eagles made a winner of Nick Sirianni in his head coaching debut with a 32-6 rout of the hapless Falcons. Atlanta never advanced farther than the Philadelphia 49 and finished with just 260 yards.
Tyrod Taylor, Houston (Win vs. Jacksonville)
Over the last three years, Taylor has been the opening day starter for two teams (Browns in 2018, Chargers in 2020) only to see injury and sabotage derail his playing time. When healthy, No. 5 has been more than productive. Sunday’s performance was a microcosm of that. In the 37-21 win over the Jags, Taylor completed 21-of-33 passes (63.6 percent) for 291 yards with two passing touchdowns with a 112.1 passer rating, the second-highest passer rating by a Texans quarterback in a Week 1 game. He added 40 yards rushing on four carries (10.0 avg.) as the Texans gained 450 total yards (161 rushing, 289 passing), tied for the largest Week 1 total in franchise history. Houston’s 37 points were the highest Week 1 point total in franchise history.
Russell Wilson, Seattle (Win at Indianapolis)
So much for no preseason reps. No. 3 threw three of his four touchdown passes in the first half Sunday and Seattle’s defense clamped down in the second half as the Seahawks pulled away for a 28-16 season-opening victory at Indianapolis. Wilson led the Seahawks to touchdowns on their first two drives and posted a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in the first half. He wound up with the second-highest single-game rating of his 10-year career, 152.3, and fell one TD pass short of matching his career high. He finished 18 of 23 with 254 yards. The defending NFC West champions have won 12 of their past 13 games in the early Sunday timeslot.
Kyler Murray, Arizona (Win at Tennessee)
If Sunday’s performance is any indication, Arizona’s big little man may be taking his already talented game to another level. Murray tormented the Titans throwing for 289 yards with a career-high four touchdown passes, including wo apiece to All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk. The Cardinals scored the first 17 points and moved the ball almost at will against Tennessee. Murray became the first Cardinals player with four TD passes and a rushing TD in a game since Charley Johnson in 1962. He’s just the sixth player in NFL history to have such a game in a season opener and first since Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2018.
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City (Win vs. Cleveland)
Super Bowl hangover, right? Can’t overcome a 12-point halftime deficit, right? Y’all do realize that’s Patrick Mahomes in the red jersey, right? In another one of his best Houdini impressions, No. 15 finished with 337 yards passing and three touchdowns while running for a score the K.C.’s come from behind victory. The Chiefs managed to win their fifth straight against Cleveland, including a 22-17 playoff win in January, and their 15th consecutive game in September. They also pushed Andy Reid within one win of reaching 100 with two franchises. As for the Browns? They fell to 1-21-1 in season openers since returning to Cleveland in 1999, extending their NFL mark to 17 consecutive defeats. They haven’t won an opener on the road since the 1994 season.
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami (Win at New England)
In the first edition of the AFC East’s Tuscaloosa Invitational, Round 1 goes to the young “veteran” at Foxboro. Tua’s third quarter touchdown pass to Jaylen Waddle proved to be the game-winner. It was Miami’s second straight win over the Patriots. Tagovailoa also led the Dolphins to a victory in the second meeting between the teams last season. Tagovailoa finished 16 of 27 for 202 yards, a touchdown and one interception, and a TD run. While the offense had its moments, including going 2 for 2 in the red zone, Miami was a dismal 4 of 11 (36%) on third downs. New England had four fumbles on the day, losing two including a key one late in the fourth by Damien Harris.
Jameis Winston, New Orleans (Win vs. Green Bay at Jacksonville)
It was quite the homecoming for “Famous Jameis” as the Saints were forced to relocate their home opener to Jacksonville due to Hurricane Ida. Winston passed for five touchdowns as the Saints kicked off the post-Drew Brees era with a strikingly dominant 38-3 victory over the Packers on Sunday. Winston was an efficient 14 of 20 for 148 yards without an interception. New Orleans also rushed for 171 yards. The game, originally scheduled for the Superdome, was moved while the New Orleans area continues to clean up wreckage left by Hurricane Ida, which struck southeast Louisiana as a Category 4 storm on Aug. 29, 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina devastated the same region.
Teddy Bridgewater, Denver (Win at N.Y. Giants)
Despite playing for his third team in as many seasons, Bridgewater reminded folks of why he’s still one of the league’s most underrated signal callers. Acquired in the offseason from Carolina, Teddy Ballgame completed 28 of 36 passes for 264 yards, sharing the ball with nine receivers. He added two touchdowns passes in his first start for Denver and the Broncos dominated possession and beat the Giants 27-13 on Sunday. Denver also won the ball possession battle 35:08 to 24:52 as its offense converted 7 of 15 on third downs and 3 of 3 on fourth downs.
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore (Loss at Vegas)
For the first time since 2004, the Ravens lost a game when leading by at least 14 points, ending a 98-game, regular-season win streak. While LJ’s numbers weren’t bad at all (19 for 30, 235 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, 86 yards rushing), it was a pair of costless fumbles that proved to be the difference. Jackson’s first fumble came in the fourth quarter when he coughed up the football after taking a hard hit from Quinton Jefferson. The Ravens were still leading, 17-10, but Jackson’s turnover set up a give-play 41-yard touchdown drive by the Raiders, ending with Josh Jacobs’ 15-yard touchdown run. Baltimore was already playing shorthanded in the backfield after seeing a trio of running backs suffer season-ending injuries just before the opener.
Trey Lance, San Francisco (Win at Detroit)
The first-round pick connected with receiver Trent Sherfield on a 5-yard, play-action pass to help the 49ers take a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter. The former North Dakota State star is the first rookie to throw a touchdown on his first pass attempt in Week 1 since Atlanta’s Matt Ryan against Detroit in 2008. Lance also became the first Niners rookie to throw for a score in a season-opening game since they joined the NFL in 1950.
Justin Fields, Chicago (Loss at L.A. Rams)
Similar to Lance, the former Ohio State standout was able to make the most of his limited debut. Fields completed 2 of 2 passes for 10 yards and rushing for a 3-yard touchdown while getting a handful of snaps. The predictable outcry to see Fields get his first start got even louder following Chicago’s loss. The Bears dropped to 1-3 in season openers under coach Matt Nagy.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Arizona’s Kyler Murray passed for 289 yards with a career-high four touchdowns and one interception for a 121.0 rating and added a rushing touchdown. He has four career games with at least three touchdown passes and one rushing touchdown, tied with Josh Allen (four games) and Jack Kemp (four) for the most such games by a player in his first three seasons in NFL history.
HISTORY SPOTLIGHT: Fritz Pollard
While the former Brown standout is widely known as the NFL’s first black head coach, Pollard was also the league’s first black quarterback as well. Playing under center while also serving as a halfback and fullback, Pollard played pro football with the Akron Pros, the team he would lead to the NFL (APFA) championship in 1920. In 1921, he became the co-head coach of the Akron Pros, while still maintaining his roster position as a triple threat. He also played for the Milwaukee Badgers, Hammond Pros, Gilberton Cadamounts, the Union Club of Phoenixville, and Providence Steam Rollers. Pollard also served as a co-coach with Milwaukee, Hammond, and Gilberton. Pollard, along with all nine of the black players in the NFL at the time, were banished from the league at the end of the 1926 season, never to return again. He spent some time organizing all-black barnstorming teams, including the Chicago Black Hawks in 1928 and the Harlem Brown Bombers in the 1930s.
Anthony McClean can be reached via email at anthonymcclean@basnnewsroom.