Brock Purdy looked very good as a rookie last season. There was also no guarantee he could repeat it.
Purdy was passed over 261 times in the 2022 NFL Draft before memorably going with the last pick. Five regular-season starts, as good as they were, wasn't a big sample size. Defensive coordinators would have an offseason to study his weaknesses. On top of it, he was coming off elbow surgery after suffering an injury in the NFC championship game. There were legitimate reasons to wonder if Purdy would regress.
It seems there was no reason to doubt Purdy after all. He might have even been underrated heading into the season.
Purdy and the San Francisco 49ers looked incredible in Week 1. They blew out the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-7 on the road and left no doubt they're Super Bowl contenders again. At one point, the yardage in the game was 157 to minus-3 in favor of the 49ers. The Steelers weren't a bad team last season, and they probably won't be a bad team this season, but the 49ers made them look horrible.
Purdy was selected 242 picks after Kenny Pickett in last year's draft, but you'd have never guessed it watching Sunday's game. Pickett was stuck on 9 yards passing until Pittsburgh's final drive of the first half. Purdy already had two touchdowns to Brandon Aiyuk by then. Purdy has the luxury of not playing against the San Francisco defense, which looks great again, but the starkest difference between the teams on Sunday was the quarterback play. Purdy looked like the first-round draft pick. Pickett looked like the seventh-rounder just trying to make his way. Purdy was 19-of-29 for 220 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 111.3 passer rating. He could have put up bigger numbers if the Steelers were more competitive.
If Purdy plays like he did Sunday — and there's no reason to believe he won't, considering what he did last season and that he carved up a good Steelers defense to start his second season — the 49ers will be very tough to beat. Now that Nick Bosa has his extension, the defense should be among the best in the NFL. Purdy has a great group of skill-position players around him. And San Francisco seems to have hit the lottery with their Mr. Irrelevant pick from a year ago. The 49ers still blew the Trey Lance decision, but nailing the Purdy pick erases a lot of that.
There was no team that looked better through the early games on Sunday than the 49ers. And few quarterbacks looked as good as Purdy. If there were any doubts about Purdy going into his second season, those should be answered already.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 1 of the NFL season:
Tua Tagovailoa: Lost in the headlines about Tagovailoa’s concussion issues last season is that the Miami Dolphins were very good in games that he was healthy. And Tagovailoa would have been an MVP candidate if he stayed healthy.
Tagovailoa played at an MVP level again on Sunday. He threw for 466 yards and three touchdowns, leading a fun 36-34 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Tagovailoa led a late scoring drive when Miami trailed 34-30, hitting Tyreek Hill on a beautiful pass in the end zone to take the lead. The Dolphins defense got a stop after that and Miami was 1-0.
There will always be worries about Tagovailoa’s health after some scary concussions last season. But he outplayed Justin Herbert, who was picked right after Tagovailoa and widely thought to be the better player. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that Tagovailoa is in the upper tier of NFL quarterbacks.
Jimmy Garoppolo: Quarterback wins aren’t a real stat. But Garoppolo wins a lot more than he loses.
The Las Vegas Raiders beat the Denver Broncos 17-16 on Sunday and Garoppolo made a difference. Garoppolo rebounded from a bad interception into the Broncos end zone to lead a go-ahead drive, then his scramble for a first down on third-and-7 inside of the two-minute warning put the game away.
Garoppolo isn’t viewed as an elite quarterback, but his teams are 41-17 in his starts. Maybe that’s not entirely random.
But Stafford is still around, and he was really good on Sunday. Throwing to a mostly anonymous crew of receivers, Stafford was fantastic in leading the Rams to a surprising 30-13 win over the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks looked terrible, but the Rams had plenty to do with that. Stafford was the biggest reason. Stafford had 334 yards and consistently made big plays.
The Rams might not end up being a playoff contender this season, but they’ll be competitive as long as Stafford is in the lineup and playing like he did Sunday.
Jim Schwartz: It's hard to confuse Joe Burrow. There's a good reason he's the highest-paid player in NFL history.
And at halftime of Week 1, the Bengals had more punts (seven) than Burrow had completions (six). Credit to Schwartz, the Cleveland Browns' new defensive coordinator. Schwartz has been a very good defensive mind for many years, and it was a smart hire for the Browns this offseason.
Schwartz's aggressive approach was bad for the Bengals on Sunday. Cincinnati won't have many bad days on offense but Burrow and Co. were inept in Cleveland's 24-3 win. When the Bengals felt the need to go for it on fourth-and-4 from their own territory in the fourth quarter, trailing 16-3, Burrow went back to pass and Myles Garrett sacked him. That summed up the day for the Bengals' offense. Cleveland scored the knockout touchdown right after that.
Week 1 was a big opportunity for the Browns to make a statement in the AFC North. Their defense spoke the loudest.
Todd Bowles and Baker Mayfield: Hey, remember when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made Mayfield their starter and social media made endless jokes of how they were tanking for Caleb Williams?
Maybe that was a bit overstated. The Buccaneers got a huge 20-17 win as Bowles and Mayfield start a pivotal season in their careers, upsetting the Minnesota Vikings. Mayfield wasn't prolific but he made plays when he had to. One of the biggest of the game was a run on third-and-2 with about three minutes left. He put his shoulder down to make sure he got the first down, which drew a big response from the Bucs' sideline. He hit a huge pass later on third-and-10, with Chris Godwin making a great catch for a big first down. The Buccaneers ran out the clock after that.
Kirk Cousins had the kind of game his critics always point to when ripping him. He threw for 344 yards but didn't make enough plays to win. He turned it over three times. Plenty of survival pool picks went by the wayside in the opener.
The Buccaneers might not be great this season, but they looked a lot better than many figured they would on Sunday.
Anthony Richardson: He threw a key interception in the fourth quarter, right after the Jacksonville Jaguars took a lead. Don't let that overshadow what was a positive day for the Indianapolis Colts rookie.
Richardson didn't have a lot of college experience but he looked like he belonged Sunday. He ran for a touchdown early, which everyone knew would be a strength of his game right away. He was also effective throwing it, completing 24 of 37 passes for 223 yards. The Jaguars won 31-21, but the key takeaway for the Colts should be that Richardson looked good. He was shaken up at the end when he took a big hit plowing forward on a run for a first down, but hopefully for the Colts it's nothing major.
Richardson didn't lead a win on Sunday but he'll have plenty of wins in his future. The Colts have to be happy with what they saw.
Washington Commanders, barely: The good news for the Commanders is they won. A loss would have been really hard to take.
The Commanders beat the Arizona Cardinals 20-16 but didn't look good doing it. The Cardinals led in the second half, thanks in large part to a defensive touchdown off a Sam Howell fumble. Arizona will be one of the worst teams in the NFL, perhaps the worst, but Washington had a hard time putting away the Cardinals.
At least it was a win, even though it was ugly. Washington will have to play a lot better to beat teams above Arizona on the pecking order though.
And it didn’t matter. With Rodgers off to the New York Jets, Jordan Love stepped in and had an impressive start to his first season as the Packers’ QB1. The Packers dominated the Bears in Chicago, winning 38-20 with Love making a heck of a statement. He completely outplayed Justin Fields, who came into the season with a lot more hype than Green Bay’s starter.
The Bears had some moment of hope when they cut Green Bay’s lead to 24-14 late in the third quarter. But Love immediately led a five-play, 61-yard drive and hit Romeo Doubs for a touchdown to practically put the game away.
The Bears no longer have to deal with Rodgers, but it doesn’t seem like they’ve gained any ground on the Packers.
A pick 6 and a fumble by Ezekiel Elliott that led directly to an Eagles touchdown put the Patriots in an early 16-0 hole. New England outplayed the Eagles after that. New England trailed 25-20 and had two late possessions with the chance to take the lead. But the Patriots went four-and-out on one of them, then what looked like a great 12-yard catch by rookie Kayshon Boutte on fourth-and-11 was ruled out of bounds when replays showed Boutte didn't drag his back foot and was out of bounds. That's something a receiver making the transition from college to the pros has to learn, but it happened at a rough time for New England.
That is not a catch by Boutte. 2nd time today. pic.twitter.com/bmDe0jCUYn
— Ben Brown 🌻 (@BenBrownPL) September 10, 2023
The Patriots looked competitive and they should be all season. A Bill Belichick-coached team will never be an easy out. But the Patriots had a shot to beat one of the NFL's best teams and let it slip away. Given their tough schedule, they'll regret that loss.
Mike Vrabel: Vrabel is a really good head coach who made a really bad decision Sunday.
The Tennessee Titans trailed 16-12 vs. the New Orleans Saints with less than three minutes left. On a third-and-12 they picked up 6 yards to the Saints' 11-yard line, making it an obvious go-for-it situation. But it wasn't obvious to Vrabel, who kicked the field goal.
The Titans never got the ball back. New Orleans hit a big pass play for a first down, got another first down and ran out the clock after that. It was a shockingly bad decision to kick the field goal at that point in the game. The Saints won 16-15. The fact that Vrabel, one of the best coaches in the NFL, made that call made it even more confusing.
Houston Texans: Don't forget as this season plays out that the Texans don't have their 2024 first-round draft pick. That went to the Arizona Cardinals when the Texans traded up to select Will Anderson Jr. third overall.
That pick might be very early in the draft. The Texans struggled to get much done on offense in a 25-9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. They fought hard and kept it close for a while, but as the game went on the Ravens' talent difference took over. It's going to take new Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans some time to turn things around. Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud should be good but that will take some time too.
That's why April's trade was probably a bad idea. Anderson will be a good pass rusher. But the cost to get him looks like it will be heavy.
Bryce Young: The losing streak of No. 1 overall draft picks starting in Week 1 continues. Young started for the Carolina Panthers and lost, the ninth straight first overall pick to start in the season opener and lose. The last time a No. 1 pick won in the opener was David Carr in 2002.
Young didn't help his team much. He threw a couple of picks. The Panthers didn't have a pass longer than 14 yards. The Falcons won 24-10.
Young will have plenty of good days as a pro. But his opener, like plenty of first picks, wasn't the start to his career he hoped for.