By David McDonnell
Sunday was nothing short of a visual and audio sermon of football to the Gridiron faithful.
It was a day of celebration where any NFL doubters peeping in would surely have become converted after a host of epic encounters. After the penance of a long off-season, the football Gods were back with a BANG to light up the first NFL Sunday of the 2022 season as they delivered a variety of barely believable narratives along with some truly miraculous finishes.
They say that ‘pressure is for tyres.’
There may be a few NFL head coaches who will wake up with the intention of kicking the tyres on whether they should keep their place-kickers or find new ones after a number of games were decided by late shots at the posts.
Let’s start with the best game of the weekend, where there was a match-up between two franchises with Superbowl ambitions this season.
Steelers v Bengals
An opening day contest for the ages took place at the Paul Brown Stadium, when divisional AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The first touchdown of the evening came when Steelers’ safety Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepted from prodigious Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow in the first quarter to take an early 7-0 lead. The Steelers’ much-vaunted defence lived up to their billing on a day when they had five turnovers along with seven sacks as the new Bengals offensive line struggled to settle to their task of protecting Burrow, last season’s most sacked QB.
A third quarter pass from Mitch Trubisky to Najee Harris saw the Steelers take a commanding 20-14 lead when Burrow started to shake off his constraints.
With the ball at the 20, Burrow found Ja’Marr Chase, last season’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, who caught the ball at the endline before being pushed into touch. The Bengals rushed up to the line of scrimmage to run the next play. However, had they taken their time, it is likely they would have realised that Chase had broken the plane of the endzone for a touchdown. Since they ran the next play without challenging the call, the touchdown did not stand.
Afterwards the NFL confirmed that the TD would have stood if the call had been challenged.The Bengals then had four attempts to get over the line, but the Steelers held them out with an impressive goal-line stand.
Burrow managed to get the Bengals back down to the Redzone with only 22 seconds on the clock. He threw again to Chase and the receiver grabbed an audacious ball out of the air but his toe brushed the sideline so once again it did not count. Two plays later with the time almost expired, Burrow found Chase for his second touchdown of the game to level the encounter.
It meant that the Bengals would win the game once their kicker Evan McPherson converted the point-after-touchdown (PAT).
McPherson, the only kicker selected in the 2021 NFL draft had a monstrous season last year setting the NFL record for most field goals made by a rookie, as well as tying the all-time record for most field goals made in a single postseason. During the Superbowl last year, he did earn public criticism from his coaches when he was spotted enjoying Doctor Dre, Eminem and Snoop Dogg performing their half-time show from the stands when all his teammates were in the locker room.
Maybe fate felt the need to kick him in the butt this time around as his PAT attempt was blocked by Fitzpatrick to send the game to overtime.
With the game there for the winning in overtime, McPhearson missed a chip-shot field goal attempt to win the game again. In truth, both misses were a result of poor snaps by the Bengals special teams, who were missing their 12-season veteran Clark Harris through injury.
Fittingly, with time running out, Steelers kicker Chris Boswell, having missed an earlier kick in overtime himself when an effort hit the post, managed to direct the ball between the uprights for a famous win for the Black and Gold.
This victory however looks to have come at a steep price as last season’s Defensive Player of the Year, TJ Watt, left the field late with an injury. It was reported via Twitter by @MikeGiaradi that it could be a season-ending pectoral muscle injury. An MRI will confirm the diagnosis later today with Steeler Nation hoping that it may be a partial tear in the hope of seeing Watt return later in the season.
Late Drama Continues in Browns v Panthers
There was more kicking woe in another of the weekend’s hotly anticipated match-ups when quarterback Baker Mayfield, newly of the Carolina Panthers faced his former Cleveland Browns teammates.
And once again, it wasn’t short of drama.
Trailing in the fourth quarter after two Kareem Hunt TDs for the Browns, Mayfield launched a late comeback bid.
From his own 25-yard line, Baker found Robbie Anderson with a deep ball to make it a one-score game with six minutes remaining. Anderson, an NFL veteran who began his career with the New York Jets, interestingly changed his first name from Robby to Robbie over the summer telling ESPN’s Adam Schefter; “it’s better on paper with the ‘ie’ on the end.”
With just over a minute to go, Carolina kicker Eddy Pineiro put them into a 23-24 lead and victory looked within reach. However, Baker’s revenge was taken away from him when rookie kicker Cade York won the game for the visitors when his 58-yard effort sailed inside the posts as time expired.
There were heroic but barely fathomable come-from-behind victories for two of the new head coaches in the NFC.
Falcons v Saints, Giants v Titans, Texans v Colts, Jaguars v Commanders
New Orleans pulled a 27-26 win out of the fire when they defeated NFC South rivals Atlanta Falcons with a very late turnaround.
In the final quarter a second touchdown by Michael Thomas, the former All-Pro wide receiver in 2019, who has been largely out injured for the past two seasons and another six pointer by rookie receiver Chris Olave saw the Saints trail 26-24. New Orleans went for a two-point conversion to win the game but their attempt was in vain. Will Lutz kicked the Saints into a late two-point lead. Falcon’s place-kicker Younghoe Koo’s effort to win the tie was blocked to secure a win for the Saints” Dennis Allen in his first game as head coach.
A more surprising comeback saw the New York Giants win their first game of the season in six years when they overcame the Tennessee Titans by 21-20.
It was a red-letter day for running back Saquon Barkley, who put up 194 all-purpose yards, including a touchdown and a late two-point conversion. That latter came after QB Daniel Jones found Chris Myarick with a late pass. Titans place-kicker Randy Bullock had a chance to win it at the death but his kick at goal went astray. It was also Brian Dabol’s first win of his NFL head coaching career with the Giants after arriving from Buffalo.
The Houston Texans almost pulled off the biggest surprise of the day when they led 20-3, thanks to two TDs by their newly-acquired tight-end OJ Howard. However, a late flurry of touchdowns in the fourth quarter saw the Colts tie the game 20-20. With time expiring in overtime, iconic Colts kicker Rodrigo Blankenship ensured a poor day for kickers continued when he shafted his effort to the side to leave the result as a draw.
The Colts former QB, Carson Wentz got his new reign with the Washington Commanders off to a winning start with four touchdown passes to his wide receivers.
The Commanders first round pick, Jahan Dotson, was the first rookie to score a TD this season when he caught from Wentz in the first quarter. With time running out and his side trailing, Wentz found him again for him to become the first rookie with two six-pointers in the NFL this season. Dotson is an interesting character, and first-round draft selection from Penn State, who continues a habit of going to bed with a ball every night, a practice he has sustained from since he was a kid, throughout school, into college and now in the National Football League.
The Chicago Bears recorded a surprise victory over the San Francisco 49ers when Justin Fields led a comeback in a wet Soldier Field. The tide turned when Fields found Dante Pettis with an off-script play in the third quarter. Another touchdown to Equanimeous St Brown on a play-action movie saw the Bears take the lead, in a game where 49er’s QB Trey Lance struggled throughout.
There was a third winning franchise from the NFC East when the Philadelphia Eagles overcame the Lions 38-35 in a score fest in Detroit. Other notable performances saw the Kansas City Chiefs, led by former League MVP Patrick Mahommes, score six touchdowns to brush away any doubts about their credentials since the loss of Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins in the off-season. Miami gave a lot of punishment to Patriots QB Mac Jones, while they stormed to a 7-20 victory. Another former league MVP, Lamar Jackson, showed off what he can do with his arm by throwing three deep touchdown passes to beat the Jets 24-9.
One of the day’s top individual performers was Minnesota wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who clocked up 158 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the first half as the Vikings eased to victory over the Green Bay Packers.
In the late match, Tom Brady did enough to beat a disappointing Dallas. The Cowboys defence was well-marshaled by Micah Parsons but their offence could not ignite throughout the contest. The only touchdown came when Brady found Mike Evans in the endzone in the fourth quarter. During the last few minutes of the game, franchise QB Dak Prescott left the field with a hand injury with owner Jerry Jones confirming that he will miss multiple weeks.
The promoted back-up is Cooper Rush, in his second stint at Dallas, since he went undrafted in 2017. He has since made 10 appearances for the Cowboys throwing only four touchdowns in his career to date. If the Cowboys are serious about getting their season back on track, surely they must be considering an early season trade for 49ers back-up Jimmy Garropolo, who coincidentally knocked the Cowboys out of the playoffs last January.
Monday Night Football Preview: Denver Broncos @ Seattle Seahawks
There was a blockbuster trade in the off-season with the Denver Broncos’ acquisition of former Superbowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson as the leader of an offence already stacked with the receiving talents of Jerry Jeudy and Cortland Sutton. They also added Randy Gregory to bookend the pass-rushing of Bradley Chubb on the defensive line.
The Broncos should be too strong for a Seahawks side, who themselves have named veteran player Geno Smith as the Week 1 starter. In my opinion, Denver are likely to join their divisional rival Chiefs and Chargers with an opening weekend win on Monday Night Football.
One thought on “Can I Kick It? … ‘Yes, You Can’t’”
Very enjoyable read