MERRICK, N.Y., Sept. 15, 2015 — The National Football League is back. While 32 teams finally played regular season games that count for the history books, several teams were still in preseason form. Once again, coaches who played to win fared better than conservative coaches playing not to lose. Here are some lessons learned and not learned from the opening week of the 2015 NFL season.
New England Patriots 28, Pittsburgh Steelers 21 — An angry Tom Brady at home is not something any team should want to face. Rob Gronkowski remains a beast, as the pair connected for three of Brady’s four touchdown passes in a game not nearly as close as the score.
Buffalo Bills 27, Indianapolis Colts 14 — Rex Ryan knows defense, as the Jets built a 24-0 lead and coasted. Ryan did not predict a Super Bowl 50 victory, and this game means nothing until we see how the Bills play on the road and the Colts rebound at home.
Green Bay Packers 31, Chicago Bears 23 — Both Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler were expected to complete passes to the Packers. Both quarterbacks obliged. Trailing 24-16 with chance to tie it, Cutler found Clay Matthews, who still plays defense for Green Bay. Same Rodgers. Same Cutler.
Kansas City Chiefs, 27, Houston Texans 20 — Bryan Hoyer’s first pass as a Texan was a completion to the Chiefs’ defense. Walrus Lite Andy Reid still has Alex Smith dinking and dunking, but when a game manager builds a 27-9 halftime lead, take notice. Maybe J.J. Watt can play quarterback.
Carolina Panthers 20, Jacksonville Jaguars 9 — It was 20 years ago that these teams played their very first preseason game in franchise history in the Hall of Fame Game. Two decades later, they are still playing like expansion teams. A critical interception of Blake Bortles turned a 10-9 Jaguars deficit into another listless loss. London may refuse to accept any more Jacksonville games.
New York Jets 31, Cleveland Browns 10 — Johnny Manziel started the game as a Brock Osweiler award winner reserved for guys like Tim Tebow, RGIII, Michael Sam, Jimmy Garoppollo, and other non-players mentioned too often. After starter Josh McCown was injured, Johnny Clipboard entered the game and threw a touchdown bomb, but after that he was Johnny Interception in another Browns loss.
St. Louis Rams 34, Seattle Seahawks 31, OT — The Rams are a young team that still needs to learn how to close out wins. Blowing a 24-13 fourth quarter lead to fall behind 31-24 meant another sure loss, but give these Rams credit. It is one thing to tie the game and take an overtime lead. Jeff Fisher’s defense showed a ton of character in blasting Marshawn Lynch backward on the deciding fourth and one.
Miami Dolphins 17, Washington 10 — Washington is now 15 losses away from tying the 2008 Detroit team. While it took a punt return for a touchdown to break the 10-10 deadlock, Washington may wish to change their name solely so that the 2015 team does not embarrass past Washington teams that played real football.
Arizona Cardinals 31, New Orleans Saints 19 — Bruce Arians is the gutsiest coach since Sean Payton. This was not an onside kick in the Super Bowl, but Arians played to win. Leading 24-19, rather than run down the clock, he let Carson Palmer air it out and put the game away. A punt would have given the ball back to Drew Brees. Arians is as good as it gets.
San Diego Chargers 33, Detroit Lions 28 — For those wondering how a 21-3 Lions lead becomes a 33-21 deficit, the answer is 30 straight unanswered points. Matthew Stafford helped give the game away. Jim Caldwell was so displeased he almost made a facial expression.
Denver Broncos 19, Baltimore Ravens 13 — Three years ago Joe Flacco had the miracle touchdown bomb that allowed the Ravens to win a 38-35 shootout. After getting knocked around in the playoffs three straight years, John Elway knew he needed to make his Broncos more physical on defense. He succeeded. Denver now has a nasty defense to help Peyton Manning. The interception of Flacco as time was running out showed how Denver has changed.
Cincinnati Bengals 33, Oakland Raiders 13 — The Raiders cannot run, throw, block or tackle. They fell behind 33-0 but looked worse than that. The Raiders had eight months to prepare for this game in front of their home fans, and they look as bad as ever. The good news for this team is they get a few days off to look in the mirror.
Tennessee Titans 42, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14 — Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston both played their very first game. Marietta threw four touchdown passes. Winston threw three, but only two went to his own team. One of Winston’s touchdowns came after Tampa Bay was down by 35. The Titans may have a new hero, but beating another 2-14 is not an accurate measuring stick.
Dallas Cowboys 27, New York Giants 26 — Eli Manning told Rashad Jennings not to score a touchdown with the Giants leading 23-20. Then on fourth and goal from the one, Tom Coughlin opted for the field goal. Then the defense let Tony Romo march down the field for the winning touchdown with seven seconds left. The Giants love to summon up the ghost of Joe Pisarcik every few years.
Atlanta Falcons 26, Philadelphia Eagles 24 — The issue is not that the Falcons blew a 20-3 lead to fall behind 24-23. When it matters most, kickers have to be ready. Matt Bryant made his field goal to give the Falcons the lead. Chris Parkey missed his 44-yard try with 2 1/2 minutes left. Even in a game of birds there is room for a goat.
San Francisco 49ers 20, Minnesota Vikings 3 — The Vikings were supposed to be up and coming while the 49ers were supposed to be headed into the garbage can. Neither team got the memo. San Francisco’s Carlos Hyde had 168 yards on 26 carries, while Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson had 31 yards on ten carries. Jim Tomsula might actually be able to google himself and find out who he is now.