Week 1 of the NFL regular season is less about making bold statements and more about creating positive first impressions. On the first Sunday of the 2021 campaign, one division managed to accomplish both.
The NFC West spent the day reminding the NFL that its fearsome foursome is not to be messed with.
The San Francisco 49ers dominated the Detroit Lions (until the Niners’ backups allowed a late comeback) in a 41-33 win. The Seattle Seahawks also opened with a road victory, following Russell Wilson’s lead in Indianapolis to beat the Colts 28-16. And the Los Angeles Rams, behind new quarterback Matthew Stafford, put on a show in prime time in front of fans at SoFi Stadium for the first time to defeat the Chicago Bears 34-14.
The Arizona Cardinals arguably laid down the biggest marker by going to Tennessee and thrashing a Titans team that’s expected to make a third consecutive trip to the playoffs. The 38-13 rout was comprehensive on both sides of the ball, spearheaded by incredible individual performances by quarterback Kyler Murray and defensive end Chandler Jones (more on that below).
That’s four wins for the NFL’s best division by a combined score of 141-76, confirming what we already knew — that the race in the NFC West will be one epic battle.
This weekly NFL recap will spotlight the best of what we saw (and what you may have missed) on Sunday. Let’s continue with the standouts on offense, defense and special teams.
Best offensive performance
Kyler Murray, Cardinals: Murray ascended to Madden cheat-code levels, making unbelievable play after unbelievable play en route to a five-touchdown day to begin building his 2021 MVP resume. His leaping throw for the third of four TD passes was remarkable alone, but his most amazing completion was this scramble that summed up the frustration of a helpless Titans defense.
Best defensive performance
Chandler Jones, Cardinals: Whether it was hurt feelings from a contract dispute or the presence of five-time All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt, Jones was relentless in wreaking havoc on the Tennessee offense, namely quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He sacked Tannehill three times (to give Jones 100 sacks for his career) and forced a fumble that led to a touchdown in just the first quarter. He added another sack and another forced fumble in the third quarter.
The 31-year-old ended up with five sacks, prompting his counterpart across the line of scrimmage — three-time Pro Bowl tackle Taylor Lewan — to tweet an apology of sorts to Titans fans.
Best special teams performance
Steelers punt block: The rare block, scoop and score gave Pittsburgh a 20-10 lead with 9:45 left in the fourth quarter, and it ended up being the decisive touchdown in the Steelers’ impressive 23-16 road win over the Buffalo Bills.
Stat of the day
Sophomore QB Joe Burrow returned and rookie wideout Ja'Marr Chase made his debut (and held on to the ball!) in the Cincinnati Bengals' 27-24 overtime victory against the Minnesota Vikings that made this bit of interesting history.
Plays of the day
Terry McLaurin makes a twisting, mid-air adjustment to snag this sideline pass.
Diontae Johnson displayed some deep concentration in the end zone.