Editor’s note: On Saturday, Ringer senior staff writer Jonathan Tjarks passed away. You can find information about how to support Jonathan’s family here.
Every week of the 2022 NFL season, we will celebrate the electric plays, investigate the colossal blunders, and explain the inexplicable moments of the most recent slate. Welcome to Winners and Losers. Which one are you?
Winner: Sitting on Our Couches, Watching Football
I lie to myself in July. I’ll be in a pool with a refreshing alcoholic beverage, or staring out on a brilliant vista after a rewarding hike, and I’ll think to myself, “You know what? You don’t need football. There’s so much more to life than Sundays spent indoors with junk food on the table and RedZone on the big screen.” And it seems right. I promise to pull back a little from football fandom and see what the rest of the world has to offer.
And then Week 1 hits, and I realize that I was wrong. Yes, there might be a whole world out there—but does that world have seven hours of commercial-free football? I don’t think so. At 3 p.m. EST, as the first set of games of the NFL season hurtled towards ludicrous conclusions, I realized that I was home. (Like, literally—I was on my couch.)
There were nine games in the early slate of the first Sunday of the NFL season. Five of them were decided by three or fewer points. Six of them featured fourth-quarter lead changes. Five of them featured a team coming back from a double-digit deficit to tie or take the lead. Two of them went to overtime.
Everything was golden. The Washington Commanders and Jacksonville Jaguars were both projected to go well below .500 this season—but they put together a thriller with 24 fourth-quarter points, including a spectacular game-winning catch by Washington rookie Jahan Dotson:
The Browns defeated their ex-quarterback, Baker Mayfield, on a 58-yard, game-winning field goal by rookie Cade York. It would’ve been good from, like, 70:
The Saints trailed 26-10 early in the fourth quarter—but the Falcons are incredibly passionate about blowing fourth-quarter leads, and allowed 17 unanswered points to end the game, including the first two touchdowns Michael Thomas had scored in three years:
In the haze of RedZone, even the most boring stuff seems like a blessing. After blowing a 20-3 lead, Texans head coach Lovie Smith decided to take the coward’s way out and punt on fourth-and-3 from midfield with 20 seconds remaining in overtime, ensuring a tie rather than risking a loss. It was an admission of fear and failure—and it seemed like the most thrilling thing ever to happen. “THEY’RE PUNTING FOR THE TIE!” I screamed, to nobody.
Those relaxing pools and rewarding vistas are still out there. I’ll see them next year. My weekends are booked for the next few months.
Winner: The Mahomes-Tyreek Split
The Jacksonville Jaguars inadvertently tore apart one of the NFL’s best teams. After Christian Kirk signed with the Jags for $72 million, all the other, better wide receivers in the league started wondering why they were getting paid so little. Soon, the Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins, who were willing to make him the highest-paid receiver in the NFL, leaving Patrick Mahomes without his top target. How would the two exes look in Week 1?
Mahomes seemed completely unbothered without Hill, throwing for 360 yards and five touchdowns against the Cardinals. He still has Travis Kelce, who went for 121 yards and a touchdown. And new additions JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling combined for 10 catches and 123 yards in their Chiefs debuts. Maybe Kansas City’s 488 yards and 44 points tell us a lot about Arizona’s defense—but it seems like Patrick Mahomes is gonna keep doing Patrick Mahomes stuff, even without his top receiver. Here he was celebrating his fourth touchdown, unaware he’d soon throw a fifth:
In Miami, Hill led the Dolphins in receiving with eight catches for 94 yards against the Patriots. He didn’t score in Miami’s 20-7 win, but seemed pretty pleased with his new coach and his new coach’s testicles:
Here’s the quote (with video) from Tyreek Hill on Mike McDaniel going for it on 4th and 7: “McDaniel’s gonna need a wheel barrow for his nuts to carry them around.” pic.twitter.com/WcepqVugRn
— Clay Ferraro (@ClayWPLG) September 11, 2022
Mahomes and the Chiefs looked exactly as good as they were with Hill—but Hill has unlocked a new element to these exciting young Dolphins. Everybody wins!
Loser: The Rodgers-Davante Split
It’s been a running joke that the Packers haven’t given Aaron Rodgers the receiving help he needs—and that was when he had Davante Adams, an All-Pro talent who led the league in receiving touchdowns in 2020. In the offseason, the Packers traded Adams to the Raiders, who signed him to the largest contract for a wide receiver in NFL history.
Now, his no. 1 receiver is Allen Lazard, who has fewer career receiving yards in four seasons (1,448) than Adams had last year (1,553). And Lazard was out for Sunday’s game against the Vikings, meaning their best receiver was … uh … fourth-round draft pick Romeo Doubs? I think? It’s bleak.
Rodgers had a miserable time trying to find anybody to pass to against the Vikings. He finished the game with just 195 passing yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. Meanwhile, Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson had 184 receiving yards and two touchdowns by himself. Rodgers’s leading receiver was AJ Dillon, a running back. At one point, he found rookie receiver Christian Watson deep for a potential touchdown … but Watson whiffed on the ball:
Adams, for his part, had a solid debut with the Raiders, going for 141 yards and a touchdown in a loss to the Chargers. But his quarterback is now Derek Carr, who threw three interceptions in a game the Raiders lost by five points. (Rodgers threw four interceptions total last season.)
We shouldn’t draw too much from Week 1; after all, Rodgers played one of the worst games of his career in a 38-3 loss in Week 1 of last season, then won MVP—but he had Davante Adams to throw to last year. A better wide receiver isn’t just going to magically appear in Green Bay, unless Aaron takes some particularly potent hallucinogens.
Winner: Emergency Kickers
Chiefs safety Justin Reid has a famous gimmick. Reid played soccer in high school and has a solid leg and decent kicking form. His previous team, the Texans, let him kick in some preseason games, and he went viral for kicking a 65-yard field goal in Chiefs training camp last month.
But that party trick went from fun fact to critically important on Sunday, when Kansas City’s real kicker, Harrison Butker, injured his left ankle on a kickoff in the first quarter. Luckily, the Chiefs have the most famous emergency kicker in the league. Reid took over, drilling an extra point and booming this kickoff for a touchback. (Yes, I’m dropping in a highlight of a kickoff for a touchback, perhaps the least exciting play in football.)
Normally, punters slide in and take over kicking duties in the rare case of a kicker injury. Reid was the first non-kicker, non-punter to score on a kick since Cowboys safety Jeff Heath in 2017.
Eventually, Butker returned to the game, but Reid continued kicking off. Maybe Butker wasn’t fully healthy (and his approach on his field goal attempts was notably shorter than normal)—or maybe it was just because Reid was so good at kickoffs. Reid managed five touchbacks on seven attempts, a 71 percent touchback rate. That’s significantly better than the league average of 57.5 percent. And it stands to reason that when Reid fails to kick a touchback, he gives the Chiefs an advantage, because their coverage unit will feature 11 professional tacklers instead of 10 tacklers and a kicker.
Reid wasn’t perfect—he missed an extra point, and one of his kickoffs was returned to the 48-yard line. But after seeing Reid kick in an actual game, it feels like his talent may be more than a gimmick. I think the Chiefs may have found their new safety slash kickoff specialist.
Loser: Emergency Long Snappers
The Cincinnati Bengals experienced multiple disasters on Sunday. Joe Burrow, the God-King of Southwest Ohio (and Louisiana), threw four interceptions, the most in a single game of his NFL or college career. Despite their supposedly revamped offensive line, Burrow was sacked seven times, including a strip sack for a fifth Burrow turnover. Tee Higgins, who went for 1,000 receiving yards last year, suffered a concussion and left the game in the first half.
In spite of all these disasters, the Bengals still had a chance to beat the Steelers and start the season 1-0. Ja’Marr Chase scored a touchdown with two seconds left in the fourth quarter, which tied the score at 20, and the Bengals would have certainly won if Evan McPherson had made the extra point. But the easy chip shot was stunningly blocked by Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, forcing overtime:
That block was the result of the actual biggest disaster that befell the Bengals on Sunday: Their long snapper, Clark Harris—best known for his alarming resemblance to the “two chicks at the same time” guy from Office Space—suffered a biceps injury and had to leave the game. In 2015, I wrote an article about how “mid-game long snapper injury” may be the situation NFL teams are least prepared for. It happens rarely, because there aren’t a lot of injury risks when snapping the ball. But when it does happen? Chaos. NFL teams do not carry backup long snappers. You’d think that a center could easily fill in—they also snap the ball!—but they’re mainly focused on blocking rather than delivering speedy, accurate snaps. And if these special teams snaps are just a little bit off, or just a little bit slow, it can seriously hamper a team’s ability to kick or punt.
The Bengals turned to tight end Mitchell Wilcox, who had never snapped in an NFL game or, so far as I can tell, in his college career at South Florida. Wilcox’s snap on the extra point attempt at the end of regulation was surprisingly on target, but it looked like it was a tad slow, allowing Fitzpatrick time to get around the edge and block the kick when a quicker snap might have allowed a clean kick. Wilcox’s inexperience was a little bit more obvious in overtime. The Bengals got in position for a game-winning kick by McPherson, who became a cult hero in Cincinnati last year due to his five game-winning field goals and playoff perfection. But Wilcox’s snap floated way high, and McPherson’s kick was clearly affected as he hooked the ball so badly it may have ended up in the Ohio River:
Injuries happen in football. But teams can generally do things to mitigate their impact. They can pay up for a great backup QB to avoid worrying about a QB injury. They can throw the ball more if their star running back gets hurt. But while long snapper may be the most forgotten position on the roster, it might be the one teams are least equipped to replace. They have only one job, but they’re very good at it, and nobody realizes it until someone else tries to fill in. The Bengals were prepared for almost all the disasters that befell them Sunday—but then they got hit with the one disaster nobody prepares for.
Winner: New Coaches
If your team has a new coach, you should generally temper your short-term expectations. After all, most of the players on your team are the same guys who were bad enough to get the last guy fired. Even if you go from doofus to genius, things will take some time. Last year, there were seven new NFL head coaches; their teams went a combined 38-76-1, with only the Eagles making the postseason.
But the 2022 batch is off to a stunning start. The boldest call of the week went to Brian Daboll, whose Giants were big underdogs to the Titans, last year’s AFC 1-seed. The Giants scored a touchdown with a minute left and decided to go for two—and got the win in Daboll’s first game. (Celebratory dancing ensued.)
Head coaches in their first years with their new teams went 6-2-1 Sunday, including some of the biggest upsets of the day: Bears coach Matt Eberflus got off to a 1-0 start with a comeback win over the 49ers; Kevin O’Connell’s Vikings knocked off the Packers to signify that there may be a different pecking order in the NFC North this year. You know what? We’ll even celebrate Lovie Smith going 0-0-1 and getting a tie against the Colts. A tie is technically half a win in the standings!
Loser: The Disaster Cowboys
They used to say the roof of the Cowboys’ old stadium was open so God could watch the Cowboys play. The Old Testament version of God must have been watching Sunday night—the one who kept killing sinners in hilarious and violent ways. Because it’s only Week 1, and the Cowboys are about to have a Week 13-style injury report.
Things were already bleak in Dallas before their Sunday night matchup with the Buccaneers. Star left tackle Tyron Smith tore his hamstring in training camp and will miss most of the season. The team’s no. 2 receiver, Michael Gallup, is still out with an ACL injury from last year.
But things got worse as soon as the game started. On the first drive, Connor McGovern—starting at left guard because the original starting left guard, Tyler Smith, moved to left tackle to replace Tyron Smith—went down with an ankle injury and needed to be helped off the field. Jayron Kearse, the team’s starting strong safety and last year’s team leader in tackles, suffered a knee injury and left the stadium on crutches.
And with six minutes left in the game, the worst possible thing happened: Dak Prescott suffered a hand injury that will require surgery. It’s unclear how long he’ll be out—the initial estimate from Jerry Jones was “several weeks.” It’s possible Prescott could soon land on injured reserve and miss up to two months, according to ESPN’s Todd Archer.
But the Cowboys looked awful even with Dak, scoring just three points in the 54 minutes Prescott did play. The last time Dak got hurt back in 2020, the Cowboys instantly went on a four-game losing streak which essentially ended their season—and that was when their backup was Andy Dalton, who is significantly better than their current backup, Cooper Rush. (Rush was recently ranked 26th on a list of the NFL’s backup QBs, behind Brett Rypien.)
Three of the four NFC East teams won on Sunday. The Cowboys are alone at 0-1. They were the only team in the NFL that didn’t score a touchdown this week. They’re already without key players on their offensive line, on defense, at wide receiver, and now they’ll have to endure a long stretch without their star quarterback. I hope Cowboys fans enjoyed Sunday’s early games, because it was probably the last time Dallas fans will have fun this season.
Winner: Chicago’s Garbage Field
I never thought I’d turn into a person who has opinions about other people’s lawns. I don’t care if you have weeds or let dead leaves pile up. (Weeds and dead leaves are nature! Nature is good!) But somehow, against all odds, the Chicago Bears have forced me to have lawn care opinions.
The field at Soldier Field sucks. Everybody knows it. It’s been this way for over 30 years, according to the Chicago Tribune. In a 2010 survey, NFLPA members ranked Soldier Field 17th of the 18 grass fields in the league. (The 18th-ranked Oakland Coliseum is no longer an NFL stadium.) Ex-Bears receiver Rashied Davis said the field was “sand and dirt covered with green spray paint” and pondered “how the grounds crew keeps a job.” The Bears’ kicker, Cairo Santos, chose to practice at “poorly maintained” parks in South Florida during the offseason to simulate the experience of kicking in Chicago. After a Bears preseason game in August, visible damage from a recent Elton John concert prompted a statement from the NFLPA, which felt the field was unacceptable. Folks, the grass is bad.
So the people in charge of Soldier Field took action. Before this week’s game against the 49ers, they replaced the field with Bermuda grass. But something must have gone wrong, because when it rained on Sunday, the field flooded. The grounds crew tried sweeping water off the field with what looked like big squeegees, which didn’t exactly work. ESPN reporter Michele Steele filmed this video showing puddles that were inches deep in parts of the field.
What followed was not football. It was more like synchronized swimming, or perhaps viral marketing for the new Little Mermaid movie. The Bears did not score in the first half. Just before halftime, the Bears lined up to attempt a 46-yard field goal—but referees flagged holder Trenton Gill for unsportsmanlike conduct when he tried drying off the field with a towel:
For years, the Bears’ field issues have simply been embarrassing—but now, they were actively costing Chicago points. After the 15-yard penalty, Chicago had to punt.
But the sloppy field conditions and sloppy play from Niners QB Trey Lance meant San Francisco put up only 10 points. And in the last 20 minutes of the game, the Bears scored three touchdowns and picked off Lance to win the game 19-10. As the clock went to zeroes, the Bears went for a celebratory slip-and-slide.
This game didn’t really resemble football—but that’s OK for the Bears, who probably aren’t going to be very good at football this year. Turning Soldier Field into a water park feels like a rare competitive advantage for them, and allowed them to get off to a 1-0 start in 2022.
Loser: Cris Collinsworth’s Voice
Football is a great way to illustrate an important life fact: Sometimes, it’s better for everybody if you stay home from work. Imagine a quarterback with an arm injury—would you want them to keep playing, even though they couldn’t throw a football, or would you want them to step aside and let the backup take over?
Sunday night, NBC color analyst Cris Collinsworth had a voice injury. He sounded like a lifelong smoker who attended their favorite band’s concert last night and was trying to power through the hottest hot sauces on Hot Ones. Mike Tirico tried to explain that Collinsworth merely had vocal strain after announcing Thursday Night Football followed by Sunday Night Football—I think the implication was Tirico trying to assure the audience that Collinsworth did not have COVID-19.
Cris Collinsworth on his voice: “I feel great.”
Mike Tirico: “You feel fine, it’s just… two games, three days, red-eyes, a bunch of travel… my man’s playing hurt!” pic.twitter.com/rdCiPGzurC
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) September 12, 2022
Contagious disease or not, Collinsworth probably should’ve stepped aside and let someone else get some announcing reps. I like Cris, but listening to him struggle through the Buccaneers-Cowboys game was probably the least enjoyable part of a 19-3 game that wasn’t close at any point. Give Cris some time on IR with some Earl Grey instead of forcing those frayed cords back out onto the playing field.