Given the lengthy nature of the NFL season, the opening game hardly defines nor foreshadows what a division race will ultimately look like. However, Week 1 does serve as an opportunity for teams to get off to a fast start and avoid falling behind the 8 ball early.
That’s exactly what the Ravens and Steelers did this weekend, picking up victories to move atop the AFC North standings after Week 1. Baltimore did so at the expense of the Browns, who dropped to 0-1 alongside the Bengals — who also lost their season opener.
Ravens defeat Browns: 38-6
The Browns have played the Ravens tough quite a few times in recent years, but this was not one of those times.
Baltimore got off to a strong start and settled into a comfort zone early, using a 14-0 advantage in the second quarter to build themselves a nice cushion. As is usually the case, the story of the day for the Ravens was Lamar Jackson.
Jackson was surgical from start to finish, carving up an injury-riddled Browns’ secondary to the tune of 275 passing yards and three touchdown throws. Jackson completed all but five of his 25 passing attempts and finished with an impressive rating of 152.6.
Defensively, the Ravens ceded 138 rushing yards on the ground but mitigated this through multiple forced turnovers and lockdown play in pass coverage. Baltimore got strong contributions from rookie linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison, the former of which led the team with eight tackles. Queen also posted a sack and forced fumble.
Calais Campbell made an early impression in his Baltimore debut with three pass breakups, one of which resulted in an interception by Marlon Humphrey. The Ravens also got positive contributions from other first-year players including RB J.K. Dobbins and G Tyre Phillips.
Marquise Brown (5 catches, 101 yards), Willie Snead IV (4 catches, 64 yards), and Mark Andrews (58 yards, 2 TD) took advantage of Jackson’s pinpoint accuracy and soft coverage in the Browns’ defensive backfield.
Defining stat: 16 passing first downs
What’s next: @ Houston Texans — Sunday, Sep. 20 (4:25 p.m. ET)
Browns lose to Ravens: 6-38
On the flip side of the spectrum, this was far from the season opener that the Browns were hoping for in Kevin Stefanski’s first year as the team’s head coach.
Cleveland put themselves behind the 8 ball early, turning the ball over on their first possession and failing to convert a fake punt on the next drive. They responded with a long scoring drive to cut the deficit to single digits, but faltered in the second quarter as the Ravens’ lead ballooned to 18 points.
Any chance of a comeback appeared to be deflated on back-to-back plays late in the second quarter. On 3rd-&-2, WR Odell Beckham Jr. dropped what would have been a first-down conversion. Then, K Austin Seibert shanked a 41-yard attempt that, if made, would have at least trimmed the Browns’ deficit to single-digits.
Beckham had a rough day at the office, catching just three of his 10 targets for 22 receiving yards. Nick Chubb (10 carries, 60 yards) and Kareem Hunt (13 carries, 72 yards) were efficient on the ground but it meant little after the Browns fell into a hole early.
Defensively, the Browns held the Ravens to only 107 total rushing yards but had no answers for Lamar Jackson and Baltimore’s passing attack. Cleveland’s short-handed secondary struggled to get off the field and gave up 16 first down through the air.
Defining stat: 3/12 on third down
What’s next: vs. Cincinnati Bengals — Thursday, Sep. 17 (8:20 p.m. ET)
Bengals lose to Chargers: 16-13
While the absence of fans in Paul Brown stadium was certainly disheartening, Sunday was without a doubt the most anticipated Bengals’ season opener in recent memory. The reason being, of course, the debut of No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow.
As is the case with most rookie quarterbacks, Burrow’s first start was a mixed bag. Facing consistent pressure from a talented Chargers’ pass rush all afternoon, Burrow completed 23 of 36 pass attempts for 193 passing yards — good for a passer rating of 66.1. Burrow was intercepted once but also rushed for 46 yards and a touchdown.
Whether it be by design or choice, most of Burrow’s throws were near or close to the line of scrimmage, which is reflected in his average YPA of 5.4. Burrow got the ball out quickly but mostly did not air it out downfield.
On the Bengals’ final drive in the fourth quarter, though, Burrow went 7/10 for 60 yards and drove Cincinnati into scoring position. He delivered a touchdown pass to WR A.J. Green but Green was flagged for offensive pass interference. As time expired, K Randy Bullock misfired on a 31-yard field goal attempt that would have tied the game at 16 and forced OT.
Overall, Burrow was far from perfect but demonstrated the same poise and composure down the stretch that made him an easy choice with the first overall pick.
Defining stat: Two turnovers
What’s next: @ Cleveland Browns — Thursday, Sep. 17 (8:20 p.m. ET)
Steelers defeat Giants: 26-16
The only other AFC North team in the win column after Week 1, the Steelers overcame a slow start and cruised to a 10-point victory over the Giants on MNF.
Pittsburgh looked a bit out of sorts early but settled into a bit of a groove after the first quarter, as QB Ben Roethlisberger began to find his stride in his first game back since Week 2 of last season. Roethlisberger finished with 229 passing yards and three touchdown passes, completing 21/32 throws for a passer rating of 117.8.
The biggest beneficiary of Roethlisberger’s return was, to no surprise, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, who caught six passes for 69 yards and two touchdown receptions. James Conner exited the game early with an ankle injury but second-year RB Benny Snell Jr. stepped up in a big way, rumbling for 113 yards on 19 carries.
Pittsburgh’s defense was the story of the night, though, as they dominated at the line of scrimmage and intercepted Daniel Jones twice. They ceded a few big plays overtop in the secondary but completely neutralized New York’s rushing attack, limiting RB Saquon Barkley to just six (yes, six) rushing yards on 15 attempts.
They also posted three sacks and eight QB hits — two of which came from OLB T.J. Watt, who also came up with an impressive interception at the line of scrimmage in the second quarter.
Defining stat: 1.5 YPC allowed
What’s next: vs. Denver Broncos — Sunday, Sep. 20 (1:00 p.m. ET)