All of the preseason rumors, speculations and projections were laid to rest on Thursday, Sept. 8, when the 2016-2017 NFL season finally commenced. The first week of the season was a refreshing departure from the traditional opening game miscues. Fans were treated to a well-composed team bursting out of the gates and fighting neck-and-neck to the final seconds of the game. If Week 1 is any indication of the season to come, 2016 has the potential to go down as one of the best seasons in recent memory.
In a rematch of the 2015 Super Bowl, many looked to Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers to avenge their loss against the Denver Broncos in the first game of the season.
This time, the Broncos were the less-favored team, following Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning’s retirement and the departure of coveted backup Brock Osweiler, who followed the trail of money to the Houston Texans. Outside of cornerback Josh Norman’s free-agency departure, the Panthers remained intact, even welcoming back wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who missed an entire season due to injury.
The Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian, who beat out Mark Sanchez and rookie Paxton Lynch, played well given his inexperience, although he did turn the ball over twice with two interceptions. The Broncos were down 17-7 heading into the fourth quarter, but running back C.J. Anderson saved the day with two touchdowns to give the Broncos a four-point lead.
The Panthers’ Graham Gano sailed a 50-yard, potentially game-winning kick wide left with four seconds left, sealing the win for the Broncos. Considering that the Broncos were scrambling for a quarterback after the departure of Manning and Osweiler, the team should be pleased with Siemian’s first audition.
In perhaps the most anticipated game of Week 1, the New England Patriots faced the Arizona Cardinals without veteran leaders Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. One of the biggest storylines of the offseason saw Brady lose his appeal of a four-game suspension, stemming from his involvement in deflategate in the 2014 AFC Championship Game.
The temporary heir to Brady’s throne, Jimmy Garoppolo, was drafted in the second round two years ago and was yet to record a NFL start . In addition, a Gronkowski’s hamstring injury had fans on edge. Combined with the absence of defensive end Rob Ninkovich and a new-look offensive line, the Patriots had no time to build chemistry and they had a Superbowl-favorite knocking on their door to kick off the season.
Garoppolo surprised the fans with his poise, seemingly leap-frogging the nervous phase common among young quarterbacks. With less than five minutes left, he drove the Patriots down the field to set up a late field goal that ultimately gifted the young gun-slinger with his first win.
The Cardinals contributed to the win with sloppy play and a slow start. With 41 seconds left in the game, the Cardinals’ kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed a potential game-winning 47-yard field goal.
The last of the three intriguing matchups of Week 1 was a matchup of division rivals, the New York Giants against the Dallas Cowboys. The offseason saw the Giants take on a wholesale spending spree in an attempt to reconcile their lackluster defense.
Many spectators were intrigued to see how well the Cowboys’ offense would operate after they acquired running back Ezekiel Elliot with the fourth pick of the draft. Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, selected in the fourth round, was thrust into the starting role after quarterback Tony Romo broke a bone in his vertebrae during the preseason. Prescott’s debut was impressive, giving the Cowboys a reliable backup without frequently injured Romo.
The Giants’ retooled defense was able to stifle Elliot, who only gained 51 yards.
Wide receiver Victor Cruz played his first game after 700 days of recovering from multiple injuries that forced him to miss nearly two full seasons. Cruz shined in his comeback game, scoring the game-winning touchdown and celebrating with his well-known touchdown celebration, the salsa dance. There were doubts as to whether Cruz would ever make it back onto the field, leaving Giants faithfuls ecstatic to see the Paterson, a New Jersey native, back in the end zone.
At the end of the game, the Cowboys were looking to get in field goal range, on their own 46-yard line with only 12 seconds left and with no timeouts. Instead of going out of bounds to stop the clock, receiver Terrance Williams elected to go farther downfield, a poor decision that ultimately resulted in a loss of the game. The clock ran out before the Cowboys could spike the ball or stop the clock either for a very long field goal or at least have a shot at the Hail Mary.
One of the most satisfying aspects of the Giants’ win was the team’s ability to close out the game. Last season, the team lost six games after being tied or leading with two minutes left in the fourth quarter. One of those losses was to the Cowboys during Week 1 of the previous campaign, with this win serving as a much-needed confidence boost for the Giants.