Anyone even remotely familiar with the rhythms of an NFL season should know not to overreact to Week 1. Still, it can be deflating to see a player or team struggle in the first game of the year.
Which players are in the best position to bounce back from disappointing 2020 debuts? I’ve identified seven players below, based on when (and how firmly) they will correct course.
We all know Tom won’t be able to beat time forever. And it was disconcerting to see Brady on Sunday become the first quarterback to throw pick-sixes in three consecutive games since Matt Schaub and Blaine Gabbert in 2013. But Brady has also shown us repeatedly that it is a mistake to write him off — and I believe he’s going to teach us all the same lesson again this season. While the 43-year-old wasn’t as sharp in the loss to the Saints as we’ve seen him be over the years, let’s consider some mitigating factors. First, his top receiver, Mike Evans, was a shell of himself because of a hamstring injury. Brady’s left tackle, Donovan Smith, struggled mightily at times against Saints defender Cam Jordan. And multiple mistakes made by special teams and the defense cost Tampa points and penalty yards.
Expect Brady to bounce back quickly in Week 2. For his first home game in Tampa, he’ll get to face a Panthers defense that failed to sack or hit Derek Carr last Sunday, and which is paper thin at cornerback because of injury.
Philip Rivers caught a lot of grief — and understandably so, after throwing two ill-advised interceptions on Sunday. But such mistakes wouldn’t have drawn such attention had Indianapolis rallied to salvage the season-opener. And Hilton, who dropped two passes on the team’s final possession, including one on fourth-and-5 that allowed the Jags to run out the clock, blamed himself for the loss, which was the Colts’ sixth straight in Jacksonville. Hilton finished with a modest four catches for 53 yards on nine targets, and he’s now gone 12 straight games without reaching the 100-yard mark, a streak that dates back to Week 16 of the 2018 season. The 30-year-old has battled injuries in that stretch, but he’s determined to get back in the groove — and he’ll have a golden opportunity this Sunday against a Minnesota secondary that was just torched by Aaron Rodgers.
Surely no player from a losing team felt worse on Monday morning that Swift, who dropped what would have been a game-winning touchdown pass in the final seconds of a 27-23 loss to Chicago. The mistake completed the collapse of a 17-point Lions lead and undercut their preseason commitment to embrace “Dagger Time” after struggling to close out wins in 2019. The key for Swift and the team is to not let the Week 1 stumble snowball into something bigger. One of my favorite players from the 2020 NFL Draft, Swift will have a chance to get back on track Sunday in Green Bay. I expect his role in this offense to grow as the season unfolds.
The good news for Ngakoue is that his refusal to sign a franchise tender with Jacksonville helped bring to fruition the trade he was seeking earlier this month. The bad news is, he’s now likely playing catch-up with regard to conditioning after missing the bulk of preseason practices. This appeared to be evident Sunday against the Packers, when Ngakoue failed to log more than one QB hit or post a single tackle. Minnesota, as a whole, went an entire game against Aaron Rodgers without sacking him once for the second time since head coach Mike Zimmer took over. Ngakoue played in a modest 56 percent of the Vikings’ defensive snaps after participating in roughly 75 percent of snaps on average throughout his time in Jacksonville. It didn’t help that fellow pass-rushing stud Danielle Hunter was sidelined by a neck injury that will cost him at least two more games. Still, Ngakoue will eventually get going, providing help for a young secondary that needs it.
The New York Post is known for its sensationalist headlines, but the tabloid’s characterization of Barkley’s night against Pittsburgh as “historically bad” was spot on. Barkley rushed for 6 yards on 15 attempts, marking one of the worst outings by an NFL running back this century — he became just the sixth player since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to run for 10 yards or less on 15-plus carries. An inability to establish the run made the Giants too one-dimensional against a stout Steelers defense that teed off on New York QB Daniel Jones as the game wore on. Barkley did contribute six catches for 60 yards, and he should be able to get going on the ground as the offensive line — featuring three new starters — jells.
Kickers missed an average of a little more than one field-goal try per game in Week 1, but no kicker struggled more than Gostkowski, who whiffed on three field-goal attempts (OK, one of them was blocked) and one point-after attempt in his Titans debut. One of the top specialists for New England over the past 14 seasons, Gostkowski did come through when Tennessee needed him most, delivering a game-winning 25-yard boot with 17 seconds left in Denver on Monday. It’s worth noting that the 36-year-old Gostkowski had only signed with the team 11 days earlier, and he’s also coming off offseason hip surgery. I share Titans head coach Mike Vrabel’s faith in Gostkowski, and I am encouraged he’ll settle into a groove now that his worst overall professional performance to date is behind him.
Originally, I had both of the 49ers’ starting cornerbacks, Moseley and Richard Sherman, on this list. But then San Francisco placed the latter on injured reserve with a calf strain, so Sherman’s bounce back will have to come next month, at the earliest. (On the plus side, NFL Media’s Tom Pelissero says his understanding is that this is just a flare-up related to an old injury, meaning Sherman’s absence is expected to be short-term.) Moseley and Sherman had a rough go of it in Week 1 against DeAndre Hopkins, who caught 14 of 16 targets for 151 yards in his spectacular Cardinals debut. Hopkins lined up on the left side for 34 of the 40 routes he ran on Sunday, enjoying the bulk of his success against Moseley. Though Sherman also said a miscommunication led to Hopkins springing free for an uncontested 33-yard gain that put Kenyan Drake in position to score the winning touchdown for Arizona. San Francisco isn’t scheduled to face another threat of Hopkins’ caliber until Week 9, when the Niners will see Packers star Davante Adams. In the meantime, Moseley can work out the kinks over the next couple games against the two New York teams.