[What We Learned is returning for the 2021 N.F.L. season with a new writer and a new look.]
How dare any of us doubt a crew coached by Mike Tomlin?
There are just a few ensures in at this time’s N.F.L.: Tom Brady will eat his avocado ice cream and win Super Bowls. Jerry Jones will do one thing absurd to increase Dallas’s championship drought. And Mike Tomlin will preserve his Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl competition.
These Steelers hardly generated a decibel of buzz heading into Week 1. Heck, it was a shock they even needed to convey again Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback at age 39.
The Buffalo Bills had been the crew primed to take the subsequent step. Josh Allen was the future of the place itself. And all Tomlin’s Steelers did was journey 200 miles north, strut into Highmark Stadium and remind the total N.F.L., with one punishing 23-16 punch to Buffalo’s jaw, that they’re not going anyplace.
Which is, of course, what Tomlin’s groups have accomplished for 14 seasons.
Was it fairly? Heck no. But “not pretty” is when Tomlin’s groups are traditionally most harmful. Above all, Tomlin’s groups odor blood.
That’s what occurred on one ridiculous play name by the Bills at the begin of the fourth quarter.
Facing a fourth-and-1 from Pittsburgh’s 41-yard line — with a 10-6 lead — the Bills properly went for it. After all, that is the similar Buffalo crew that caught its personal head in the guillotine a yr in the past by choosing discipline targets towards the Patrick Mahomes-powered Kansas City Chiefs in January’s A.F.C. championship sport. A little bit guts from their head coach, Sean McDermott, was a welcome change.
But what got here subsequent was past weird.
Allen rotated to flick a go backward to Matt Breida and cornerback Cameron Sutton was proper there to lasso the operating again to the floor for a 7-yard loss.
Four performs later, Pittsburgh pounced.
Roethlisberger feathered a 5-yard rating to Diontae Johnson in the again of the finish zone. After main the N.F.L. in drops a yr in the past, this was the catch of the day, too. Johnson displayed exceptional focus in corralling the tipped ball whereas dragging his again foot.
Moments later, cornerback James Pierre — the newest homegrown, undrafted future star in Pittsburgh — punched out what would have been a protracted completion to Emmanuel Sanders. Such was the theme. Every time the Bills had been about to rev into 2020 kind, each time a stadium dying to cheer on their Super Bowl contender was about to go bonkers, somebody from a brand new nook of Pittsburgh’s roster shortly ruined these plans.
Two performs later, the Steelers blocked a punt for a landing to go up, 20-10.
And after a Bills discipline purpose put the stress on Old Man Ben to complete this off, Roethlisberger did precisely that. A pair of classic, slow-motion throws to JuJu Smith-Schuster (24 yards) and Chase Claypool (14 yards) teed up a game-clinching discipline purpose.
The spotlight reel was not lengthy.
This system received’t be simple on the eyes however it may convey ring No. 7 to Pittsburgh.
We simply noticed it in Tampa Bay. Brady is Brady however that relentless Buccaneers go rush — above all else — is what had Mahomes sprinting for his life in the Super Bowl. Lest we neglect, Pittsburgh raced to an 11-Zero begin in 2020 on the again of its personal protection.
The Pittsburgh protection is Pittsburgh once more. Kevin Greene can be proud. Up entrance, everybody took turns smacking round the 6-foot-5, 237-pound Allen, successfully turning him again into that 2018 challenge out of Wyoming. Everything that everyone devoted two years into cleansing from Allen’s sport resurfaced — airmailing balls over wide-open receivers, skidding different passes into the grime, fumbling. A participant many thought of this yr’s N.F.L. M.V.P. favourite appeared downright skittish for 3 hours straight.
T.J. Watt earned each penny. There are game-wreckers in every single place on this protection, beginning with the edge rusher who signed a four-year, $112 million extension this previous week. Watt accounted for 5 of the crew’s eight quarterback hits.
It’s clear the Steelers need to get rookie operating again Najee Harris rolling in 2021. That manner, they will preserve video games shut and let Roethlisberger win it in the fourth. He’s previous. He’s motionless. He’s simply memeable. But he has additionally thrived in each attainable scenario. There’s nothing Roethlisberger hasn’t seen and there’s nonetheless sufficient juice in that proper arm to piece collectively yet one more run at a Super Bowl.
And but, we received’t see Roethlisberger chucking it 60 occasions in one other playoff loss this season — these Steelers can dictate the tempo. They’ll take away you out of your consolation zone, your shootout and win like they used to win. With violence.
And for all of the “Last Dance” speak in Green Bay, the Steelers are additionally succesful of sending their quarterback out on high this season.
The Saints’ shellacking of the Packers isn’t the shock you suppose it’s.
Saints quarterback Jameis Winston completely outplayed his Green Bay Packers counterpart, Aaron Rodgers, in a rout.Credit…James Gilbert/Getty Images
The white flag began waving early. With 11 minutes left, the Green Bay Packers pulled the reigning league M.V.P. off the discipline. And whereas the closing rating in Jacksonville could seem jarring — Saints 38, Packers three — this shouldn’t be a shock, no.
One crew, the Packers, had been held hostage by their quarterback all low season. Their quarterback spent six months vacationing and enjoyable and, no, Aaron Rodgers was not shy about rubbing this in the face of his personal employer. He was on a quest of private achievement or… or… one thing like that.
One crew, the Saints, had been prepared for all times post-Drew Brees as a result of their starter, Jameis Winston, manically ready for this second. Laugh in any respect of the quirky coaching movies all you need. Winston has been looking forward to this second likelihood. With Coach Sean Payton, a robust protection and a aggressive spirit that may rival anybody in the league, Winston, the former No. 1 general choose, outplayed a disinterested Rodgers.
Winston didn’t have to throw a lot, however he was unbelievably environment friendly with 148 yards, 5 touchdowns and no interceptions on 14-of-20 passing. The Saints additionally blasted Green Bay for 173 yards on the floor.
We spend far an excessive amount of time overanalyzing the mentalities of one singular participant on this sport: The quarterback. What about the mentality of a complete crew? These Saints have been banging on the Super Bowl’s door for 4 years. They’re calloused. They’re hungrier than any crew in the N.F.L.
Coming shut — repeatedly — means one thing deep in the psyche of each New Orleans participant.
And so does having a quarterback with all the pieces to show.
The Packers ought to’ve taken their king’s ransom for Rodgers once they had the likelihood.
Russell Wilson can nonetheless prepare dinner.
Russell Wilson began one other season with an M.V.P.’s contact, ending with 18 of 23 completions for 254 yards with 4 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 152.three passer ranking in a win over the Colts.Credit…Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Long earlier than Rodgers hijacked the headlines for 4 months, there was one other sad quarterback on this league: Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks practically divorced after 9 seasons. It was shut, too. The Chicago Bears thought it was a accomplished deal.
Instead, each Wilson and the Seahawks realized they had been at their finest collectively and everybody’s hope was that a new offensive coordinator, Shane Waldron, would pull issues collectively.
Did they ever in Week 1.
Facing one of the N.F.L.’s finest defenses, on the street, Wilson was chic in main Seattle to a 28-16 win over Indianapolis. The eight-time Pro Bowler completed 18 of 23 for 254 yards with 4 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 152.three passer ranking. Wilson’s 69-yard moon ball landing go to Tyler Lockett was a factor of magnificence, too, touring 60 yards in the air.
Granted, we had been teased like this in 2020. Wilson was lights out for a great two months. Then, the total offense went kaput and Seattle practically pulled the plug on an period. Here’s pondering this Wilson and this offense are each right here to remain. Once enterprise was taken care of, Wilson proceeded to have the finest low season of his life.
This could also be his closing season in Seattle, however what a season it may very well be.
Sunday’s video games:
Texans 37, Jaguars 21 All Hail Jack Easterby! Or … one thing like that. The Houston Texans are a practice wreck however they’ll take this one.
Cardinals 38, Titans 13 Nobody rely out Kliff Kingsbury. He’s one of the smartest offensive minds in soccer. Arizona’s clinic of a win over Tennessee is an indication of issues to return, not an aberration.
Eagles 32, Falcons 6 Right while you need to stick one other fork into Eagles basic supervisor Howie Roseman, his new-look offense shreds the Falcons. Jalen Hurts (264 passing yards, 62 dashing yards, three touchdowns) was unstoppable and Matt Ryan was, nicely, Matt Ryan. What a missed alternative for Atlanta to hit reset at quarterback final April. In passing on Ohio State’s Justin Fields, all this franchise did was delay the inevitable.
49ers 41, Lions 33 Again, 49ers Coach Kyle Shanahan proved he can plug anybody in at operating again. Put that waiver declare in for Elijah Mitchell, fantasy gamers. This 49ers offensive machine may churn out 100-plus dashing yards with the two of us lining up in the “I” formation.
Bengals 27, Vikings 24 (OT) Turns out Cincinnati’s Ja’Marr Chase can see a ball with no stripes simply wonderful: He caught 5 passes for 101 yards and a landing in the win over Minnesota. This Bengals offense goes to be so much of enjoyable. As for the Vikings, extra time heartbreak is nothing new, is it?
Chargers 20, Washington 16 Justin Herbert is the solely quarterback in N.F.L. historical past with 400 completions over his first 16 begins. Los Angeles mustn’t apologize one bit for its dirty win.
Panthers 19, Jets 14 Hopefully Zach Wilson was capable of chat with Sam Darnold privately after the Jets’ loss to Carolina. The rookie quarterback was dealt all the similar points Darnold was in New York — shoddy go safety, dangerous luck, defeat. And now Wilson, sacked six occasions on Sunday, could also be with out his finest lineman. Left deal with Mekhi Becton was carted off.
Broncos 27, Giants 13 It’s good to see Teddy Bridgewater dropping dimes. Bridgewater was discarded by Carolina and is beginning for his fourth N.F.L. crew, trying like no person’s castaway as he picked aside what all of us thought can be a stingy Giants protection for 264 yards and two scores.
Dolphins 17, Patriots 16 Every crew ought to observe strip drills each day it probably can, Example No. 1,987. With the Patriots driving to win, ex-New England cornerback Eric Rowe ripped the ball out of Damien Harris’s grasp at the Miami 9-yard line. Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones appeared sharp. The protection was as marketed. But identical to that, one play determined the sport.
Chiefs 33, Browns 29 Did anybody actually doubt that the Chiefs would detonate for 23 factors in the second half to beat Cleveland? That’s Patrick Mahomes. One second, you’re feeling good. Your sport plan’s working. The subsequent, the finest participant in soccer is pressured proper and chucks a bomb to Tyreek Hill throughout his physique for a landing. Hill offers you the peace signal. Mahomes, with one shoulder pad protruding, jacks up the crowd. And your soul exits your physique.