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Winners and losers from the first weekend of NFL football

Joe Burrow, now the highest paid player in NFL history, struggled in the Cincinnati Bengals’ season opener against the Cleveland Browns. With just 82 passing yards, Burrow will look to bounce back next week. Photo courtesy of wikimedia commons

The first weekend of NFL football wrapped up on Monday night. The weekend featured a series of blowouts, nail biters and upsets that have already reframed the way analysts are projecting teams across the league to finish. 

As per usual in the early going of NFL football, overreactions are saturating the media market. Being a media publisher, let’s add to the mix by choosing three of the biggest winners & losers from week one.

Winner: San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers were a hot topic near the end of last season when Mr. Irrelevant (final pick of the 2022 NFL Draft) quarterback Brock Purdy was thrust into the starting role. After putting up first-round quarterback statistics in the role and pushing the 49ers to the NFC Championship (a game the team would go on to lose), Purdy went down with an injury that ended his Cinderella story of a season. 

Soon thereafter, questions arose regarding who would be given the starting quarterback role in 2023. Former first-round quarterback Trey Lance was set to return from injury by opening night. The team signed former first-round quarterback Sam Darnold, and Purdy had put up convincing numbers in his starting stint. 

By the end of the offseason, the 49ers chose to roll with Purdy, trade away Lance and set Darnold as the backup quarterback. 

Despite that move being met with some early skepticism, Purdy impressed this past weekend, leading the 49ers to a 30-7 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Purdy threw for 220 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions in the game, solidifying himself as the franchise man — and the right quarterback choice — in San Francisco. 

Loser: Cincinnati Bengals 

The Bengals recently signed franchise quarterback Joe Burrow to a five year, $275 million deal, making him the highest paid player in NFL history on an annual basis. 

On Sunday, Burrow took the field for the first time since signing that historic contract. To say that the performance put on by Burrow and the Bengals offense against the Cleveland Browns was poor would be an understatement. 

En route to a 24-3 loss, Burrow threw for just 82 yards and no touchdowns. While he avoided throwing an interception, his less than 50% completion percentage was alarming enough. The Bengals’ two primary pass catchers struggled alongside Burrow with all-star receiver Ja’Marr Chase hauling in just five receptions for 39 yards and secondary receiver Tee Higgins failing to make a single reception. 

In short, the Bengals looked slow, sluggish and short-handed against a Browns team that didn’t make the playoffs in 2022.

Winner: New England Patriots

The New England Patriots are an interesting case. They didn’t beat the Philadelphia Eagles in their opener, but they showed drastic improvement in places where they struggled last season — places that kept them out of the playoffs. 

Mac Jones’ play was one of those places, as he put up below-par numbers in 2022. In the 2023 offseason, the Patriots brought in legacy offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien (the same coordinator that led the Brady-Moss undefeated season offense in 2011), pass catcher JuJu Smith-Schuster, running back Ezekiel Elliott, tight end Mike Gesicki and a handful of other offensive pieces. 

All of these additions aided Jones in recording a brilliant day as a passer in the Patriots’ season opener, throwing for over 300 yards and three touchdowns with just one interception. 

Defensively, the Patriots largely shut down the stellar Super Bowl runner-up Eagles offense, led by Jalen Hurts, as the Eagles scored just 18 points offensively. The Eagles’ lone offensive touchdown came following a Patriots fumble at the Patriots’ own 20 yard line, giving the Eagles extremely favorable field position. Outside of that drive, the Eagles offense managed just four field goals. 

Despite the final 25-20 scoreline on the day, the Patriots showed impressive defensive strength against a top team in the opener, and their offensive offseason additions proved effective against a top-ranked 2022 defense. 

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