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So much was new on the first Sunday of the 2020 NFL season.
But oh, so familiar too.
Aaron Rodgers positively sizzled. Ditto Russell Wilson. Drew Brees and the Saints rolled at home. And Cleveland still sucks.
So, what else was new? Well, tons.
A lot more than usual on opening Sunday. Not just on the field but especially off, because of the pandemic, and because of new anti-racism messaging and actions permitted — the latter now encouraged by the league.
Thus, we’ll devote a larger chunk than usual to ancillary stuff in this, our new Sunday Takeaways column. In subsequent weeks, it’ll be all football, all the time. Or as close to it as possible.
Here, then, are top takeaways from the first of (a scheduled) 17 consecutive Sundays of regular-season NFL football:
BRADY AS A BUC
You had to know this was coming: Flashes of breathtaking potential from Tom Brady in his debut as new quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with one of the most talent-soaked receiver groups in the NFL.
But also a lot of struggling, what with no spring practices and a condensed training camp in which all could get properly acquainted with one another.
The Bucs lost 34-23 at New Orleans. The Saints offence was more polished and comfortable, by about that margin.
Brees didn’t throw a pick-six, as Brady did. Bucs head coach Bruce Arians afterward put that misread on Brady, as well as his other pick.
It doesn’t mean Brady and the Bucs will struggle like this all season. Likely not. In fact we’ve predicted the Saints will win the division (NFC South), but the Bucs will go farther in the playoffs.
ALL THOSE OTHER DEBUTS
Cam Newton shone in New England as Brady’s replacement but, really, only on the ground, with two TDs. Can he withstand 15 rushes a game, mostly designed? Hmmm.
Philip Rivers did enough to help Indianapolis win at Jacksonville. But the Colts defence let him down, as did his receivers, including T.Y. Hilton, with multiple easy-catch drops down the stretch.
Teddy Bridgewater of Carolina completed 24-of-30 for 270 yards and a TD, plus ran for 26 yards, in a 34-30 loss to Las Vegas. This, for new Panthers head coach Matt Rhule. Good on both.
How about Adrian Peterson? Picked up just days earlier by Detroit, the 35-year-old rambled for 93 yards on 14 carries (6.6 average) against Chicago. Shades of 2007.
WR Stefon Diggs of Buffalo Bills was targeted nine times by Josh Allen, and pulled in eight for 86 yards. He’s gonna help.
Old-man TEs Greg Olsen (Seattle) and Jimmy Graham (Chicago) each caught a TD in new uniforms.
Kevin Stefanski of the Cleveland Browns was the only new head coach whose team looked terrible. Got blown out 38-6 at Baltimore.
GAME BALLS GO TO …
Five this week:
— QB Rodgers, Green Bay. Still the best thrower of footballs this planet has yet produced. Wow.
— QB Wilson, Seattle. Still one of the most dynamic pure throwers in league history. He hit on 31-of-35 (88.6%) in a dominating win at Atlanta, the third-highest single-game completion mark ever, minimum 35 attempts.
— WR DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona. The all-pro proved it again with 14 catches for 151 yards in his Cardinals debut, a huge upset win at San Francisco.
— QB Gardnew Minshew, Jacksonville. With everyone calling him a placeholder for expected No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence next April, he went 19-of-20 for 173 yards, three TDs and no picks — near perfect efficiency in the Jags’ upset of Indy.
— QB Joe Burrow, Cincinnati. This April’s No. 1 overall draft pick showed he’s the real deal, coming within one ticky-tack offensive-PI call in the final 10 seconds (that negated the go-ahead score) of engineering a game-winning drive to beat the Los Angeles Chargers; a missed chip-shot field goal at 0:00 denied Burrow a possible chance to do so in overtime.
WORST CHOKE JOB
Hard to choose between the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles.
In Detroit, at one point in the fourth quarter, per NFL RedZone channel, the Chicago Bears had a 2% chance to overcome a 23-6 deficit. They did, 27-23.
In Washington, the Eagles burst out to a 17-0 lead, and at one point had a 93% chance to win — only to lose 27-17.
Both cack-ups were inexplicable. It was the last thing embattled Lions head coach Matt Patricia needed to start Year 3.
Teams and individual players decided on different ways to protest racial injustices in America.
Before Sunday night, seven teams stayed in the locker room as the U.S. national anthem played, per ESPN: The Bills, Jets, Dolphins, Eagles, Jaguars, Packers and Cardinals.
Of the other 17 teams, many players stood at attention, some knelt, and some sat on the bench, as most Ravens players did.
One head coach who took a knee was Frank Reich of Indianapolis.
The Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons got creative. After the opening-kickoff touchback, players from both teams took a brief on-field knee in unison.
NO FANS … MOSTLY
Only the Jaguars were permitted by local political and health authorities to have fans in the stands in Sunday’s 13 games. Officially, 14,100 were scattered around TIAA Bank Field.
Did those live voices help the Jaguars and Minshew overcome 7-0, 14-7, 17-14 and 20-17 deficits, in a 27-20 upset victory?
NO MORE REDSKINS
We’ll try to let that be the last time we use that word in our copy.
The NFL football team in Washington is 1-0 as the Washington Football Team, as it’s now officially known, at least temporarily.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020