T.J. Watt might have grown up in Wisconsin, and he might play for the Steelers, but according to Coach Mike Tomlin, he is just “visiting from another planet.” Tomlin said this toward the end of last season, which Watt finished with a league-leading 15 sacks.
The team’s front office acknowledged Watt’s otherworldly talent with a four-year extension worth $80 million guaranteed, according to multiple reports. Fresh off that signing, Watt beams into Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., on Sunday to lead a Steelers defense that represents an immediate, and stern, test for the Buffalo Bills and their superlative quarterback, Josh Allen.
Last season, Pittsburgh allowed the third-fewest points in the league and they are again stacked at every level, from secondary (Minkah Fitzpatrick) to linebacker (Devin Bush) to defensive line (Cam Heyward). Watt, though, is the best of them all, a supreme edge rusher who bypasses double-teams to torment quarterbacks, usually from the left side. Only Shaquil Barrett of Tampa Bay (76) recorded more pressures than Watt (73) during the 2020 season, according to Pro Football Focus.
As he waited for his contract negotiation to get resolved, Watt abstained from practicing with his teammates during most of training camp. He finally joined them on Wednesday, and no doubt he figures to be ready to play. The Bills better be, too.
In the span of just 12 days, the Baltimore Ravens lost their top three rushers on the depth chart to season-ending injuries.
Gus Edwards tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during practice this week, the second such injury for a Ravens running back after starter J.K. Dobbins did so in the Aug. 28 preseason finale against Washington. They joined Justice Hill, who tore his Achilles’ tendon in practice, on injury reserve. Cornerback Marcus Peters also tore his A.C.L. at the same practice as Edwards.
“I think you mourn for a day, and we fight today,” Coach John Harbaugh told reporters Friday. “We can move forward.” He said he did not think the playing surface contributed to the rash of non-contact injuries.
To respond to the carnage, the Ravens signed Latavius Murray, the former New Orleans Saints backup, after he was released for declining to take a pay cut. Baltimore also added two players who previously had 1,000-yard rushing seasons, Le’Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman, to the practice squad with the intention of elevating them to the active roster.
Bell, a three-time Pro Bowl selection during his five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was released by the Jets midway through last season for his lack of production. He briefly signed with Kansas City, splitting carries in a reserve role, and later criticized Coach Andy Reid on social media this off-season.
Freeman, an elusive runner and pass catcher, rushed for 1,000 yards twice early in his six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, but his production slipped after his groin injury in 2018, which kept him out of all but two games. He signed a one-year deal with the Giants last season, appearing in only five games and rushing for 172 yards. The Saints released him during training camp after he signed a one-year contract this off-season.
After sharing one of the most talented quarterbacks rooms in recent college football history, the former Alabama teammates Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa will reunite on the field Sunday afternoon, as Tagovailoa’s Miami Dolphins face Jones’s New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass.
With Jalen Hurts having taken over the starting job for the Philadelphia Eagles at the end of the 2020 season, Alabama’s last three quarterbacks will be under center for N.F.L. franchises in Week 1. That each made it onto Sunday’s N.F.L. schedule should validate the quarterback battles that occurred when they were there. After winning a national championship with the Crimson Tide at the end of the 2017 season, Hurts lost the starting spot to Tagovailoa in 2018. When Tagovailoa broke a hip in 2019, Jones supplanted him, starting two games to end that season.
Jones led an undefeated Alabama team to a national championship in 2021 before being selected at No. 15 in the draft. His poise in training camp and preseason games so impressed Patriots Coach Bill Belichick that he crowned the rookie the No. 1 quarterback and cut last year’s starter, Cam Newton, who is now a free agent.
In one season in Miami, Tagovailoa has yet to cement himself as the Dolphins’ quarterback of the future. During the off-season, rumors swirled that the team might have been searching for other options, including the Texans’ Deshaun Watson, but Coach Brian Flores threw his support behind Tagovailoa as training camp ended.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban wished both of his former quarterbacks well in a news conference Wednesday. “I hope they both do extremely well in this game and in their career,” Saban said. “But somebody has to win and somebody has to lose.”
If Los Angeles quarterback Justin Herbert plans to make a leap in Year 2, facing the Washington Football Team’s dominant defensive end Chase Young is probably one of the most difficult ways to start. Young, the 2020 defensive rookie of the year, will meet Herbert’s Chargers Sunday afternoon. It will be the second straight season where the reigning offensive and defensive rookies of the year will meet in their season opener: Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray faced Nick Bosa’s San Francisco 49ers in Week 1 last season.
In 2020, Young anchored one of the league’s best defenses, which allowed just over 300 yards per game, second fewest in the N.F.L. Herbert finished the season with the most passing touchdowns (31) and completions (396) of any rookie in league history.
Coming into Week 1, most teams’ optimism hinges on the health of their rosters. A few star players whose status had been murky this week, including Giants running back Saquon Barkely, Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, and Colts guard Quenton Nelson, are good to go.
Elsewhere, the absence of injured players will temper their teams’ game plans.
Notable injuries in the 1 p.m. Eastern games:
Jets at Carolina Panthers
Jets receiver Jamison Crowder (reserve/Covid-19) will miss Sunday’s season opener, while receiver Keelan Cole (knee) will be a game-time decision. And the Panthers will be without receiver Shi Smith, who missed practice this week with a shoulder injury.
Los Angeles Chargers at Washington Football Team
The Washington Football Team placed receiver Curtis Samuel on the injured reserve list earlier this week, so he will miss at least three weeks to nurse a groin injury.
Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans
The Titans will be without kicker Sam Ficken, who is on the injured reserve list with a groin injury.
Seattle Seahawks at Indianapolis Colts
The Colts’ veteran cornerback Xavier Rhodes (calf) will miss Sunday’s opener, along with receiver T.Y. Hilton, who re-aggravated a lingering neck injury during a practice last month. Hilton, the Colts’ top receiver, is expected to miss the start of the regular season.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans
Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is out for their season opener against the Jaguars. Watson, who has 22 civil suits alleging sexual misconduct filed against him, isn’t expected to suit up for Houston this season. (He has denied the accusations.) Tyrod Taylor will start in his place. Houston will also miss kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn (leg), as well as defensive back Lonnie Johnson Jr. (thigh).
The Jaguars will be without cornerback Tre Herndon, who’s out with a knee injury.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills
Bills running back Zack Moss was not on the team’s injury report leading up to Sunday’s game against the Steelers, but he will miss the team’s opener.
Notable injuries in the 4:25 p.m. Eastern games:
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
Dolphins receiver Preston Williams, who’s been nursing a foot injury, is reportedly not expected to play against the Patriots.
Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints will be without receiver Michael Thomas for the start of the season after he underwent ankle surgery in June. They’ll also miss receiver Tre’Quan Smith (hamstring).
Denver Broncos at New York Giants
Giants tight end Evan Engram (calf) is out.
In Thursday night’s season opener, players stood on the field at Raymond James Stadium with their arms intertwined as Alicia Keys and the Florida A&M choir performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing” before the game’s start.
The N.F.L. began airing the song, also known as the Black national anthem, as part of its TV broadcasts before games following the worldwide racial justice protests held after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. It also included a performance of the song before the draft in April.
The league will continue to include the song’s performance in its pregame ceremonies as part of its continued social justice efforts.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing,” written over 120 years ago by N.A.A.C.P. leader James Weldon Johnson, captures in its lyrics the solemn hope for the liberty of African Americans, which read in part:
“Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us.
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us.
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on ’til victory is won.”
Along with playing the song before its games, the N.F.L. will also allow players to wear helmet decals with one of six approved social justice messages. The league will again display the slogans “It Takes All of Us” and “End Racism” on end zones in solidarity with social justice movements against racism and police brutality.
No, it’s not a misprint. Yes, the end zones at TIAA Bank Stadium, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars, really do say “SAINTS.”
The New Orleans Saints, displaced by the destruction of Hurricane Ida, will begin the season Sunday against the Green Bay Packers in the teal-tinged wilderness of Jacksonville, Fla., instead of the Superdome’s black-and-gold cacophony. The stadium was available because the Jaguars open on the road, but the site was hardly chosen at random.
After evacuating New Orleans on Aug. 28, the Saints settled in North Texas, practicing first at AT&T Stadium in Arlington before shifting to Texas Christian University, in Fort Worth. With AT&T unavailable Sunday because of a conflict, the Saints picked Jacksonville from among Florida’s three N.F.L. locales, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, because of its “relative inaccessibility and unattractiveness as a destination location.”
The Saints went so far as to research flights to Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville, and discovered that Jacksonville was the hardest — and most expensive — option for Packers fans.
“We’re conscious of everything, I think, when it comes to preparing for an opponent,” Saints general manager Mickey Loomis told reporters last week. “The main thing is, hey, we’ve got to have an NFL-ready stadium. Look, there’s just so many variables. I don’t want to get into all the variables that exist, but the main thing is to have a suitable place to play that both teams have access to.”
This is expected to be the only home game the Saints play away from New Orleans. Mayor LaToya Cantrell said that the Superdome, which didn’t suffer any major damage, should be ready to host the team’s Week 4 game against the Giants.
Credit: Source link