The long off-season is finally over and the NFC West returned with a bang at the weekend, with all four teams unbeaten after their first games.
After much hype since becoming the top pick at this year’s draft, we got our first chance to see Kyler Murray in competitive action, while we also started to get familiar with the new norm when it comes to how the Rams will use Todd Gurley.
Meanwhile, George Kittle kicked off his year where he left off last year as the 49ers overcame Tampa in Bruce Arians return to the sideline after a year off.
And, despite winning, there is plenty to be concerned about in Seattle, with the Seahawks making Andy Dalton look like Superman.
Detroit Lions 27 Arizona Cardinals 27
The Kliff Kingsbury and Murray era got off to a shaky start in the desert, with the franchise’s new coach describing their first three quarters as the ‘worst offence I’ve ever seen in my life’.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Cards trailed by 18 and their new signal caller was nine of 25 for just 70 yards and one interception.
And that could have been two interceptions, with Lions cornerback Rashaan Melvin missing out in the first quarter – with Murray launching a pass meant for Christian Kirk straight at his opponent, who was unable to hold on to it.
Yet, when it mattered most, Murray switched it on. In the final quarter, he went 15 of 19 for 154 yards and connected for two touchdowns, first to David Johnson and then to the old master Larry Fitzgerald.
After levelling the scores, Arizona were unable to secure the win in overtime, when their lack of starting corners shone through as Tramaine Brock dropped what seemed a straightforward interception which would have set his side up for a match-winning field goal.
Although he may not admit it, Kingsbury’s play calling left a lot to be desired at stages. The most notable was his failure to see his team into the end zone before half-time, even though Trent Sherfield and the special team set him up so nicely.
Kingsbury and Murray will need to learn they won’t get as many possessions in the NFL as they would in college football and capitalise on what they do get in order to turn around the NFC West’s worst side.
The defence also struggled at times, allowing rookie tight end TJ Hockenson and receiver Danny Amendola to rack up 100+ yards each against them, along with leaving Hockenson and Kenny Golladay wide open for easy touchdowns.
Los Angeles Rams 30 Carolina Panthers 27
Jared Goff’s season got off to a sputtering start as the Rams went on the road to Carolina and secured their third opening day win of Sean McVay’s tenure in their chase to retain the NFC West title.
The quarterback showed obvious signs of rust as he overthrew receivers and chucked an interception in the fourth quarter which was several yards behind intended recipient Robert Woods.
Despite his struggles though, the Rams kicked off with a win, which saw the new normal for Todd Gurley in full flow.
The running back split duties with Malcolm Brown, who forced his way in for two touchdowns on the way, but Gurley’s ability is definitely not diminished.
Indeed, he rushed for 97 yards in the game, with 41 of them notched up on a vital drive which ended with the Rams going up 30-20.
For all the concerns, Brian Allen and Joseph Noteboom both stepped up on the offensive line, creating good lanes for the running backs.
On the other side of the ball, linebacker Cory Littleton had a day, bagging an interception, forced fumble and recovery, 14 tackles – three more than anyone else – and two passes defensed.
San Francisco 49ers 31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17
The Niners and Bucs played out a penalty-littered game in humid 92 degree Fahrenheit heat, which saw five touchdowns chalked off in the first half because of flags.
Last season, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s unit managed just two takeaways all year, something the franchise set about fixing and they beat that in just one game, with three interceptions against a struggling Jameis Winston.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo made his first competitive appearance in a year, but made at least one, by his own admission, ‘dumb decision’, launching the ball in the direction of Tevin Coleman when he was not open and getting picked off by Vernon Hargreaves.
Big summer acquisition Kwon Alexander, who signed from the Bucs, also made things difficult for his new Niners teammates, ploughing into a scrambling Winston helmet first and getting ejected from the game in the first quarter.
However, there were plenty of positives for Kyle Shanahan’s side.
Tight end Kittle kicked off his year with eight receptions for 54 yards. He would have had two touchdowns but for penalty calls elsewhere on the field that brought play back.
And defensively, Mark Nzeocha, Akhello Witherspoon and Richard Sherman each got an interception, with the latter two both marching the ball back into the end zone to see the 49ers to an opening day NFC West victory.
Cincinnati Bengals 20 Seattle Seahawks 21
The Seahawks kicked off their season right where they left off the last one, a playoff defeat at the hands of the Cowboys – and that’s not a good sign.
Pete Carroll turned too often to the running game, with Hawks fans booing when plays blew up on their side, meanwhile the defence struggled to get off the field.
Receiver Tyler Lockett was targeted just twice all night, hauling in one for a 44-yard touchdown, and quarterback Russell Wilson admitted after the game that pressure and sacks meant he had been unable to look to last season’s top wideout more often.
However, what they lacked with Lockett, they made up with DK Metcalf. Many expected the rookie to struggle, but he had an excellent competitive debut, putting up 89 yards.
Unfortunately, the Seahawks’ secondary was too soft and they gave up an average 12 yards on third down.
However, they came through and got the win, which is all that will matter if they can turn things round by the end of the campaign and come through the NFC West once again.