The Games that Shaped the 2019 Season: Week 1

The 2019 season began on September 5th 2019 and culminated at Super Bowl LIV on February 5th 2020. However, in between those games at Soldier Field in Chicago and Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, the season took a number of twists, all of which impacted the path to Super Bowl LIV for many teams. In this series we will take a look back at the games that shaped the 2019 NFL season, with this article focusing on where it all began in Week 1.

Week 1 of the 2019 NFL season was immediately different to the years that came before. To celebrate the NFL’s 100th season, the traditional opening matchup of the defending Super Bowl champion hosting on Thursday night was rightly replaced with a matchup that befitted the historical importance of this season. Instead, the New England Patriots opened their season on Sunday Night Football, where they faced one of their long-time foes, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Instead, the opening game saw the Chicago Bears host their NFC North rivals, the Green Bay Packers.

Now while Week 1 is not the be all and end all for teams hopes for a season, it does carry importance. In the 12-team playoff structure (which has now been replaced by the new 14-team structure) 38% of teams make the playoffs, but Week 1 carries a massive swing in chances of playing in January. 51% of teams that began the season 1-0 have gone on to make the playoffs, while just 25% of teams that go 0-1 then go on to make the playoffs.

Green Bay Packers 10 - 3 Chicago Bears

Any opening to an NFL season comes with excitement, but when you add in the Packers and Bears rivalry it takes on a whole extra level. Combine with that the Chicago Bears coming off the back of their first division title in eight years and a new head coach for the Packers, and all the ingredients were there for an explosive opening to the season. Unfortunately, that is not what we got.

The game took a while to get going, and honestly it never clicked into third gear. After the previous season the Chicago Bears were rightly favoured at home, but while their defense did its job, the offense could not get itself going. The two quarterbacks combined for just 431 yards with a 58.7% completion rate, 10 sacks, 1 touchdown pass and 1 interception.

On the ground things were not much better, with the Packers posting just 47 yards rushing and the Bears just 46. 20 penalties also made for a stop start affair, as Aaron Rodgers touchdown pass proved crucial in the Packers coming away with the victory 10-3.

What was the games significance?

The significance of this result has many layers. On the one hand all the enthusiasm for the Bears was lost on one windy night in their home stadium. After making the playoffs at 12-4 the previous season, defeating your division rival in Week 1 sets you up on a good path immediately. As it turned out, this result would foreshadow the tough season that was to come offensively, as the team finished 29th in points and yards offensively.

For the Packers, it was just the start they needed. A win in their rookie head coaches first game in charge, and a defense that stepped up when they needed it too. Winning these tough games would become a linchpin of the Packers 13-3 2019 season.

However, the game also gave an indication into something that would frustrate the Packers all season, inconsistent offense. The Packers ended the season ranking in the middle of the pack for nearly every offensive category, except turnovers, rushing touchdowns and time of possession. Ultimately their lack of explosion on offense would be their downfall when it came to the playoffs.

Baltimore Ravens 59 - 10 Miami Dolphins

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Entering the home of that season’s Super Bowl in Week 1 brings with it many hopes and dreams for NFL players, and in 2019 the stadium launched one of the most exciting seasons of football we have seen in a while.

The two teams came into this game with very different expectations. The Dolphins had traded away their best players and were widely considered to be “tanking for Tua”, while the Ravens were looking to build on a strong end to the 2018 season, that ended disappointingly at home to the Los Angeles Chargers in the Wildcard round. What we got was a demolition that exceeded the expectations of most, for both teams.

Lamar Jackson threw for 324 yards and 5 touchdowns on just 20 pass attempts and 17 completions. Even Robert Griffin got chance to shine, going 6-for-6 for 55 yards a touchdown. Meanwhile, the Ravens rushing attack carried the ball 39 times for 250 yards, averaging over 6.4 yards per carry.

In contrast, the Dolphins looked a mess but did manage to put 10 points on the board in the second quarter, even if they were down 28-0 and then 42-3 when they scored those points.

What was the games significance?

This game exploded the Ravens excitement into legitimate Super Bowl talk right off the bat. While you can only read so much into beating a team many expected to be bad, scoring 42 points in a half and averaging over 16 yards per attempt through the air and 6 yards per attempt on the ground is impressive.

This game would be the start of a dominant Ravens rushing attack, even without Jackson having to get involved with his legs. It would also quieten some of Jackson’s critics when it came to his ability to throw the ball accurately. Perhaps most significant however, was the launch of the “tight end attack” by the Ravens. Marquise Brown took the headlines with 147 yards and 2 touchdowns, but the tight end position was targeted 14 times on 26 passing attempts by the Ravens, demonstrating just what was to come in the rest of 2019.

For the Dolphins this game validated a lot of concerns that the team would not be competitive in the slightest in 2019. However, what was lost in the result was some of the heart shown by the team to get points on the board when down by 28 and 39 respectively. That heart would come to fruition for the Dolphins in the second half of the 2019 season.

Tennessee Titans 43 - 13 Cleveland Browns

While the previous game saw team expectations continue their course, this game saw a bubble burst in a big way in Cleveland. The Browns were outside contenders to challenge for the Super Bowl in 2019, having finished 2018 strongly and acquired some talented pieces in the offseason. Meanwhile, the Titans were a team seemingly stuck in the middle of nowhere. Not expected to be bad enough to lose double-digit games, but not good enough to win 10 or more either.

For the best part of three quarters this game staggered along slowly, with defenses dominating. When Baker Mayfield found David Njoku for a three-yard touchdown to make it a one-score game, it looked like we were in for a close finish at 15-13. However, that was not to be the case as the wheels fell off for the Browns in the remaining 17 minutes and 13 seconds.

First, the Titans took the very next offensive play 75 yards for a touchdown on a screen to Derrick Henry. Then, Baker Mayfield was intercepted at the start of the fourth quarter, leading to another offensive touchdown for the Titans four plays later. Mayfield would then be picked off again just three plays later, leading to another four-play touchdown drive for the Titans. Just like that the score was 36-13 with nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

To add insult to injury, Mayfield was picked for a third time in the quarter, with Malcolm Butler returning the ball to the house to seal a 43-13 victory for the Titans. Those three interceptions were the only three times Mayfield was picked off in the game, but they resulted in 21 points that took the game beyond the Browns.

What was the games significance?

For the Titans this game was nothing more than a road win against a team many favoured as a playoff team in 2019. The direction of the Titans season would not take shape for another month or so.

However, this game was an incredibly bad start for the Browns and a sign of what was to come. The team would go on to finish 6-10, turning the ball over three or more times in five games, and twice in another three. In those eight games they went 1-7, losing all five games they turned the ball over three or more times. They would ultimately rank third-worst in the league in interceptions and seventh-worst in turnovers as a whole. 

Buffalo Bills 17 - 16 New York Jets

Games that shaped the 2019 season week 1

At the time this game seemed like an innocuous Week 1 AFC East game, but as the season wore in its outcome became a crucial part of the story in the AFC. 2018 had seen these teams combine for just 10 wins with a combined points differential of -213, so not a lot was expected, and not a lot was what we got for the vast majority of the game.

Entering the fourth quarter, the Jets were leading 16-3, and then Josh Allen decided to activate his Superman powers, with some help from his supporting cast. The Bills marched from their 15 to make it 16-10 in eight plays, with Allen going 3-for-3 for 25 yards, with 57 yards from his backs, before finishing the drive with a three-yard touchdown run.

The Bills would then get the ball back at their 20 and once again eight plays later they were in the end zone. This time, Allen took all the responsibility. 5 completions on 7 attempts, coupled with an eight yard run on 3rd-and-2 took the Bills 80 yards in under three minutes for a 17-16 lead. They would hold onto that lead and get out of a dangerous Week 1 road game with a 1-0 record. 

What was the games significance?

The result of the game seemed like nothing more than signs Josh Allen had what it took to perform in the biggest moments. However, it was a sign of things to come as Allen led the Bills to a 10-6 record, with league-leading numbers in fourth-quarter comebacks (4) and game-winning drives (5).

For the Jets this game was the start of an ugly beginning to the season. Sam Darnold missed the next three games with mono as the Jets slumped to 0-4. Even once he returned they would slip to 1-7 by the halfway point of the season, all but ending their chances of a playoff spot in 2019.

Pittsburgh Steelers 3 - 33 New England Patriots

The Patriots playing as defending Super Bowl champions has become a regular thing in the NFL in the last few years, and 2019 was no different. What looked to be a somewhat nerve-jangling night for the Patriots ended up being the celebration they would have hoped for. By half time the Patriots led 20-0 and the Steelers never got closer than 17 points in the rest of the game.

Tom Brady would complete 66.7% of his passes for 3 touchdowns and 341 yards, with the only concerning element being 2019 playoff hero Sony Michel managing just 14 yards on 15 carries. As for the Steelers, the run game was neurtralised and Ben Roethlisberger managed just 276 yards through the air, while turning the ball over once.

What was the games significance?

This game appeared to be the launching of another season of dominance for the Patriots, and for the first-half of the season it was. What looked to be the toughest game on the schedule through the first eight weeks had been swept aside with ease.

Unfortunately for the Steelers, this was not how they wanted their season to start. After missing the playoffs for the first time in five years in 2018, they were looking to bounce back with the distractions of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell gone from the franchise. That was not to be, and things would only get worse for the Steelers in Week 2, when they lost Ben Rothlisberger for the season, with the injury revelation in that game making his performance in New England make a lot more sense with hindsight.

Ben Rolfe

Head of NFL Content



Image credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports, Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports & Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports