By JOSH DUBOW, FRED GOODALL, ARNIE STAPLETON, TERESA M. WALKER, GREG BEACHAM AND STEPHEN WHYNO
The Associated Press
Saturday, September 15, 2018
SANTA CLARA, CALIF. TAMPA. FLA. DENVER NASHVILLE LOS ANGELES LANDOVER, MD. -- 49ERS VS. LIONS Matt Patricia got an early taste of what Jimmy Garoppolo was capable of doing as an NFL quarterback.
As soon as Garoppolo was drafted in the second round by New England in 2014, he got the chance to match wits with Patricia almost every day in practice as Tom Brady's backup, while Patricia served as defensive co-ordinator for the Patriots.
The talents Garoppolo showed on the practice field only got better whenever he got a chance to play in a game, whether it was an exhibition, mopup duty or in two starts during Brady's suspension in 2016.
So when Garoppolo became a star after being dealt to San Francisco, Patricia wasn't surprised at all. He will get a firsthand look at it Sunday as coach of the Detroit Lions (0-1), who visit Garoppolo and San Francisco (0-1).
"There was always something a little bit special about Jimmy in-game," Patricia said. "Just that extra light just came on and in the game itself you could just see really how special he was as a player."
After winning his two starts with the Patriots, Garoppolo went 5-0 for San Francisco after a mid-season trade last year and earned a US$137.5-million, five-year contract.
His first game with the new deal didn't go so well as he completed less than half his passes and threw three interceptions in a 24-16 loss at Minnesota. He expects a tough task this week, knowing that Patricia likes to change up his schemes, although Garoppolo hopes all that time on the practice field against his defences pays dividends.
"There's a couple of little things you remember from over the years and stuff," he said. "But, Matty P's a smart coach and I'm sure they'll have something game planned for us."
The last time San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan had an offence take on Patricia's defence came in the Super Bowl in 2017. Shanahan's Atlanta Falcons took a 28-3 lead before falling apart late and losing 34-28 to the Patriots in OT. With little film of the Lions to go on after just one game with Patricia as coach, Shanahan has looked back at that game for some clues.
BUCCANEERS VS. EAGLES Gerald McCoy is puzzled when he hears people question the ability of fellow NFL players, particularly backup quarterbacks such as Nick Foles and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
"It's the NFL," Tampa Bay's six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle said. "Everybody's good."
Foles's success filling in for the injured Carson Wentz is one of the biggest reasons why the Philadelphia Eagles (1-0) were able to win the Super Bowl after losing their starting quarterback late last season.
Fitzpatrick has McCoy's Buccaneers (1-0) off to a promising start without suspended starter Jameis Winston after playing arguably the best game of a 14-year career that includes stints with seven teams.
"I don't get when a person, an analyst or fan or anybody says: 'Oh, he's not good.' ... That's a horrible thing to say about an NFL player because there are people who would give anything to be in the NFL," McCoy said.
McCoy calls Foles "MVP" because the Eagles quarterback has been the most valuable player in a Pro Bowl, as well as last season's Super Bowl.
"He's a great player. He doesn't do more than he's asked to do," McCoy added. "He's a great leader, and just a great guy over all."
Those are some of the same attributes McCoy sees in Fitzpatrick, who threw for a career-best 417 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions to help the Bucs surprise New Orleans 48-40 on the road last week.
The 35-year-old Fitzpatrick, who has 120 career starts and is one of just four players in NFL history to toss TD passes for seven different franchises, also rushed for a TD.
"Confidence is a huge thing, whether you're out there or not," Fitzpatrick said, addressing what it takes to be a successful backup.
Foles, who threw for 117 yards, no touchdowns and one interception in Philadelphia's 18-12 seasonopening victory over Atlanta, is 2-0 in career starts against the Bucs. He completed 66 per cent of his passes for 677 yards, five TDs and zero picks in leading the Eagles to road victories in 2012 and 2013.
RAIDERS VS. BRONCOS Von Miller might be the only one at Denver Broncos headquarters lamenting Khalil Mack's startling trade from the Oakland Raiders to the Chicago Bears.
"I mean, honestly, I was shocked. ... A guy like Khalil, he only comes around once every lifetime.
You want to keep guys like that," Miller said.
The Broncos' star linebacker said it's "going to be a little weird" Sunday not seeing his friend, whom he's trained with the past two summers, when the Raiders (0-1) visit Denver (1-0), where Mack once collected five sacks in a single half.
"He's talented," Broncos QB Case Keenum said, "but I'm pretty sure they're going to play 11 guys.
They're not just going to put 10 out there without him."
Raiders coach Jon Gruden said he's been asked aplenty about the trade that sent shock waves through the NFL and smiles across locker rooms across the AFC West. "And rightfully so. He's a great guy. He's a great player. It's unfortunate we don't have him. But we feel we did the right thing for this football team, for the future of the Raiders and for this building process. I know we've got to prove it.
But so does he."
Mack began doing just that Sunday night at Green Bay, fresh off signing a six-year, US$141-million contract, US$26.5-million more than Miller got in 2016 in the shadows of his Super Bowl 50 MVP performance.
Hours after Miller wrecked Seattle's game plan by sacking Russell Wilson three times and snaring the ball out of power back Chris Carson's arms for a forced fumble, Mack burst into the NFC North conversation with a pick-6 and a strip sack of backup QB DeShone Kizer.
Whereas Miller's showing led to a 27-24 Denver victory, Mack's dominant debut was rendered a footnote when Aaron Rodgers returned from a knee injury to lead the Packers back from a 20-point deficit for a 24-23 win.
One night later, the Raiders lost 33-13 to the Rams, barely touching quarterback Jared Goff just over a week after trading their star pass rusher to the Bears for a package that included two first-round picks.
TITANS VS. TEXANS Mike Vrabel knows Houston coach Bill O'Brien pretty well after spending the past four seasons working as a Texans assistant, including 2017 as defensive coordinator.
Now Vrabel has his own team in Tennessee, and the rookie is about to square off with his former boss looking for his first victory as an NFL head coach. He hopes his familiarity with Houston helps Sunday in the Titans' home opener but cautions what he knows will help only so much.
"They've added some new stuff, and they're doing new things, and they've got some new personnel," Vrabel said. "Hopefully, we can get prepared enough to go out and win a game on Sunday."
When Vrabel worked for O'Brien, the Houston coach says they didn't talk about whether the former NFL linebacker wanted to be a head coach.
O'Brien says Vrabel was too busy coaching linebackers or co-ordinating the defence.
"Smart guy, leader, very, hard worker, played in the league for a long time, knows the game," O'Brien said. "He's got all the qualities of a head coach."
Vrabel went winless in the preseason as he and the Titans focused on trying to get to the regular season healthy. After a 27-20 loss in Miami , the Titans put tight end Delanie Walker on injured reserve and two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan is recovering from a concussion. Quarterback Marcus Mariota also hurt the elbow on his throwing arm .
Houston has dominated this AFC South rivalry lately, but the teams split the series last year, each winning on its home field. Houston visited Nashville last December with quarterback Deshaun Watson healing up from a torn ACL, while Mariota left the Titans' loss in Texas with an injured hamstring.
Watson was back for the Texans' opener, but Houston lost 27-20 at New England. The Texans are back on the road for a second straight week, and neither team can afford falling to 0-2, raising the stakes even higher.
"We want to win very badly," Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan said. "It's a divisional game. You don't want to start out 0-1 in the division. You want to get some momentum and go from there." RAMS VS. CARDINALS Six years before the Rams chose Jared Goff with the No. 1 overall pick to be the saviour of a struggling franchise, they tried the same thing with Sam Bradford.
And if Bradford had been running an offence created by the likes of Sean McVay, he might still have that job instead of being on the other sideline Sunday with the Arizona Cardinals.
Bradford faces the team that drafted him No. 1 when the Cards (0-1) travel to the Coliseum to face the Rams (1-0), who have been through franchise relocation and a thorough transformation in the three years since they traded Bradford and his troubled knee from St. Louis to Philadelphia.
After a two-year stop in Minnesota, Bradford moved back into the NFC West this season with Arizona, where he finally gets to face the franchise that employed him for the first five years of his career.
But when asked if the Rams' horned helmets stir up any special emotions, Bradford said: "Not really."
"I think if it would have happened sooner in my career, maybe there would be more. But the staff there is completely different. There's only a handful of guys on that roster that were there when I was there, so there's just really not a lot of connection that's still there for me."
Indeed, the current Rams have few parallels to those not-so-good old days in Missouri.
When Bradford left, this team was mired deep in a streak of 13 consecutive non-winning seasons.
Bradford is seeing the Rams again after their evolution into one of the NFC's top Super Bowl contenders. Los Angeles has a star-studded lineup and a vaunted coaching staff led by McVay, who was a 24-year-old assistant tight ends coach for the Redskins during Bradford's rookie season with the Rams.
The Rams come into their home opener fresh off an impressive Monday night win at Oakland, while the Cardinals stumbled to a 24-6 loss to Washington in coach Steve Wilks's debut. The Rams also drilled their rivals twice last season, a 33-0 shutout in their "home" game in London last October before a comfortable 32-16 win in Glendale, Ariz., in December.
WASHINGTON VS. COLTS Quinton Dunbar watched in middle school as Larry Fitzgerald caught passes in the NFL.
Years later, Fitzgerald was patting Dunbar on the helmet for a job well done.
Dunbar helped shut down Fitzgerald and other receivers in Week 1, picking off Sam Bradford and looking like the kind of player Washington envisioned when it converted him from wideout to cornerback. His next challenge is Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts' passing attack as Washington looks to start 2-0 for the first time since 2011.
"Tough matchup," Dunbar said. "He's up there with the best of them in my opinion. You watch him, you see a guy who's tough, smart, understands defences."
Dunbar has already intercepted Carson Wentz, Eli Manning and Bradford in his career, evidence his instincts are worthy of the coaching staff's faith. He had to embrace the "heart and mentality" of being able to make tackles, and he had five at Arizona.
"I think it was one of his better games as a pro here," coach Jay Gruden said. "He's got to continue to make strides to get better and keep studying the game and the people he is covering."
Dunbar should continue to get plenty of playmaking opportunities because he's starting opposite 2015 All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman. Luck, who missed all of 2017 with a shoulder injury, is coming off a 39 of 53 passing performance with 319 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the Colts' season-opening loss to Cincinnati.
Luck - and then Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers in Week 3 - are significant tests for Dunbar, who insists he looks forward to every matchup and doesn't take anyone lightly. What he does is trust what he sees on film, combined with what coaches have taught him about the position. He's has gotten to the point where he's not a work in progress anymore.
"I've been comfortable for a while," Dunbar said.
"[I'm] just trusting what the coaches wanted and the vision they had for me."
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo
Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Sam Bradford
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick
Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien, left, and Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel
Washington cornerback Quinton Dunbar