There was All-Pro receiver Dez Bryant, shirtless and barefoot, limping along in a stadium tunnel to greet his Dallas Cowboys teammates after they pulled out a last-gasp comeback victory over the New York Giants.
Hours earlier, Pro Bowl middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who the Carolina Panthers just made the league’s highest-paid player at his position, was wobbling and woozy, felled by a concussion.
From beginning to end, from Kuechly in a 1 p.m. EST game to Terrell Suggs in a 4 p.m. EST game to Bryant at night, the first full day of regular-season NFL football was marked by significant injuries to significant stars.
No position was safe Sunday, which is nothing new in this brutally violent sport, but the ramifications could be huge for several teams.
Bryant could be gone for six weeks with a broken right foot.
Suggs is done for the season with a torn left Achilles tendon.
And their teammates’ reactions were nearly identical.
“You can’t replace Dez Bryant,” Dallas QB Tony Romo said.
“You can never replace a Terrell Suggs,” Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil said.
And on and on the list went.
Two teams lost guys at the most vital position in the sport, quarterback: the Cleveland Browns (Josh McCown, concussion) and Oakland Raiders (Derek Carr, right hand). Two other teams lost their top receivers: the Indianapolis Colts (T.Y. Hilton, knee) and Washington Redskins (DeSean Jackson, left hamstring). A coincidence, probably, but all four of those teams lost.
Now the question becomes how many more games teams such as Dallas, Baltimore and Carolina that have designs on division titles — and more, perhaps — will lose without top playmakers.
In case you missed it, here are the other top topics after the NFL’s first regular-season Sunday:
OOPS: Coach Tom Coughlin, quarterback Eli Manning and the Giants made a big-time mistake, letting Romo and the Cowboys have a chance to win, even without Bryant. New York was leading, had third-and-goal from the 1 with less than two minutes left, and Dallas was out of timeouts. Instead of, say, running the football or, worst-case scenario, taking a sack, Manning threw the ball away. The clock stopped, a field goal only made it a six-point margin, and the Cowboys were left with enough time to score a TD and win 27-26. “The decision to the throw the ball there, on third down, was not a good decision,” Coughlin said. Well put, Coach.
OOPS, PART II: Well, at least Beast Mode got the ball this time. Once again, though, it didn’t work out for Seattle. Playing without holdout safety Kam Chancellor — whose leverage probably spiked — the two-time defending NFC champion Seahawks let a lead vanish in the last minute of regulation at St. Louis; opened overtime with either a badly designed onside kick or a poorly executed kickoff, depending on what you believe, that led to a go-ahead field goal for the Rams; and then saw Marshawn Lynch stopped on fourth-and-1 to end the game. At the Super Bowl in February, of course, Seattle threw at the goal line instead of letting Lynch try to score.
ROOKIE UPS AND DOWNS: No. 2 overall draft pick Marcus Mariota threw four first-half touchdown passes, something no other NFL player has done in his first game. No. 1 overall choice Jameis Winston had a unique debut, too, having his first pass in the league intercepted and returned for a TD. Let’s not read too much into either performance in what became a 42-14 victory for Mariota’s Titans over Winston’s Buccaneers. After all, the last QB to begin with a pick-6, like Winston? Brett Favre back in 1991, and he turned out all right. Plus, in 2012, another guy who, a la Mariota, went second in the draft after winning the Heisman Trophy made a special debut as an NFL QB, throwing for 320 yards and two touchdowns in a victory. His name? Robert Griffin III, who wasn’t even in uniform Sunday for Washington’s 17-10 loss to Miami, benched in favor of Kirk Cousins, then relegated to third-string because of a slow recovery from a concussion.
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