Age is just a number. Even at the low end of that proverb.
The No. 2 draft pick, Mariota, easily out-gunned the No. 1 pick, Winston, in a 42-14 drubbing by the Titans. But this matchup was as much about the quarterbacks as the score as two of last year’s bottom-dwelling teams in the NFL met.
It was the first time in NFL history that the top two picks in the draft started at quarterback against each other in the opening week of the NFL season. The combined ages of the two: 43 years, 203 days, the youngest for starting quarterbacks in a game since the 1970 merger of the AFL and NFL.
Sunday was Mariota’s day. He hit the highest possible quarterback rating, 158.3, becoming the first rookie in NFL history to do that on Kickoff Weekend. He completed 13 of 16 passes (81.3 percent) for 209 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions and was pulled by the fourth quarter to protect the investment with a big lead.
Mariota and former Minnesota Vikings quarterback, Pro Football Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton, are now the only rookies in NFL history to throw four touchdown passes in the first half on the NFL’s opening weekend.
It took less than two minutes for the first one to come for Mariota, who hit Kendall Wright for a 52-yard touchdown 110 seconds into the game. That already put Mariota in a statistical improbability. He and Matt Ryan are the only two quarterbacks since 1960 to throw a touchdown longer than 50 yards in the first two minutes of their rookie debuts, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Winston’s debut was one to forget. His first pass was intercepted by Coty Sensabaugh and returned 26 yards for a touchdown. He joined Jay Schroeder and Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks to throw a pick-6 on their first NFL pass, according to Elias. Winston finished 16 of 33 for 210 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, a 64.0 rating and was sacked four times.
Other essentials from Sunday:
- The St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks provided the first season opener in which each team scored on a punt-return touchdown. The Rams got the better end of it, with a 34-31 overtime win in which the Seahawks came up 1 yard short again (just like the Super Bowl), this time on fourth-and-1 when Marshawn Lynch was stuffed to end the game.
- In that game, St. Louis’ Tavon Austin became the fifth player in the past 20 years to score a touchdown on a punt return and a rushing play in the same game. His punt return went 75 yards and his rushing touchdown was a 16-yarder.
- Seattle’s Tyler Lockett was the first rookie to score a touchdown on his first career return on Kickoff Weekend since 2005. His return went 57 yards for the touchdown.
- Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers extended his dominant ways over the Chicago Bears, although it wasn’t quite as impressive as Mariota’s debut. Rodgers completed 78.3 percent of his passes (18 of 23) for 189 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 140.5 passer rating in the Packers’ 31-23 win at Chicago. It was the third consecutive game against Chicago in which Rodgers threw at least three touchdown passes without an interception and posted a passer rating of 140 or better, becoming the only quarterback in NFL history to post those numbers against a single opponent in three consecutive meetings. He also did that against the Minnesota Vikings in 2010-11.
- In his last three games against the Bears, Rodgers has completed 74 percent of his passes for 806 yards, 13 touchdowns and no interceptions. Per Elias, no other player has ever thrown 13 touchdowns and fewer than three interceptions over three games against one team.
- When the Buffalo Bills’ Percy Harvin caught a 51-yard touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts, he became the second player in NFL with at least four career 50-yard touchdown catches and three 100-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer Ollie Matson.
- Philip Rivers tied the San Diego Chargers mark for career passing touchdowns with 254, a number that matches Hall of Famer Dan Fouts for most in franchise history. Rivers completed 35 of 42 passes (83.3 percent) for 404 yards and two touchdowns in the Chargers’ 33-28 win over the Detroit Lions.
- Keenan Allen was Rivers’ favorite target. He had 166 yards receiving on 15 catches, which tied the Chargers’ franchise record (Kellen Winslow, 1984 vs. Green Bay) for most catches in a single game. It was also the most receptions by a player on Kickoff Weekend since the 1970 merger.
- Staying in the AFC West, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce did his best Tony Gonzalez impression. Kelce had six receptions for 106 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-20 win over the Houston Texans. Kelce joined Gonzalez as the only tight ends in Chiefs history with at least 100 yards receiving and two touchdown catches, and Kelce is the only Chiefs tight end to do that in the opening game of the season.
- Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo’s 11-yard touchdown toss to TE Jason Witten with 7 seconds to play was the latest game-winning fourth-quarter touchdown pass in Cowboys history. It gave the Cowboys a 27-26 win over the NFC East rival New York Giants.
- The New Orleans Saints lost to the Arizona Cardinals 31-18, but Drew Brees passed for 355 yards, the fifth straight year that Brees opened the season with a 300-yard passing performance, tying Kurt Warner (1999-2003) for that mark, according to Elias.