I was in attendance for Tua Tagovailoa’s monster outing against the Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.
Two things quickly came to mind as the 2020 No. 5 pick approached 500 passing yards: Former Steelers defensive back and ESPN analyst Ryan Clark made the right call apologizing to Tagovailoa, and the Chargers are going to have another long season defensively.
I’ll go more in depth on the Chargers’ poor defense for one of my notes. Also, 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy and Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford caught my attention. And maybe I’ll provide an apology to the Lions and Cardinals … or maybe just one team.
Here’s what we learned about the 49ers, Chargers, Rams, Cardinals and Lions. (I won’t show this much West Coast bias next week …)
49ersBrock Purdy is the real deal
It’s only Week 1, but I’ve seen enough to declare Purdy as the real deal, something the 49ers have known for quite some time. With how well Purdy played in the win against the Steelers, it’s easy to see now why the 49ers traded Trey Lance to Dallas for a 2024 fourth-round pick after Lance lost the backup job to Sam Darnold. But there was no need to keep Lance around after Purdy’s improbable rise last season as a seventh-round rookie guiding the 49ers to the NFC title game.
But many football scribes—and 49ers fans—felt Purdy needed more games to prove himself because he started only seven last season, including the two postseason games. Purdy quickly validated the 49ers’ decision to start him and trade Lance after he dismantled a stacked Steelers’ defense—Purdy completed 19 of 29 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns.
As for another note: Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk might be on the verge of a breakout season after catching eight passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns. Expect him to surpass the 1,015 receiving yards he recorded in 2021.
ChargersBrandon Staley’s defense remains a problem
After two-plus seasons as the Chargers’ coach, Staley is running out of excuses for why a defense filled with Pro Bowlers (Derwin James, Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa) hasn’t developed into a dominant unit. The Chargers’ defense allowed 536 yards in a 36–34 loss to the Dolphins.
Initially, the excuse was that it was Year 1 and players needed time to learn Staley’s defensive scheme. Last season the excuse was injuries, including not having Bosa and J.C. Jackson for most of the season.
With a mostly healthy defense Sunday, Staley’s unit was torched by Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and wide receiver Tyreek Hill. What will be the next excuse?
Tagovailoa had 342 passing yards—169 yards to Hill—entering the fourth quarter of Sunday’s shootout in Los Angeles. Those two gave many defenses fits last year, but what Tagovailoa and Hill did at SoFi Stadium was a special performance, the kind you remember for a long time. (Tagovailoa finished with 466 yards, three touchdowns and one interception; Hill had 11 catches for 215 yards and two touchdowns.)
The Chargers kept pace because of Justin Herbert and his loaded offense, but Staley’s crew could have had a comfortable lead if the defense had played better. It’s early in the season, but Staley, whose background is defense, really needs the unit to turn it around if the Chargers want to make the postseason.
RamsOld man Stafford will keep L.A. competitive
Matthew Stafford was again in the news because of what his wife said on her podcast, The Morning After With Kelly Stafford. She had plenty to talk about for the latest episode because of the Rams’ upset win of Seattle, but more on that later.
To recap, Kelly Stafford said her husband was having a hard time connecting with his many younger teammates, adding that they immediately stare at their phones after meetings. (The Rams opened training camp with about 40 rookies.) After the Rams’ quarterback was asked about her comments, the 35-year-old Stafford hinted that there was a miscommunication and that everything was fine with his inexperienced teammates.
Who knows whether Stafford hangs with teammates after film reviews, but they were certainly on the same page Sunday against the Seahawks, which was very impressive, considering receiver Cooper Kupp was placed on injured reserve a day earlier with a hamstring injury.
Stafford, who was well protected, quickly established a rhythm with fifth-round rookie Puka Nacua, who had 15 targets for 10 catches and 119 yards. Stafford also got 119 receiving yards from Tutu Atwell, the 2021 second-round pick who was inconsistent during his first two seasons. Stafford finished with 334 passing yards.
If the Rams stay afloat, they might be legit playoff contenders if Kupp returns to the field.
CardinalsPerhaps Arizona won’t be a disaster, after all
I’m not completely sure what I learned about the Cardinals, and that might be good news for Jonathan Gannon’s team.
I thought I would be writing in this space that the Cardinals proved everyone right about them being in the race to draft Caleb Williams for the 2024 draft, but they made the Commanders sweat for most of Sunday’s 20–16 road loss. The defense, which appeared to be the worst in the league—at least on paper—recorded six sacks of quarterback Sam Howell.
Perhaps the Cardinals took it seriously when Williams’s father said that it’s not a given that his son will enter the draft next year. As for another note that I’m unsure about: Maybe Ron Rivera was wrong about Howell, but it’s only one game. Howell was 19-of-31 for 202 yards with no touchdown passes and zero interceptions.
LionsThe 2023 draft class will make an immediate impact
I’ll admit it. I was critical about the Lions’ draft class because they used their two first-round picks on a running back (Jahmyr Gibbs) and an inside linebacker (Jack Campbell).
It’s only one game, but I’m ready to say I was wrong. Gibbs, Campbell, tight end Sam LaPorta and defensive back Brian Branch all made plays in the upset win of the Chiefs. Gibbs had a modest stat line of seven carries for 42 yards, but his acceleration on the field strongly suggests he has the potential to develop into one of the game’s most explosive playmakers. But Gibbs will need to improve as a pass protector if he wants to see more snaps in a backfield with David Montgomery.
LaPorta made an immediate impact, which the Lions needed with wide receiver Jameson Williams suspended for the first six games of the season for violating the NFL’s gambling policy. Branch made the biggest play with his pick-six and appears to be a do-it-all playmaker for coach Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.