Nothing beats the feeling of a new NFL season. Opening day is exciting because fans get to see if Super Bowl favorites or preseason media darlings can live up to the hype. It’s also a chance to watch the most exciting rookies in the regular season for the first time. Meanwhile, there are always a few explosive, eye-catching performances that stand out.
So we broke down 25 of the most exciting individual displays from opening day. We’re looking all over the field from offense to defense. Some sustained their Week One brilliance throughout the season, but others fizzled out. But ultimately they were all explosive in the first game of the season. Check out the list below via Bleacher Report and CBS Sports.
25. Khalil Mack (2018)
Mack made his debut for the Chicago Bears in 2o18 as the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. He showed that he was worth every nickel with a performance for the ages. The DE showed what he was about with a brutal and explosive week one display against the Packers. Green Bay won the game, but everybody was talking about Mack’s relentless pressure.
The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year forced a strip-sack and a pick-six with the Bears up 10 points (via USA TODAY). Later in the first half, he created another sack, drew a penalty, and scored a touchdown. He achieved all of this without any preseason work. Furthermore, he forced the Packers to bring the injured Aaron Rodgers back into the game after ruining Deshone Kizer.
Lamar Jackson won the plaudits in week one of 2019 but Brown was equally explosive. He benefited from his quarterback’s brilliance against the Miami Dolphins. Consistency has been a problem for the wide receiver but he was on fire on his rookie debut. The Ravens enjoyed a blowout 59-10 victory over Miami and Brown’s contributions were key.
Brown only made four catches in the game but racked up 147 yards with two touchdowns. His second score was the most electrifying as he ran for 83 yards (via the Florida Sun-Sentinel). It was a great first game for the receiver showed why the Ravens made him their first-round draft pick. He had ups and downs throughout his rookie year but showed flashes of brilliance.
Fans would have forgiven Brady if he started slowing down. After winning his seventh Super Bowl, Brady returned for his second season in Tampa at the age of 44. In the end, he put a clinic on the Cowboys in an explosive, productive performance. The former Patriots’ star threw for 379 yards and four touchdowns to help the Bucs win the game.
He also became the second player after Drew Brees to break 300 yards in 100 games. Brady’s counterpart Dak Prescott put in a strong showing with over 400 yards and three touchdowns (via The Guardian). But, Brady’s veteran savvy guided Tampa to an error-strewn victory. He completed 32 of 50 passes with interceptions. What a display from the Super Bowl MVP.
Sometimes rookies create unrealistic expectations after a stellar opening day display. Royal fits into this category because he was a good player but never as brilliant as fans hoped. He spent the bulk of his career with the Denver Broncos but never earned a Pro Bowl selection. This was despite an explosive rookie season when he set the league on fire.
Denver met the Oakland Raiders in Week One and Royal stole the show. The wideout’s nine receptions and one touchdown were a rookie franchise record. Meanwhile, he also led the league in receiving yards that week with 146 (via Draft Sharks). It was an electrifying display from a young star. Then, he went and broke a number of Broncos’ records before his output slowed down.
This was truly an explosive game of football between two of the league’s best quarterbacks. Marino recovered from an Achilles injury before the season started but some fans questioned his fitness. Their superstar proved that he was in immaculate condition as he won a duel against Drew Bledsoe. The Patriots led 32-28 with the end in sight, but Marino sealed the win.
He completed 23 of 42 passes with five touchdowns and a single interception. It was a stellar game because he inspired the Dolphins to a comeback victory. Marino also broke Johnny Unitas’s records for most 400 yard games as he finished with 473 (via NBC Sports). Some fans insist that Marino was the best pure passer in NFL history because of displays like this.
The Washington Redskins defeated the Saints on opening day in 2012. However, the story was all about Griffin because the Baylor product lit up the game. In fact, Bleacher Report said that it was the best rookie quarterback debut ever. In hindsight, they were a bit hysterical but he definitely had a great game. He outdid Cam Newton’s efforts the year before as he secured a win for his team.
RGIII threw 19-for-26 with 320 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also earned the highest passer rating by a rookie QB on their debut at 139.9 He was the only one of five rookie signal-callers that week who didn’t produce a turnover. We all know how Griffin’s career turned out but the early days were so exciting. It’s a shame what happened next.
Everything went wrong for the Falcons in 2013 but they started the next season with a bang. They defeated the Saints in overtime but the main story was about Ryan. The quarterback broke the franchise record for most passing yards in a single game with 448. Meanwhile, he also threw three touchdown passes with no interceptions.
This also put Ryan at the top of Atlanta’s all-time touchdown pass list ahead of Steve Bartkowski. He completed 31 of 43 attempts in the game against a tough Saints’ defense (via CBS Sports). Ryan found nine different receivers with passes in one of the most action-packed games of his career. However, he gave fans false hopes because they finished the season with a miserly 6-10 record.
The Bucs narrowly defeated New Orleans in week one of 2018, but Brees put on a clinic. The Saints quarterback was excellent throughout the game in a record-breaking performance. First, he shattered Peyton Manning’s record of Week One touchdown passes (via USA Today). Brees offloaded to Ted Ginn Jr for the 35th opening day touchdown pass of his career.
It was also the 16th time that Brees broke the 400-yard barrier, another incredible accolade. Brees was excellent across 2018 with a number of emphatic displays. He was even an MVP candidate but lost to Patrick Mahomes. However, it was still incredible for a 39-year-old to perform at his level. The Saints had an all-time great on their hands.
Foster barely played in his rookie year but started ahead of Steve Slaton in Week One of 2010. It was an inspired decision because he was sensational. The running back tore the Colts to shreds as he rushed for 231 yards with three touchdowns (via SBNation). It was a record-breaking day for the franchise.
He went on a rampage in the second half as the game sparked into life. The Texans didn’t have a great season overall, but Foster was a true success story. He finished the year with 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns despite playing for a miserable franchise. Finally, his total from this game remained a franchise record in 2021.
Watt’s rookie debut carried a lot of interest because of his older brother. However, T.J. proved that he was his own man and capable of making his own name. In fact, he outshone J.J.’s own debut with a historic display against the Browns (via Clutchpoints). This was a brilliant start for the former Badgers’ linebacker because he disrupted Cleveland’s flow.
The young Watt became just the third player to achieve two sacks and an interception on their debut. Furthermore, nobody had achieved this feat for 30 years. He wreaked chaos throughout the game and continued to break franchise rookie records throughout the season. In 2021, Watt became the highest-paid defensive player in the league after back-to-back Pro Bowl selections.
We already talked about Mack’s explosive Week One display against the Packers in 2018. But Rodgers was equally brilliant. His first half wasn’t great because he completed just three of seven attempts for 13 yards. However, he injured his knee and the Packers replaced him with Deshone Kizer. Then the Bears soared to a 17-point lead and forced Green Bay to reevaluate.
They made the bold call to bring Rodgers back into the game because he was clearly compromised. Even so, he put in a legendary explosive display on one leg. After his return, he went 17 for 23 with 273 yards and three touchdowns (via SBNation). This was magnificent given the context of his injury and the Bears’ dominance. In the end, Rodgers singlehandedly changed the game.
Bettis makes this list after one of the most unique and efficient opening day performances in NFL history. The running back slowed down in 2002 and lost his place as an automatic starter. But he blossomed into a highly effective short-yardage running back. Bettis was like a battering ram at close range because he was very powerful and didn’t waste carries.
The Steelers only used him in goal-line situations against the Raiders on opening day but their gamble paid off. He scored a career-high three touchdowns, but that wasn’t the best part. All of his touchdowns came on one-yard runs. Because of this, he ended the game with more touchdowns than rushing yards. It was a wild but explosive display.
Newton’s NFL debut went almost as well as he could have dreamed. He exploded in Week One for the Carolina Panthers against the Arizona Cardinals. The No. 1 pick broke the record for most passing yards by a rookie. He threw for 422 yards and beat Peyton Manning’s accolade in the process (via USA Today). Arizona won the game but Newton was the talk of the league.
The Heisman Trophy winner threw two touchdowns as well as adding a trademark touchdown on the ground. He blemished his record with a single interception but it was still a great performance from a rookie. His partnership with Steve Smith was electric on the day. Newton emerged as one of the NFL’s most exciting quarterbacks and became league MVP in 2015.
Watt was magnificent against the Washington Redskins in Week One of the 2014 season. The Texans endured a miserable losing streak before this win and Watt played a key role. It was his first game after signing a six-year contract worth $100 million. He proved that he wasn’t content to sit back and watch the dollars trickle into his account.
Watt had two tackles for losses including a sack (via ESPN). Meanwhile, he recovered a fumble while blocking points and passes. He harried Robert Griffin throughout the entire game as he left the QB with no time to breathe. It was an impressive showing from one of the best defensive ends in the game. This win set him on the road to win the Defensive Player of the Year award for the third time.
Hocksenson had a massive performance in his rookie debut in 2019. The Lions starlet broke the rookie receiving record with an insane six receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown. It was an unbelievable and unexpected display because fans were skeptical about the first-round draft pick.
Nobody expected his explosive day-one showing. Unfortunately, he was unable to sustain it for the rest of the season. He finished 2019 with just 32 catches for just 367 yards and two touchdowns (via Fansided). Over a third of his yardage production came in the first game. However, he rebounded the following season and earned a Pro Bowl selection. The signs were there from that outstanding debut.
Sometimes football doesn’t make sense. This sums up the start of Fitzpatrick’s 2018 season because he overperformed. Fitzpatrick has started for a record eight different NFL teams. He’s the definitive journeyman QB. However, somebody lit a fire underneath him that year because he had an explosive first game.
The Bucs didn’t plan to start him but Jameis Winston’s preseason injury left them with no choice. Fans witnessed ‘Fitzmagic’ in all of its glory as he completed 21 of 28 passes with four touchdowns (via The Ringer). Meanwhile, his 417 total yards were the highest of his career. Amazingly, he broke the 400-yard barrier for three successive weeks before he had a usual meltdown.
It’s important to take context into account when reflecting on Warner’s Week One performance in 1999. The Rams’ quarterback became the starter after Trent Green’s late injury. But he was 28 and had only played in NFL Europe and the AFL. It wasn’t an ideal situation because he only had a quarter of NFL experience. However, Warner rewrote the script.
He threw three touchdown passes on his debut in the first week against the Ravens. Meanwhile, he completed nine of 15 pass attempts for 89 yards (via SB Nation). While those numbers aren’t insane by themselves, the fact was that he had barely any preseason. Meanwhile, Warner never slowed down and helped inspire ‘The Greatest Show on Turf’ to a Super Bowl.
It was the first Monday night game of 1994 and Rice knew that he had a chance to make history. The Niners met the Raiders at Candlestick Park but all eyes were on the receiver. Fans were excited because he was just two touchdowns short of Jim Brown’s NFL record of 126. They believed that Rice had a chance to at least equal Brown’s total against Los Angeles.
However, he went even further by breaking the record on a night when he scored three. It was a fairytale performance from Rice as he surpassed the mark with just over four minutes left to play. There was a hint of irony about the final score too because it was a running play. This was only the seventh time Rice had rushed for a touchdown in his career (via The Undefeated).
Some analysts disparagingly called Jackson a glorified running back after his 2018 season. But he proved them wrong in style on opening day the following year. This was an outstanding Week One performance from the talented sophomore. The Miami pass rush allowed him too much time and he took advantage of their vulnerability. He went 17-of-20 against the Dolphins for 324 yards with five touchdowns.
Furthermore, he became the youngest quarterback in history to record a perfect passer rating. Marquise Brown was the main beneficiary of Jackson’s brilliance because he secured two touchdowns in the first quarter alone. ‘Not bad for a running back,” Jackson told the media after the game (via SBNation). Those were fighting words but he had back them up.
Cam Newton made headlines with a sensational debut in 2011, but Brady upstaged the rookie. After Newton threw for over 400 yards against the Cardinals, Brady proved that he could go even further. He broke the 500 yard barrier for the first time in his career against the Miami Dolphins. In fact, it was one of his most complete performances because everything he attempted worked.
Brady found four different receivers with touchdown passes. He finished the game with a QB rating of 121.6 as well as a total of 517 yards (via Bleacher Report). The reigning NFL MVP proved that he was ready to continue where he left off because he scythed through Miami. Some claim that this was the best individual display of Brady’s explosive career because he was so good.
The Tennessee Titans met the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week One in an intriguing match-up. Tampa selected Jameis Winston with the No. 1 overall pick. Meanwhile, Tennessee used the second pick on another quarterback in Mariota. Comparisons between the pair were immediate and fans were excited to see who would stand out in Week One.
Mariota was excellent as Winston had a debut to forget. He became the second quarterback in history to throw four touchdowns. The Heisman Trophy winner finished 13 of 16 for 209 yards on his explosive first start (via SB Nation). Expectations were high after an outstanding college career with the Oregon Ducks. His time in the NFL hasn’t been perfect, but it started well.
Warner put up some outstanding defensive statistics on his NFL debut against the Minnesota Vikings. The Niners picked the BYU prospect after he fell to the third round of the draft. However, he belied his status to put on one of the most eye-catching performances of Week One in 2018. The linebacker was like a brick wall because the Vikings couldn’t get past him.
He achieved 11 tackles throughout the game with one quarterback hit. Warner also forced fumbles, assisted tackles, and defended passes (via Sacramento Bee). Attacking players receive all of the plaudits but sometimes a linebacker can bring a crowd to their feet. Warner’s consistency impressed Kyle Shanahan and he played in every game. Then, in 2020, he made his first Pro Bowl appearance.
Some NFL fans are adamant that this was the greatest NFL rookie debut ever. It’s definitely up there thanks to Hunt’s explosive start to life on Week One against the Patriots. Hunt destroyed the record for yards from scrimmage with a blistering 246 (via The Ringer). He also scored three touchdowns against New England with five catches for 98 yards.
Hunt led the league in rushing yards and earned a Pro Bowl appearance for his efforts as a rookie. It was incredibly disappointing when his Kansas City career ended the way it did. However, there’s no escaping from his talent and his first start was indicative of that. Many fans say it was one of the greatest individual performances they’ve seen because the game was all about him.
Boldin was a one-man wrecking machine against the Detroit Lions because they couldn’t stop him. The wide receiver showed the world what he was about with a record-breaking performance. He won the 2003 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award but it wasn’t a surprise. In fact, it seemed a foregone conclusion after his explosive debut.
The fact that he only exceeded 146 yards once again in his career after this game says a lot. His nine receptions and one touchdown lit the arena up (via Sports Illustrated). Boldin won a Super Bowl ring and also made three Pro Bowl appearances. But it’s fair to say that he never sustained the brilliance that he showed on his first start. However, there’s no shame in that.
Everything went right for Manning in this Week One win over the Ravens. It was one of the greatest displays of his iconic career. He threw seven touchdown passes against a hapless Baltimore team who couldn’t shut him down. Manning tied an NFL record in the process during an explosive game. In the end, he completed 27 of 42 passes for 462 yards (via USA Today Sports).
This was all about revenge after the Ravens ended the Broncos Super Bowl hopes in 2012. They had a great chance to win before Joe Flacco’s moment of magic to Jacoby Jones. In the end, Manning and his Broncos team got their own back. Baltimore didn’t play badly overall and put 27 points on the board. But Denver’s offense was unstoppable and they scored 49.