NEW ORLEANS — Robert Griffin III began his NFL career by connecting on 19 of 26 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns, and the Washington Redskins handed the Saints a 40-32 loss in their first game since the bounty scandal that overshadowed New Orleans’ offseason.
Griffin completed his first eight passes, including an 88-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon, tying for the second-longest scoring pass by a quarterback making his NFL debut.
Rookie running back Alfred Morris rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Aldrick Robinson, making his NFL debut, had a touchdown catch among four receptions for 52 yards.
Drew Brees uncharacteristically struggled with accuracy, completing only 46 percent of his throws with two interceptions. But his 339 yards passing and three TDs kept the Saints in the game until his last desperate pass was picked off by Reed Doughty near the Redskins’ goal line.
Broncos 31, Steelers 19: Peyton Manning made a successful return from a year’s sabbatical, leading the Broncos past the Steelers. The four-time MVP coming off four neck surgeries completed 19 of 26 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns.
He got a big assist from another free agent, cornerback Tracy Porter, whose 43-yard interception return of a Ben Roethlisberger pass with 2 minutes left sealed the win.
Manning, jettisoned by the Indianapolis Colts in March after missing all of last season with a nerve injury that weakened his throwing arm, hit Demaryius Thomas with a 71-yard touchdown toss for his first as a Bronco. It was his 400th career TD toss.
Bears 41, Colts 21: Jay Cutler threw for 333 yards and two touchdowns and Michael Bush added a pair of scoring runs to spoil quarterback Andrew Luck’s debut.
Brandon Marshall had nine catches for 119 yards and a touchdown in his first game since being reunited with Cutler, and Matt Forte ran for 80 yards and a score.
Luck finished his first NFL game 23 of 45 for 309 yards with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Donnie Avery early in the fourth quarter. He also was intercepted three times — twice by Tim Jennings — in an up-and-down effort as he steps in for the departed Peyton Manning.
Reggie Wayne caught nine passes for 135 yards. But it was a familiar result for a team with new management and a new coach in Chuck Pagano.
Eagles 17, Browns 16: Michael Vick overcame four interceptions by throwing a 4-yard touchdown pass to Clay Harbor with 1:18 left in the nerve-racking win.
Vick led the Eagles on a 91-yard scoring drive, capping it with his short toss to Harbor on his career-high 56th pass. Before Vick rallied his team, he played poorly and showed rustiness after playing just 12 snaps during preseason because of injuries.
Vick went 29 of 56 for 317 yards and two TDs.
Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden threw four interceptions, the last to Kurt Coleman with 1:05 remaining.
Vikings 26, Jaguars 23 (OT): Rookie Blair Walsh kicked four field goals, including a 55-yarder as regulation time expired and another one in overtime, and Adrian Peterson returned from a left knee injury to lift the Vikings.
Peterson ran 17 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns for the Vikings, who led for most of the second half until Blaine Gabbert’s 39-yard touchdown heave with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter put the Jaguars back in front.
For the first time since the NFL’s new overtime scoring rule was installed last season, the first team on the board didn’t immediately run off the field a winner.
After Walsh’s 38-yard kick, the Vikings had to play defense again while the Jaguars had their chance to match. But Gabbert was hurried into a fourth-down overthrow, spoiling the debut for new Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey.
Lions 27, Rams 23: Matthew Stafford threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Smith with 10 seconds left.
Stafford made up for a shaky game by leading an 80-yard, nine-play, game-winning possession that included three passes of at least 18 yards.
Sam Bradford directed a go-ahead drive that set up Greg Zuerlein’s 46-yard field goal and put the Rams ahead 23-20 with 1:55 left. But coach Jeff Fisher’s debut ended with a loss because the Rams could not shut down Stafford in the end.
Stafford had three interceptions before halftime for the first time in his four seasons. Cortland Finnegan had a 31-yard interception return for a TD that gave the Rams a 13-7 lead late in the first half.
Jets 48, Bills 28: Mark Sanchez threw three touchdown passes, including two to rookie Stephen Hill, and the Jets eased concerns about their offense.
The Jets sprinkled in their wildcat package with Tim Tebow, who was mostly quiet but recovered a late onside kick by Buffalo, and Jeremy Kerley had a touchdown catch and a punt return for a score. Antonio Cromartie also took one of New York’s three interceptions of Ryan Fitzpatrick to the end zone.
It was the most points the Jets have scored in a season opener. That’s from a team that had many wondering what to expect after the first-team offense failed to score a TD in the first three games of the preseason.
Meanwhile, Mario Williams, the Bills’ big free agent signing, was quiet as the Jets’ offensive line protected Sanchez all game.
Texans 30, Dolphins 10: Arian Foster had two touchdown runs, Matt Schaub threw a TD pass to Andre Johnson, and Houston’s defense dominated rookie Ryan Tannehill and Miami.
Tannehill threw three interceptions in a 6-minute stretch late in the first half, and the Texans opened impressively in what they believe can be a Super Bowl season.
Schaub threw for 266 yards in his first action since fracturing his right foot in Week 10 last year, and Johnson finished with 119 yards receiving. Texans defensive end J.J. Watt deflected two passes that resulted in interceptions and also had 1½ sacks.
Marcus Thigpen returned a punt 72 yards for Miami’s touchdown. The Dolphins gained only 275 total yards in coach Joe Philbin’s coaching debut.
Falcons 40, Chiefs 24: Tony Gonzalez boarded the first bus to Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, eager to arrive as early as possible to start what’s likely his final season in the place where it all began.
The Falcons made sure it was a happy return.
Matt Ryan threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns, one of them to the longtime Chiefs tight end late in the third quarter, and Atlanta pulled away with a dynamic second-half scoring outburst for a 40-24 season-opening victory over Kansas City.
“It’s been like a homecoming for me,” Gonzalez said. “I just want all the fans to know, ‘I love you very much and thank you for letting this day be special.’”
They didn’t have much choice.
Ryan also ran for a TD, and Julio Jones caught six passes for 108 yards and two scores, both of them enjoying a Chiefs defense missing four starters due to injuries and suspension.
The highlight, though, was Gonzalez, the five-time All-Pro who spent his first 12 seasons in Kansas City. After making his TD grab, the ball squirted loose in the end zone. Ryan tracked it down and pushed it into Gonzalez’s hands, and as he’d done so many times, the former college hoops player dunked the ball over the goalpost — getting mostly boos from a crowd that once cheered him.
“He’s such a great part of this organization, you know, probably the greatest tight end to ever play the game,” Ryan said. “I think deep down in their hearts, Kansas City fans were happy to see that one more time.
“Maybe not at the time,” Ryan quickly added. “Maybe in retrospect.”
The Chiefs matched Atlanta most of the first half, trailing 20-17 at the break, but a missed field goal by Ryan Succop early in the third quarter proved to be the turning point.
Atlanta scored 20 unanswered points to put the game away.
Matt Cassel threw for 258 yards and had touchdowns running and throwing, but he also fumbled deep in Kansas City territory to set up a short TD drive, and his two interceptions created short fields that the Falcons turned into field goals by Matt Bryant.
“It’s only one game in a long season,” Cassel said. “We obviously have to make a lot of corrections and get better as a football team. We’ve got to play collectively.”
There was no controversy surrounding the replacement officials. Both times that referee Mike Shepherd went under the hood for a video review, the original call stood.
Jamaal Charles had 87 yards rushing, and Tony Moeaki had three catches for 37 yards, both providing a bright spot for Kansas City. The pair of them, along with safety Eric Berry, played their first regular-season games since tearing their left ACLs last season.
There were still plenty of injury woes to go along with the suspension of Pro Bowl linebacker Tamba Hali, who missed the game after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Starting safety Kendrick Lewis (right shoulder), cornerback Brandon Flowers (right heel) and defensive tackle Anthony Toribio (right ankle) were inactive due to injuries, and that seemed like chum in the water to one of the league’s top passing offenses.
“The fact that they weren’t there, really no one cares,” said Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel, “because all anyone wants to know is did you win or did you lose, and we lost today.”
Ryan set the tone with the Falcons’ opening series, marching 80 yards behind pinpoint passing before an 8-yard pass to Jones made it 7-0 midway through the first quarter.
The teams swapped field goals before the Chiefs answered with their own TD drive.
Cassel was 4 for 4 on the series, including a 21-yard pass to Dwayne Bowe and a 22-yard TD toss to tight end Kevin Boss, who was signed in the offseason to make precisely the kind of finger-tip grabs down the seam that got him into the end zone Sunday.
The teams kept trading haymakers the rest of the half.
Ryan connected with Roddy White three times on the Falcons’ ensuing drive, and a dump-off pass that Jones turned into a 14-yard score gave them the lead again. But the Chiefs had another answer when Cassel weaved his way into the end-zone from 5-yards out late in the second quarter.
Bryant added his second field goal just before half time for Atlanta, but Succop banged his own 40-yard try off the upright early in the second half, shifting the momentum for good.
The Falcons’ potent passing offense marched down field, Ryan capping the drive with a 5-yard scramble for a touchdown.
Three plays later, Cassel was blindsided by John Abraham and the ball squirted loose, and Stephen Nicholas pounced on it at the 7. Ryan hit Gonzalez in the back of the end zone on the very next play for a 34-17 lead, effectively putting the game away.
For the Falcons, in the most fitting fashion possible.
“Tony Gonzalez, without a doubt, is going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer,” Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. “We knew it was going to be an emotional week for him and I’m sure he’s glad it’s over.”