By Nick Shook
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Not everyone gets to start a new season filled with hope at home. No, half of the league’s teams must spend Week 1 on the road, a crucible that makes heroes of some and goats of many more.
In an opening weekend that featured multiple close finishes and surprises from road squads, we can only choose one winner (and two who get pats on the back for coming close to winning this prestigious honor). Here are the men who weaved their tapestries of road greatness in Week 1.
Greatest on the Road …
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston‘s start looked a lot like the way he began 2015. His first big play of the season was an interception. But he must have remembered his speech he gave to Florida State at halftime of their comeback win over Ole Miss, because Winston played inspired football from there on out.
The second-year quarterback didn’t let the early turnover weight him down, rebounding to throw four touchdown passes to four different receivers. Winston powered an offense that scored 14 points in each of the second and third quarters to grab a 10-point lead heading into the fourth, leaving it up to the Tampa Bay defense to seal the victory. Sunday in Atlanta ended with Dirk Koetter getting soaked in blue Gatorade (was it Glacier Freeze? Bonus points if it was Glacier Freeze) and Tampa Bay owning sole possession of first place in the NFC South after one week. It wouldn’t have happened without Winston, who continues to improve and further validate Tampa’s decision to take him with the first pick of the 2015 draft.
Also considered …
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Matthew Stafford has a cannon for an arm, but that hasn’t always led him to football glory. One thing we know he does have, though, is a knack for last-minute comebacks.
The quarterback who once won a game on a goal-line quarterback sneak — with a separated shoulder — took the field late in the fourth in Indianapolis on Sunday, moments after the Colts had appeared to complete a comeback for a one-point win.
But ol’ Matthew had something to say about that.
Stafford, armed with all three timeouts, engineered a 50-yard drive in 33 seconds, throwing darts to running back Theo Riddick and tight end Eric Ebron before firing a bullet to Marvin Jones to get the Lions down to the Colts‘ 25-yard line. The drive set up kicker Matt Prater — who had missed a PAT earlier and essentially put the Lions, trailing by one, in these dire straits — for a shot at redemption, and he booted the 43-yard field goal through the uprights to take the lead and the win away from Indianapolis and back to the Motor City.
Jack Del Rio, Oakland Raiders
I don’t know if we’ve ever had a coach in here, but we’re breaking precedent today because Jack Del Rio is a man of his own conviction. No moment proved that more than on Sunday, when he stared conservatism in the eye and told it to take a hike, opting to go for two, and the win, and all the shrimp gumbo he could pack on the team flight from New Orleans back to Oakland.
Moments after Derek Carr engineered a 77-yard drive to stun the thousands inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and come within a point of tying the game, Del Rio turned into Blackjack Del Rio, or Jack Del Rionions (h/t NFL Network’s Patrick Claybon), electing to go for two and call the fade to Michael Crabtree, who went up and proved that he is not the mediocre receiver Richard Sherman once described him as by snagging the pass for the conversion and eventually, the win.
Oh, and after the game, Del Rio ethered a certain stats and info department on Twitter, for good measure. Keep on rolling, Jack.