Packers' James Jones, Chiefs' Alex Smith, Jets' Brandon Marshall dominate in season openers

Each week NFL Nation team reporters award a game ball to a player, coach or unit. Here are the game balls for Week 1:


Anthony Barr. On a night where little went right for the Vikings, Barr appeared to be beyond the knee issues that plagued him in the preseason. He posted 12 tackles, including one for a four-yard loss, and broke up one pass while playing almost all of the Vikings' defensive snaps. -- Ben Goessling

Carlos Hyde. He made replacing the franchise’s all-time leading rusher in Frank Gore look easy. Hyde, a second-year back, rushed for a career-high 168 yards (his best last season was 55 yards) with two touchdowns behind the 49ers’ zone-blocking scheme, but he was most effective outside of the tackles. -- Paul Gutierrez


Julio Jones. He got the season off to a hot start by scoring two touchdowns in the first half, while moving around in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme. Jones had no problem winning the battle whenever he was matched up with Eagles top cornerback Byron Maxwell. Jones nearly reached 100 receiving yards in the first half, with eight catches for 97 yards by halftime. -- Vaughn McClure

Walter Thurmond. He was the free-agent cornerback who didn’t get a $63 million contract from the Eagles. He agreed to move to safety, which is why he was in position to intercept Matt Ryan’s third-quarter pass. The Eagles, outscored 20-3 before Thurmond’s interception, scored an immediate touchdown. -- Phil Sheridan


Uani' Unga. Pressed into service as the starting middle linebacker in place of injured Jon Beason and playing in his first NFL game, Unga did everything he could in the middle of a Giants’ defense that looked opportunistic enough to steal the game. He had 12 tackles and a tipped pass that resulted in an interception near the end of the first half. -- Dan Graziano

Tony Romo. On a night in which he was intercepted twice, Romo delivered again with his 27th fourth-quarter comeback of his career, capped by a 12-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten with seven seconds left. Romo finished 36 of 45 for 356 yards and three touchdown passes, including two to Witten. -- Todd Archer


James Jones. Where would the Packers have been without WR James Jones? Re-signed only a week earlier after the New York Giants cut him, Jones caught the Packers’ first two touchdown passes of the season on a day when Randall Cobb appeared to be limited by his shoulder injury. -- Rob Demovsky

Matt Forte. He carried the load on offense for much of the game, rushing for 141 yards on 24 carries and a TD. The soon-to-be 30-year-old tailback showed he has plenty of life left in his legs. Forte's effectiveness allowed the Bears to take the ball out of Jay Cutler's hands for most of the afternoon. -- Jeff Dickerson


Alex Smith. The Chiefs signed Jeremy Maclin and rebuilt their offensive line but needed quarterback Alex Smith to step up his game if they were going to have an energized passing game. Smith responded in a big way against the Houston Texans. He threw three touchdown passes in the first half as the Chiefs jumped out to a big lead and finished 22-of-33 for 243 yards. -- Adam Teicher

J.J. Watt. Though the Texans didn’t get the win, this was another multi-sack game for J.J. Watt. He finished the game with nine tackles, six for losses, including two sacks. That’s Watt’s 15th multi-sack game since 2012, the most any player has had in that span, and the Texans are 10-5 in those games. -- Tania Ganguli


Travis Benjamin. He (briefly) gave some hope with a 54-yard touchdown catch that put the Browns ahead 7-0 in the second quarter. Benjamin finished with three catches for 89 yards and a TD. He edges out punter Andy Lee and place-kicker Travis Coons, who made a 48-yard extra point. -- Pat McManamon

Brandon Marshall. Chris Ivory (two touchdowns) warranted consideration, but Marshall made three big plays -- a clutch third-down catch, a touchdown grab over Joe Haden and -- get this -- a forced fumble and recovery on an interception return. That latter play set up a touchdown. Clearly, Marshall’s receiving skills give the Jets a different dimension on offense. -- Rich Cimini


T.Y. Hilton. He was on his way to likely having a 100-yard receiving game before a knee injury took him out the game late in the third quarter. He finished with seven catches for 88 yards despite quarterback Andrew Luck underthrowing him a couple of times. -- Mike Wells

Tyrod Taylor. Tyrod Taylor didn’t officially make his first NFL start at quarterback -- he began the game as a receiver in an exotic formation with Matt Cassel under center -- but his debut with the Bills was nonetheless impressive. Taylor went 14-of-19 for 195 yards, showing touch by lofting a 51-yard touchdown pass to Percy Harvin while avoiding any interceptions or other critical mistakes. -- Mike Rodak


Jarvis Landry. Receiver Jarvis Landry exploded with a team-high eight receptions for 53 yards and a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown that was the difference against Washington. Landry made his plays at key moments in the third and fourth quarter. -- James Walker

Alfred Morris. He did what the Redskins hoped he would do, providing a strong run game against a tough defensive front. The blocking was good, but Morris did a nice job with his vision and at times setting up his blocks. Morris finished with 25 carries for 121 yards. That’s more carries than he had in any game last season. -- John Keim


Josh Norman. The Panthers were looking for somebody to step up defensively after two-time Pro Bowler Luke Kuechly’s day ended with a concussion suffered late in the first half. Many did, but the nod goes to cornerback Josh Norman. His 30-yard interception returned for a touchdown in the third quarter gave Carolina the cushion it needed to win the opener. -- David Newton

Paul Posluszny. The Jaguars’ defense did give up some plays late but allowed the Panthers to score only one touchdown. Posluszny, playing in his first game since he suffered a torn pectoral muscle last October, had a team-high nine tackles and one of the plays of the game when he had a leaping interception of Cam Newton’s pass intended for tight end Greg Olsen. -- Michael DiRocco


Tyler Lockett: With the Seahawks' offense sputtering in the first half, he scored on a 57-yard punt return. Lockett also had four catches for 34 yards. The rookie should play a bigger role on offense as the season continues. -- Sheil Kapdia

Nick Foles. Under fire for much of the day, the Rams' new quarterback simply refused to go down without a fight. He bounced back from a late fumble to lead a game-tying scoring drive and finished 18-of-27 for 297 yards and a TD, even throwing in a rushing touchdown for good measure. As debuts go, it was one to remember for the Rams' new signal-caller. -- Nick Wagoner


Mark Ingram. Ingram caught eight passes for 98 yards on a day when the Saints’ screen passing game was the best thing going for them. The highlight was a 59-yard gain after a pass in the flat in the fourth quarter. Ingram ran for only 24 yards on nine carries against a tough Cardinals front. But he showed his versatility when the Saints needed it because runner/receiver C.J. Spiller is out with a knee injury. -- Mike Triplett

Carson Palmer The veteran QB quieted whatever remaining doubts about his ACL injury with an impressive return to the field. He threw for 307 yards and three touchdowns on 19-of-32 passing, showing off the Cards’ potent offense. -- Josh Weinfuss


Ameer Abdullah. On a day when everything collapsed for the Lions after a strong start, Abdullah was the one constant for Detroit. From his first offensive carry -- a touchdown -- to showing game-breaking speed and vision on special teams, Abdullah was consistently the best Detroit offensive option on Sunday. He finished with 94 total offensive yards while playing in a timeshare with Joique Bell, something that might change as the season progresses. -- Michael Rothstein

Keenan Allen. With Antonio Gates suspended the first four weeks, third-year receiver Keenan Allen filled the void as Philip Rivers’ security blanket. Allen finished with 15 catches for 166 yards, tying a franchise record set by Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow against the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 7, 1984. -- Eric D. Williams


Marcus Mariota. The No. 2 overall pick could not have been any better in his regular-season debut. He threw four touchdown passes and posted a perfect passer rating of 158.3, earning a fourth-quarter rest for his efforts in the Titans' blowout of the Buccaneers. -- Paul Kuharsky

Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The second-year tight end was a bright spot for the Buccaneers. He had five catches for 110 yards and finished with two touchdowns. -- Pat Yasinskas


Andy Dalton He deserved the Bengals’ game ball for his impressive 25-for-34 passing line that included 269 yards, two touchdown passes and multiple drops from receivers. Tight end Tyler Eifert was Dalton’s favorite target, catching nine of Dalton’s 12 throws. -- Coley Harvey

Justin Tuck. It was a terrible day for Oakland, which got hammered and lost quarterback Derek Carr to a hand injury. But Tuck was a bright spot. The veteran defensive end had two deflected passes and blocked an extra-point attempt. Tuck is an Oakland leader and the Raiders will need him in what may be another tough stretch. -- Bill Williamson


Jimmy Smith. He silenced Broncos wide receiver DeMaryius Thomas and nearly pulled out a victory for the Ravens with a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter. He was the best player on a defense that played well enough to win the season opener. -- Jamison Hensley

Aqib Talib. The Broncos were on the edge of a home loss with their offense stuck in neutral when Talib jumped in front of Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. and snatched Joe Flacco’s pass. Talib returned it 51 yards for the touchdown that turned out to be the difference. -- Jeff Legwold