The Best NFL Opening Night Moments of the Last 5 Years
This season’s campaign will kick off at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA on Thursday, September 7. The opening matchup will see the defending Super Bowl champs New England Patriots face off against the Kansas City Chiefs.
In honor of the upcoming regular season, we’ve taken a look at four of the best moments and performances from the last five season openers. Let’s get to it!
Opening Night 2016: Panthers 20, Broncos 21
Gano’s 50-yard missed field goal clinches a victory for the Broncos in a Super Bowl Rematch
Last year’s season opener was truly an historic event, as it was the first Super Bowl rematch to start the season since way back in 1970. The defending champion Denver Broncos took on the Carolina Panthers but Denver was without future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, who rode off into the sunset after winning his second Super Bowl.
The Broncos and the Panthers played a tightly-contested game, and with just seconds remaining, the Panthers had a golden opportunity to win the game as their kicker Graham Gano was setting up for a 50-yard field goal with just under 10 seconds to play. Despite having plenty of time to kick, Gano hooked his chance wide to the left, which ensured a win for the defending champion Broncos. Carolina was certainly kicking themselves after this one, as they lead by 10 points going into the fourth quarter.
Opening Night 2015: Steelers 21, Patriots 28
Rob Gronkowski dominates against the Steelers, catching two touchdowns en route to a Patriots victory
It’s no secret that Rob Gronkowski is one of Tom Brady’s preferred weapons. Despite various run-ins with the injury bug, Gronk has caught 68 touchdowns in just 88 games played so far in his career. The 6’6” tight end has shown the ability to dominate games seemingly at will, and that’s exactly what he did in the Patriots 2015 season opener against the Steelers.
Gronk was ever-present for New England that night, catching five passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns. He was also “Johnny-on-the-spot” late in the game as he recovered a key fumble for a touchdown which could have swung momentum to the Steelers.
Opening Night 2013: Ravens 27, Broncos 49
Peyton Manning ties an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in rout over defending Super Bowl Champion Ravens
After he was cut by the Indianapolis Colts, many fans of the sport wondered if Peyton Manning would be able to return to his former self after his serious neck injury. They didn’t have to wonder for very long. After a 2012 campaign that saw him named the Comeback Player of the Year, Manning punctuated his return during an opening week game against the defending champion Baltimore Ravens.
Manning slung the ball all over Mile High Stadium that night, completing 27 passes for 462 yards. He also made history that night as he tied the single-game record for passing touchdowns with seven. The former Tennessee Volunteer won his fourth and final league MVP that season and threw a career-high 55 touchdowns. Not bad for a 37 year old!
Opening Night 2012: Cowboys 24, Giants 17
Kevin Ogletree comes out of nowhere to lead the Cowboys to an opening day victory
The NFL has long been home to some fantastic “one week wonder” players who seemingly come out of nowhere to lead their team to a victory. One of the least likely of these players was receiver Kevin Ogletree who caught eight passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns in the Cowboys victory on the opening day of the 2012 season.
The undrafted wide receiver from the University of Virginia had caught just 25 career catches in 31 games prior to his breakout game. Ogletree struggled to find success despite his mammoth game and he was out of the league within three years. Despite his less-than-stellar career, his breakout game on one of the season’s biggest stages was enough to leave an indelible mark on the history of the league.