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Tar Heels in the NFL had a good opening week

At least UNC football players are succeeding somewhere...

Cincinnati Bengals v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

We don’t have to talk about Saturday again here, right? Okay, good. Suffice it to say that Sunday was much better for UNC fans than Saturday, as several Tar Heels made positive impacts for their teams. Let’s take a look:

  • Ryan Switzer got on the field not just as a returner but also as a receiver, which is impressive in and of itself with Pittsburgh’s deep WR stable and the fact that he arrived in Pittsburgh just a couple of weeks ago. He played 7 offensive snaps in the Steelers’ 21-21 draw with the Cleveland Browns, drawing 1 target that fell incomplete and taking a reverse 8 yards. As a returner, he took back 3 kickoffs for 69 yards, which is decent, and 5 punts for 56 yards, which is very good.
  • Two of UNC’s better skill position players of the past decade faced off as Giovani Bernard and the Cincinnati Bengals took on Eric Ebron and his new team, the Indianapolis Colts. Bernard, who for the past several seasons had clearly been the superior running back in a frustrating timeshare with Jeremy Hill, has now firmly taken a backseat to last year’s second-round draftee Joe Mixon. He took just one carry that lost yardage, and converted his only target into an 11-yard catch. He was on the field for 12 plays, 20% of the Bengals’ offensive snaps.

Ebron, on the other hand, was very productive with his new team. He was third on the team in targets from newly healthy Andrew Luck with 5, and caught four of them for 51 yards and a touchdown. This is even more impressive when considering Luck’s rapport with Jack Doyle, the Colts’ starting tight end for the past several years. Bernard gets the last laugh, though, as the Bengals won 34-23.

  • Robert Quinn is also on a new team, the Miami Dolphins, and he, too, is making an immediate impact. The defensive end played 59% of Miami’s defensive snaps (a starter’s share) and recorded 4 tackles, including half a tackle for loss.
  • M.J. Stewart wasn’t given an easy introduction to the NFL; his first game was against surefire Hall of Famer Drew Brees. Stewart played 19 snaps on defense, or 31% of them, and made 4 tackles in his NFL debut, a shocking 48-40 win. He was supposed to be a depth piece, but may be pressed into playing more than expected after an injury to Vernon Hargreaves, Jr.
  • Kareem Martin is yet another Tar Heel on a new team; the former Arizona Cardinal is now a starting linebacker for the New York Giants. The Giants lost 20-15 to the Jacksonville Jaguars, but Martin did his job with 3 tackles and half of his team’s only sack.
  • Tre Boston, also with a new team, was all over the field as the Cardinals took on the Washington football team. Starting at safety, Boston recorded 6 tackles, a QB hit, a pass defensed, and recovered a fumble. It wasn’t for much, though, as the Arizona offense couldn’t get anything going and the Cardinals lost 24-6. Part of that defensive effort for Washington was last year’s tackle leader (while he was on the field) Zach Brown, who led his team with 5 tackles.
  • Ageless wonder Julius Peppers is still somehow playing in a rotational role for the Carolina Panthers, whose defense stifled the Dallas Cowboys in a 16-8 win. Peppers had just one tackle, but he also recorded a key QB hit late in the game that snuffed out the Cowboys’ late comeback attempt.
  • Last but not least, Mitchell Trubisky finally got to helm a real NFL offense after what must have been an extraordinarily frustrating year with John Fox as head coach and a receiving corps that dropped 1 in every 8 catchable balls. He looked excellent at first, leading his Chicago Bears to an early 20-0 lead over the Green Bay Packers, but both he and his head coach turtled up as the game went on, playing too conservatively and letting Aaron Rodgers stage a miracle comeback without stretching the lead much at all. Trubisky’s final statline read: 23/35 for 171 yards, along with 7 rushes for 32 yards and a touchdown. The Bears let a win slip away and lost, 24-23. This will be a valuable learning experience as Trubisky learns what it’s like to be a real NFL QB, and he and the Bears showed that they are on the cusp of being a legitimate threat in the NFL.