With the start of the NFL season in tonight’s 2022 Kickoff Game between the The Super Bowl-champion Los Angeles Rams and the highly touted Buffalo Billsthere’s more than a whiff of conversation about a potential upset floating in the breeze.
First conceived in 2002 as a unique mid-week event designed as a aperitif for Week 1 Sunday action, it wasn’t until two seasons later that the game began to be considered a a vehicle to feature the defending Super Bowl champions staging the season opener. During that time, there were three upsets where the champions were knocked down by rival teams.
The first two Kickoff Games involved strong teams, but not the previous year’s champions, and saw top two NFC teams, San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants face off in 2002while the 2003 game pitted two mid-table teams from the Washington Redskins, as they were known at the time, against the New York Jets. Beginning in 2004, the former Super Bowl winner hosted the game.
The defending champions are 13-3 in the game with the New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots being the only defending champion to have lost.
Dallas Cowboys 24-17 New York Giants
2012 was the only edition of the Kickoff Game to be played on a Wednesday evening rather than Thursday, so broadcasters can avoid competing with the Democratic National Convention. After winning Super Bowl XLVI, the heavily favored Giants were shocked at MetLife Stadium by the Cowboys.
With the previous year’s championship race anchored on Eli Manning’s fourth-quarter comebacks, the home crowd were stunned to see Dallas quarterback Tony Romo throw for 307 yards and 3 touchdowns in an upset Cowboys 24-17.
Baltimore Ravens 27-49 Denver Broncos
The following year, the upset was repeated when the reigning Baltimore Ravens were knocked out by the Denver Broncos. With the Orioles playing a home game on the same date, the Ravens, although nominally the home team, had to go to Mile High Stadiumwhere Joe Flacco was left behind in front of a masterclass quarterback Peyton Manning, throwing for 7 touchdowns in a stunning 27-49.
Kansas City Chiefs 42-27 New England Patriots
Most on the minds of NFL fans will be this one overthrow of Tom Brady and the Patriots by the Kansas City Chiefs 42-27 at Gillette Stadium.
After pulling off the Super Bowl miracle to come back from a 28-3 fourth quarter deficit, the end of the 2016 season was the beginning of the legend of Tom Brady. Already a five-time Super Bowl champion quarterback, he began to be seen not only as the recipient of a great system, but as a true challenger for the GOAT title when he led the Patriots to 19 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime and win a Lombardi Trophy that had been deemed out of reach only thirty minutes before.
Returning to Foxborough triumphant as champions, seven months later, the Patriots and their fans with commissioner Roger Goodell in attendance suffered a humiliating 42-27 loss to a Chiefs team that saw the transfer of the quarterback role from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes in Week 17.