Packers Saints Football

New Orleans Saints tight end Juwan Johnson, left, celebrates his touchdown reception against the Green Bay Packers as he points to a TV cameraman during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

While many football fans are excited over the recent return of college football, this past weekend marked the first week of the NFL season, and the pros took their turn at welcoming fans back to stadiums.

It also means the next wave of Nittany Lions made their NFL debuts, and veterans took the first step in building off of what they did in seasons prior.

With a full slate of games this past weekend, here are the former Penn Staters who stood out to begin the 2021 campaign.

Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Former Penn State running back Saquon Barkley made his much-anticipated return on Sunday following an ACL tear in Week 2 of last year.

Barkley was forced to have surgery and missed the majority of the offseason as well, leaving his status for Week 1 in doubt for some time.

But Barkely got the go-ahead to play in the New York Giants’ opener against the Broncos. His involvement was pretty minimal, however.

No. 26 ran for just 26 yards on 10 carries and added one reception for one yard.

Juwan Johnson, New Orleans Saints

It was a breakout day for former Penn State wide receiver Juwan Johnson, who has made the transition to tight end in the NFL.

As part of the Saints’ 38-3 beatdown of the Green Bay Packers, Johnson caught his first career touchdown on a 1-yard pass from Jameis Winston in the second quarter, making it a 17-0 game.

While New Orleans continued its rout of the Packers, Johnson caught his second leaping score of the day in the third quarter.

The former Nittany Lion and Oregon Duck finished the afternoon with three receptions for 21 yards and played a major role in the Saints’ upset victory.

Chris Hogan, New Orleans Saints

Former Penn State men’s lacrosse player Chris Hogan completed his journey back to the NFL in a significant way on Sunday.

Hogan, after starting his career with the Buffalo Bills and eventually winning two Super Bowls with the New England Patriots, entered the Premier Lacrosse League earlier this year after playing football for nine seasons.

But, he snatched an opportunity with the Saints and made the 53-man roster following training camp.

Hogan’s one catch on Sunday afternoon was a 10-yard touchdown from Winston, joining Johnson as former Nittany Lions to beat up the Packers in Week 1.

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Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Following a Super Bowl win with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season, Chris Godwin and the rest of the Tampa Bay offense got 2021 off to a good start on Thursday night.

Led by seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, the entire Bucs offense clicked right from the start with Godwin as a big part of that.

Despite an untimely fumble late in the game, Godwin finished with nine receptions for 105 yards, as Bruce Arians’ team won its first game of its title defense.

Godwin is coming off a 2020 campaign in which he totaled 840 yards and seven touchdowns, all while facing injury troubles that forced him to miss four games that year.

Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles

Former Penn State running back Miles Sanders started off year three of his NFL career with a solid performance in Atlanta on Sunday.

Sanders totaled over 100 yards from scrimmage and was effective in putting the game away in the second half for the Eagles en route to their 32-6 win over the Falcons.

He finished with 113 yards, rushing for 74 and picking up 39 in the air on four receptions from Jalen Hurts.

Following an inconsistent second season in the league, Sanders is looking to establish himself under new Eagles coach Nick Sirianni and to surpass 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career.

Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys

Despite the Cowboys’ defense giving up some big plays against the defending champion Buccaneers on Thursday night, former Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons had himself a nice debut.

In Dallas’ 31-29 loss in Tampa Bay, Parsons posted seven total tackles, a pass deflection and a quarterback hit.

Parsons, the No. 12 overall pick in last year’s draft, has been thrust into a starting role for the Cowboys after another former Nittany Lion in Sean Lee retired from the team after an 11-year career.

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