MIAMI - Rookie quarterback Cam Newton made a record-breaking debut for the Carolina Panthers while the Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers, both perennial powerhouses, suffered big losses on the opening Sunday of the 2011 National Football League (NFL) season.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick threw two touchdowns in a 31-13 win over the St. Louis Rams while the Washington Redskins dumped the New York Giants 28-14.
Newton, the top pick in this year's draft, began his NFL career in impressive fashion, becoming the first quarterback to throw over 400 yards in his rookie debut.
The former Auburn quarterback showed his quality on his first touchdown pass, a magnificent 77-yard pass to receiver Steve Smith.
But Newton, last year's Heisman Trophy winner as the most outstanding player in college football, ended up on the losing side as the Panthers fell 21-28 to the Arizona Cardinals.
His 422 passing yards equalled the most by a rookie in any game, a record set by Detroit's Matthew Stafford in 2009, and he added a rushing touchdown and completed 24 of 37 passes.
Five of the last six Super Bowls have featured the Colts or Steelers but there is the hint of an end of an era and it would take a brave gambler to put money on either side reaching the title game given their season-openers on an emotional Sunday.
Stadiums around the league marked the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks with stirring national anthems and displays of patriotism before kick-off.
The Colts felt the absence of injured quarterback Peyton Manning instantly and brutally as they were crushed 34-7 by the Houston Texans.
Manning's run of 227 consecutive starts came to an end as he did not travel to Houston after a third neck surgery that could leave him on the sidelines for much of the season.
In place of the four-time most valuable player, the Colts went with Kerry Collins, a 38-year-old who had retired from the game in July, and the veteran struggled to impose himself in his Indianapolis debut.
The Colts were battered in the first half, falling into a 34-0 hole at halftime against a Texans team playing without their elite running back Arian Foster.
Collins went 16-for-31 for 197 yards and a touchdown but never looked at ease in a poor performance, albeit in difficult circumstances for the former Tennessee quarterback who was sacked three times and produced two fumbles that set up Houston touchdowns.
The Steelers had starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the field but he had a nightmare game with three interceptions and two fumbles as his team turned over the ball a team-record seven times in a 35-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw for 224 yards and three touchdowns but there were some outstanding displays from the always-strong Ravens defense as Ed Reed had two interceptions while Ray Lewis grabbed one.
The speedy Ted Ginn ran a kickoff back 102 yards for a touchdown and then returned a punt 55 yards for another as the San Francisco 49ers dumped the Seattle Seahawks 33-17.
In a mild surprise, the Atlanta Falcons, a popular choice with pundits this season, fell 30-12 to the Chicago Bears.
The Buffalo Bills, who have not made the post-season since 1999, crushed the Kansas City Chiefs 41-7 with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing four touchdowns.
Later on Sunday the Dallas Cowboys are on the road against the New York Jets while the New England Patriots are at the Miami