The NFL is back with the first full slate of preseason games. How did the rookies look? What about players returning from injury? Here’s the biggest takeaway for each team.
In the battle for the No. 2 quarterback job behind Philip Rivers, Geno Smith appeared to seize control by completing 14 of 23 passes for 218 yards, including a 47-yard strike to receiver Geremy Davis. However, Smith lost a fumble and threw an interception off a tipped pass intended for Davis. Cardale Jones started the game and had an uneven performance, finishing 6-of-12 for 50 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Jones was sacked once, posting a 61.1 passer rating. Second-year running back Austin Ekeler showed his rookie season wasn’t a fluke, finishing with 64 yards from scrimmage, including a 39-yard reception and 20-yard run. — Eric D. Williams
The Cardinals’ first possession, with the No. 1 offense, could hardly have gone any better. After rookie Christian Kirk returned a punt 38 yards, running back David Johnson — in his first game action since a dislocated wrist ended his 2017 season — broke off back-to-back 14-yard runs. With the run working well, quarterback Sam Bradford, coming off a knee injury that limited him to two games last season, threw just two passes and completed one (the first was canceled out by a penalty). Rookie Chase Edmonds did the the rest, scoring the game’s first touchdown with a gritty effort on fourth-and-goal. Coach Steve Wilks has emphasized the run game as a big part of the Cardinals’ offensive identity. He had to be pleased with what his first unit did in limited action. — Jose Romero
Kirk Cousins looked sharp in his preseason debut. Roc Thomas made his case for the No. 3 running back job with two touchdowns. The pieces of the Vikings offense are coming together, but the offensive line continues to be a work in progress. Aside from left tackle Riley Reiff, who left the game after the first drive with Cousins, the Vikings got a chance to see how the rest of the first-team offensive line would respond with more in-game reps. Right guard Danny Isidora was the strongest performer up front, and it will be interesting to see if the Vikings choose to try him at left guard. Tom Compton and Rashod Hill struggled against the pass rush but looked good for the most part as run-blockers. Aviante Collins, who took over at left tackle when Reiff’s night was done, also played a bulk of the game at left guard and will add depth. — Courtney Cronin
The Broncos’ struggles on offense by the first and second team in the preseason opener can’t, and shouldn’t, be ignored. They finished the first half with 61 yards and one first down. They had a false-start penalty on their second snap of the game and quarterback Case Keenum completed one pass in a two-series cameo. In his third season, Paxton Lynch had a particularly difficult night as he finished his seven possessions over the first, second and third quarters with 6-of-11 passing for 24 yards and an interception. Broncos fans were chanting No. 3 quarterback Chad Kelly‘s name during a fourth-quarter touchdown drive. — Jeff Legwold
Since the offense was nothing to talk about, with Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman sitting out and rookie Calvin Ridley losing 2 yards on just one catch, let’s talk defense. Second-year DB Damontae Kazee, a backup at nickelback and free safety, had 10 tackles in the first half. He was all over the field making plays despite being flagged once for lowering the helmet. Kazee’s performance showed the kind of depth and position versatility the Falcons have established throughout the roster. — Vaughn McClure
The Jets’ quarterback competition went from warm to hot, as Sam Darnold announced his arrival with a strong debut. Showing no sign of opening-night jitters, the rookie looked smooth in two-plus quarters. It was all there — pocket presence, accuracy and mobility. He also threw accurately on the run. He completed 13 of 18 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown. And no turnovers. His biggest hiccup was missing an open receiver on a go route. Teddy Bridgewater also played well. So where does the QB competition stand? Darnold is trending toward the starting job. So is Bridgewater, but he could be trade bait. — Rich Cimini
Jon Gruden says it was awesome walking into the Coliseum and jokes about how angry he was when Marshawn Lynch’s touchdown was called back.
When it mattered in the first half, Detroit failed to create any pressure on Oakland’s quarterbacks. Yes, the Lions were without Ezekiel Ansah and defenses don’t exactly blitz much or bring any exotic calls in the preseason, but the lack of any disruption in the Raiders’ backfield is a major cause for concern. It also confirms one of the bigger holes on the roster following Detroit’s 2018 offseason. The Lions should be better once Ansah comes back. The Lions should have some concerns considering the lack of a pass rush or interior rush pressure was a big-time concern throughout 2017. — Michael Rothstein
Maybe the game has not passed Jon Gruden by after nine years in ESPN’s Monday Night Football booth after all. Gruden, who is running the Raiders’ offense, looked completely in touch with an attack that looked light-years better than last season’s unimaginative approach. Sure, there were dinks and dunks aplenty, but, as ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick said, there were actual offensive concepts at play, as opposed to last year. And Gruden’s questioned second-round pick, defensive tackle P.J. Hall from Sam Houston State, showed up in a big way with a sack and a batted pass in his first two NFL series. — Paul Gutierrez
While rookie quarterback Josh Allen continued to show flashes in his preseason debut Thursday, he did not seem ready to leapfrog Nathan Peterman or AJ McCarron as the starter. Peterman went 9-for-9 for 119 yards and a touchdown to open the game before an interception, and McCarron went 7-for-10 for 116 yards in the second quarter. The Bills do not want to rush Allen’s development and neither McCarron nor Peterman gave them a reason to Thursday night. — Mike Rodak
A solid first test for the Carolina quarterbacks as new offensive coordinator Norv Turner attempts to make Cam Newton into a more efficient player and find a young backup capable of winning. Newton, with a career 58.5 completion percentage, completed 66.6 percent of his pass attempts and engineered a scoring drive. Garrett Gilbert and Taylor Heinicke combined for the same percentage in the win at Buffalo. — David Newton
Aside from a Kyle Fuller pick-six that came after Bengals receiver John Ross slipped, there wasn’t much to write home about. The first-team offense looked out of sorts as Mitchell Trubisky — 2-for-4 for 4 yards — was sacked once in two series of work. Aside from Fuller’s highlight, the defense struggled to make much noise as the Bengals moved up and down the field with relative ease early. First-year head coach Matt Nagy has plenty of things to show his players on tape as they head into next week’s game in Denver. — Nick Friedell
There’s a lot to like about this Bengals offense. Outside of an Andy Dalton pick-six that could be attributed to John Ross slipping on his route, the first-team offense impressed. Joe Mixon broke two tackles and spun around for a touchdown, A.J. Green was his usual impressive self, and young receivers Ross, Tyler Boyd and Josh Malone showed there’s potential to right the ship after being one of the worst offenses in the league last year. — Katherine Terrell
Baker Mayfield talks about his first NFL preseason game against the Giants, saying he’s glad to have the experience under his belt.
After not missing a single extra point attempt all last year, kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed a PAT in the Bucs’ preseason opener against the Dolphins. A 53-yard attempt in the fourth quarter also sailed wide right, but he did manage to make 26- and 27-yard attempts. He has been consistent in practice, but given that the Bucs have had a revolving door at the position — including three kickers last year — it’s concerning. — Jenna Laine
Playing in his first game since Dec. 11, 2016, quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 4 of 6 passes for 32 yards. He played only one series, but he looked confident and functionally mobile. Most important, he came out healthy, and protection held up. A step in the right direction. — Jenna Laine
Seahawks rookie linebacker Shaquem Griffin reacts to leading all players with nine tackles in his NFL preseason debut.
Thursday’s Browns-Giants preseason contest was the first NFL game in the U.S. in which fans had the opportunity to place a legal wager from the comfort of their seats inside the stadium — on their phones. Story »
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The Browns have themselves some quarterbacks. Plural. No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield was impressive, showing playmaking ability in and out of the pocket while completing 11 of 20 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns. He displayed nice touch, command and instincts. Mayfield is obviously the Browns’ future, but current starter Tyrod Taylor also had a strong outing. Taylor completed all five of his passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. Coach Hue Jackson is going to have a decision. It’s really a matter of when he turns to Mayfield, not if. — Ryan Isley
Saquon Barkley needed just one play in Thursday’s preseason opener to show what he can add to the Giants’ offense. His 39-yard run on his first carry put his elusiveness (he avoided three tackles) and big-play ability on full display. That should have coach Pat Shurmur scheming and make the Giants’ offense scary, especially when Barkley eventually gets on the field in Week 1 with Odell Beckham Jr., who did not play Thursday. — Jordan Raanan
The preseason opener deepens the quarterback intrigue behind Ben Roethlisberger. Josh Dobbs looks ready to make things interesting after showcasing his big arm on a touchdown strike to camp standout Damoun Patterson. Mason Rudolph appeared in control of the offense and made some solid throws but couldn’t find the end zone and struggled with ball security, a theme for him early in training camp. Landry Jones is very much the leader for the top backup job unless it’s taken from him over the final three weeks. — Jeremy Fowler
Eagles rookie tight end Dallas Goedert continues to look the part. He had four catches for 66 yards and a touchdown in the preseason opener. He has had a strong training camp as well. If Goedert stays on this track, coach Doug Pederson is going to find a role for the second-round pick out of South Dakota State. — Tim McManus
The backup QBs took center stage in New Orleans’ preseason opener while Drew Brees took the night off. Veteran newcomer Tom Savage was just OK as he started and completed a conservative 10 of 14 passes for 70 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Second-year pro Taysom Hill was more dynamic, completing 8 of 9 passes for 72 yards and running seven times for 52 yards and a TD. But he started a little shaky and might have relied on his legs a little too much. — Mike Triplett
The Jaguars traded for QB Cody Kessler in March to back up Blake Bortles and they have to feel pretty good about that move tonight. Kessler went 14-of-17 for 139 yards and a TD. Bortles has been durable, but not having the experienced Chad Henne was a gamble. This team is built to make a Super Bowl run and now they should feel a lot better if Bortles were to miss extended time. — Mike DiRocco
The Redskins couldn’t hold onto a 17-0 lead. But that’s irrelevant to individual performances by their young players in particular. Running back Derrius Guice and nose tackle Tim Settle in particular jumped out, and receivers Maurice Harris and Robert Davis had moments. So, too, did linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton, corners Greg Stroman and Danny Johnson, and safety Kenny Ladler. However, it’ll be injury updates to Guice and defensive end Matt Ioannidis that will determine the success or failure of their preseason opener. — John Keim
No Tom Brady, no Rob Gronkowski and no sign of the Patriots that have been a perennial Super Bowl contender in Thursday night’s preseason opener against Washington. With Brady and Gronkowski among those getting the night off, the offense was led by Brian Hoyer and it struggled mightily in the first half, with Bill Belichick saying there was about 38 seconds of good football. The biggest bright spot was running back Jeremy Hill, who increased his chances to make the team over Mike Gillislee. Meanwhile, the defense looked similar to the last time it took the field in the Super Bowl, as a lack of speed showed up, and showed that the unit has a lot of work to do. — Mike Reiss
Jared Goff and Todd Gurley wore sweats on the sideline during the Rams’ loss. Sean McVay elected to sit not only his top playmakers, but his entire starting lineup (with the exception of right guard Jamon Brown, outside linebacker Samson Ebukam and specialists) in the preseason opener. After two joint practices with the Ravens earlier in the week, McVay said he wanted to avoid the risk of injuries. But the backups struggled — especially on offense. Sean Mannion played the first half (3-for-13 for 16 yards, INT), and Brandon Allen (10-for-15 for 73 yards, TD) in the second. The biggest bright spot came from the running back position, where second-year pro Justin Davis and rookie John Kelly are competing for the No. 3 spot. Both looked sharp and Kelly broke for a 40-yard run late in the game. The defense appeared out of sync as it gave up 403 total yards. — Lindsey Thiry
Ravens first-round pick Lamar Jackson looked more comfortable than in his NFL debut a week ago, leading Baltimore to scores on half of his eight drives against the Rams (three field goals and one touchdown). His best play was a highlight-reel, 9-yard run in which he faked out two Rams defenders to reach the end zone. Jackson still needs to be more consistent with his throws. He completed 7 of 18 passes (39 percent) for 119 yards. But the Ravens have to be pleased with how Jackson limited his mistakes. This was a solid step forward for Jackson, who is looking to beat out Robert Griffin III to become Joe Flacco‘s backup for the start of the regular season. — Jamison Hensley
Quarterback Deshaun Watson played for the first time since he tore his ACL in early November. He played only one series and completed one pass for 4 yards, but he achieved the most important goal for the Texans: exiting the game without an injury. — Sarah Barshop
Any concern over what the Chiefs might get this season from their cornerbacks won’t be eased by the game against the Texans. Houston’s backup quarterback, Brandon Weeden, was 9-of-11 for 97 yards and two touchdowns, some of that work coming against Kansas City’s starters. Third corner David Amerson had a particularly rough game. He had two penalties against a backup, Sammie Coates. One was for holding and the other for pass interference that went for 27 yards. The Chiefs lost five of their top six cornerbacks from last year in terms of playing time. The most notable loss was their top corner, Marcus Peters, who was traded to the Rams. — Adam Teicher
Offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur’s debut with Marcus Mariota at QB was a success. Mariota’s only drive featured five runs (one by Mariota) and three passes. The Titans scored easily, going 71 yards in eight plays. They’ll look to carry the momentum into joint practices before next week’s game vs. Tampa Bay. — Turron Davenport
There wasn’t much that could be learned about the Packers’ new-look defense — not with seven potential starters sitting out and with new coordinator Mike Pettine rarely blitzing, so the biggest takeaway had to be the play of the backup quarterbacks. Brett Hundley showed heretofore unseen deep-ball accuracy, hitting Davante Adams in stride for a 48-yard play, and made quicker decisions on the way to a 9-of-14, 108-yard, one-touchdown, one-interception (that wasn’t completely his fault) night. Likewise, DeShone Kizer looked more comfortable in his two drives, giving the Packers hope that Aaron Rodgers‘ backups have improved. Even undrafted rookie QB Tim Boyle threw a pair of TD passes. — Rob Demovsky
Dianna Russini explains the Jets’ locker room reaction to Sam Darnold’s NFL preseason debut on Friday night.
All eyes were on quarterback Andrew Luck in the preseason opener — his first game since Week 17 of the 2016 season. There were more glimpses than actual eye-opening plays out of Luck against the Seahawks, though. Luck was 6-of-9 for 64 yards in two series that ended with field goals. The most important thing to come out of Thursday was that Luck entered and departed the game without having any issues with his surgically repaired right shoulder. — Mike Wells
What a boost it would be if rookies Rasheem Green (third round) and Jake Martin (sixth) can provide some pass-rush the way they did in the team’s preseason opener. Green (1.5 sacks) is expected to play quite a bit in a rotational role, including as an interior rusher in passing situations. Martin (half sack) has had a nice start to camp and is looking like more and more of a good bet to make the team. With Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril gone, and Dion Jordan out indefinitely because of a leg injury, the biggest question mark on Seattle’s defense is who aside from Frank Clark can generate pressure. The Seahawks should feel encouraged by what they saw from Green and Martin as well as veteran Barkevious Mingo, who had a sack as well. — Brady Henderson
In eight padded practices of training camp, the Cowboys’ offense struggled to make big plays in the passing game, so when Michael Gallup ran under a Dak Prescott deep ball for a 30-yard score on the quarterback’s only drive, it was a much-needed positive. The Cowboys will have to come up with big plays through the air in the regular season to keep defenses honest with how much work Ezekiel Elliott will get running the ball. Prescott has the arm strength for the deep ball but he needs to be more consistent with the placement. The receivers have to do a better job giving him space to land the ball outside, too. — Todd Archer
There’s nothing more important in a preseason game than coming out of it as healthy as possible, at least when it comes to your starters. To that end, the 49ers had something of a disastrous night. Despite planning to play their starters for only a series or two, the Niners watched as three projected starters and two key backups departed with various ailments. Linebacker Malcolm Smith (hamstring), tight end George Kittle (shoulder), defensive lineman Solomon Thomas (head), running back Matt Breida (shoulder) and tackle Garry Gilliam (head) left because of injuries and did not return. The extent of those injuries remains to be seen, but it’s still alarming to see so many of them this early, especially given how many health issues the 49ers dealt with last season. — Nick Wagoner