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Rookie uprising: 29 takeaways from Saturday's games

  • By Gregg Rosenthal, Chris Wesseling and Kevin Patra
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The busiest night of the second preseason week was chock full of injuries, quarterback battles and wacky endings. But the biggest impression was made by an explosive rookie class of defensive players.

Houston Texans No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney blew up the Falcons backfield in back-to-back plays that have to be seen by any self-respecting football fan. Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier filled a month's worth of plays into one half of action, including an interception that made him look like a safety. Jets safety Calvin Pryor wasn't quite as dynamic, but he was all over the field Saturday in Cincinnati in the run game and as a pass defender.

Johnny Drama aside, the chock-full 2014 draft was notable for its deep receiver class and loaded defensive playmakers. On Saturday night, we got a taste of what's to come when the real games start.

Here's what else you need to know from Saturday's eight contests:

Houston Texans 32, Atlanta Falcons 7


1. The biggest news here was the loss of Falcons starting left tackle Sam Baker to a right knee injury. He was clearly emotional and seriously injured as he was carted off the field. The Falcons might have to move No. 6 overall pick Jake Matthews over to left tackle. (Matthews struggled with speed rushes Saturday night.)

2. Jadeveon Clowney continues to make splash plays. On successive plays, he de-cleated Falcons running back Antone Smith for a loss, and then got to Matt Ryan for a lightning-fast sack. Clowney didn't stay on the field long, but it's impossible to take your eyes off him when he's on the field.

3. It was good to see Julio Jones back on the field. He looked like his normal self in limited work.

4. Ryan Fitzpatrick looked much better this week, doing Fitzmagic-like things while directing two touchdown drives. Tom Savage was second in the rotation and did not look NFL-ready. Case Keenum played well and should be the backup here, but Fitzpatrick solidified his starting job.

Baltimore Ravens 37, Dallas Cowboys 30


1. Tony Romo looks just fine. In his first action since back surgery, Romo was sharp in limited work. He connected on a 31-yard touchdown strike to Dez Bryant. The Cowboys can now breathe a sigh of relief.

2. Ray Rice left the game after only two carries with a shoulder bruise, and coach John Harbaugh indicated after the game it wasn't serious. Bernard Pierce started over Rice and looked strong again for the second straight week. Rice has also looked much quicker than a season ago. Call it the Gary Kubiak effect.

3. The Cowboys' starting defense bounced back somewhat. They only gave up 45 yards and three points in their first three drives. (The Ravens then marched 96 yards for a score, partly against second backups.) Progress?

Miami Dolphins 20, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14


1. Gerald McCoy would get my early vote for the coveted Preseason Defensive MVP award. He might be responsible for Dolphins guard Dallas Thomas getting benched. McCoy was dominant before a strip sack of Ryan Tannehill.

2. The Bucs' starting offense was better than last week, but not that much better. They only scored when given a short field, and Josh McCown was pressured often. He was lucky not to have an interception on a throw he made when pressured. The team can't run consistently.

3. Mike Evans showed some of his physical skills after bouncing off a defender on a 41-yard catch from Mike Glennon. (Unfortunately, Evans fumbled at the one-yard line before a possible score.)

New York Jets 25, Cincinnati Bengals 17


1. Geno Smith and Michael Vick played to a draw for the second consecutive week. Smith finished 10 of 13 for 98 yards and an interception, adding a touchdown on the ground. He didn't move the offense until the Bengals' first-team defense left the field. Vick was unable to produce big plays against the Cincinnati backups. This remains Smith's job to lose.

2. The Jets' secondary issues aren't going away. Andy Dalton finished 8 of 8 for 144 yards with a perfectly thrown 43-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu, who toasted cornerback Kyle Wilson. Through two games, Dalton is 11 of 13 for 215 yards, with points on all four possessions.

3. Veteran tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis' roster spot might be safe after all. Rookie Jeremy Hill was immediately ruled out after suffering a shoulder injury.

Pittsburgh Steelers 19, Buffalo Bills 16


1. Steelers' first-round linebacker Ryan Shazier stole the show in his preseason debut, racking up nine tackles and a highly athletic interception. Boasting freakish range and natural playmaking ability, he's the perfect fit for Dick LeBeau's defense.

2. Coach Doug Marrone acknowledged that he hadn't planned to play EJ Manuel for the entire first half, but the starting quarterback stayed in with the hope that he would provide something to build on for next week. It didn't happen. Manuel is 28 of 47 (59.6 percent) for 263 yards (5.6 yards per attempt) and zero touchdowns in three preseason games.

3. Bills fans received a scare when Sammy Watkins was sent to the locker room with an injury to his ribs in the first half. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reports, however, that the electric rookie is fine and is merely dealing with a bruise.

Green Bay Packers 21, St. Louis Rams 7


1. The Packers' no-huddle offense looks to be in midseason form. The quick pace -- along with bruising runner Eddie Lacy staying on the field throughout the first seamless series -- helped give Aaron Rodgers all day to throw. This offense could be even more devastating than previous years.

2. Sam Bradford looked good in his first game action in 300 days. After a couple high tosses the quarterback threw some great balls, including a beautiful tight-window strike for a touchdown.

3. Tre Mason has a long way to go if he wants to eat into Zac Stacy's carries. The rookie showed some flashes, but slipped several times and averaged a poor 2.5 yards per carry on 12 runs, mostly with the backups. His pass protection was even worse. Reserve runner Isaiah Pead, meanwhile, appears to have torn his ACL.

4. Michael Sam recorded a sack as he bids to make the roster.

New York Giants 27, Indianapolis Colts 26


1. Through three preseason games in Ben McAdoo's new offense, Eli Manning is 7 of 16 (43.8 percent) for 49 yards (3.06 yards per attempt) and zero touchdowns. He looked downright bad against the Colts, showing hesitation and lacking accuracy. The Giants will want to see signs of progress in next week's regular-season audition.

2. Undrafted rookie Corey Washington hauled in the game-winning catch for the third week in a row. The former Newberry College star has opened eyes in training camp with his Victor Cruz impersonation.

3. Trent Richardson has moments of decisiveness to inspire hope but still reverts back to stutter-stepping too often. Just like last season, he isn't getting much help from his offensive line.

4. Hakeem Nicks looks reinvigorated in Indianapolis. He led the Colts with five catches and 53 yards. It would have been six for 89 had he not earned a taunting penalty that negated a 36-yard catch-and-run and raised the ire of coach Chuck Pagano. With Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton sitting as healthy scratches, Nicks was joined by rookie Donte Moncrief and slot receiver Griff Whalen on the first-team offense.

Minnesota Vikings 30, Arizona Cardinals 28


1. Teddy Bridgewater was much improved this week, but it's likely too little, too late for the rookie. Matt Cassel was excellent for the second consecutive game, finishing with a 125.3 passer rating while leading three first-half scoring drives. Cassel is a stellar 17 of 22 for 215 yards and a touchdown so far.

2. A streamlined Kyle Rudolph is showing an extra gear this season, as NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah pointed out. He paced the Vikings' attack with 89 yards and a long touchdown on four receptions. He could have had another score if not for a drop in the back of the end zone. Rudolph is primed for a breakout season in Norv Turner's tight end-friendly offense.

3. Playmaking rookie John Brown managed just one reception for 22 yards on two targets for the Cardinals. JaRon Brown continued a strong summer of his own with two big catches for 86 yards.

4. Jonathan Dwyer was the between-the-tackles complement to Andre Ellington with the first-team offense. Dwyer also got the goal-line love on the Cardinals' opening drive, while Stepfan Taylor was relegated to a backup role.

The latest "Around the League Podcast" talks quarterback battles and debates the gang's preseason power rankings.

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