What we learned: Bradford, Taylor have strong games

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  • By Dan Hanzus, Marc Sessler, Conor Orr, Gregg Rosenthal and Tyler Dragon
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For most NFL starters, the preseason essentially ended on Saturday night. Some key players will suit up for a series or two in the fourth week of the preseason, but many more will start preparing for the season opener. The hay is in the barn.

Saturday was relatively uneventful, which is great news. It appears we avoided catastrophic injuries, and many of the same themes we've seen the last two weeks continued. Sam Bradford was nearly perfect while directing three touchdown drives.

Tyrod Taylor did everything possible to cement a starting job, although EJ Manuel also played great. Peyton Manning continued to look a little uncomfortable in Gary Kubiak's offense, while Kirk Cousins had an effective audition for the Week 1 starting job in Washington.

You know the preseason is nearly over when Rex Ryan finally will make a decision about his starting quarterback. He's going to inform his quarterbacks on Sunday, but not tell the media. So we'll just wait for the inevitable leak out of Buffalo, and start looking ahead to Week 1. It's finally that time of year.

Cleveland Browns 31, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7


1. Jameis Winston showed plenty of promise last week against the Bengals, but Cleveland's defense created all sorts of problems for Tampa Bay's rookie quarterback. The No. 1 overall pick threw for just 21 yards over his first four drives before handing the ball to Doug Martin for a 19-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Winston really had no chance early against a Browns defensive front that chalked up two sacks right away and saw defensive lineman Desmond Bryant dominate first-year Bucs guard Ali Marpet.

2. Josh McCown enjoyed his best drive of the preseason in the first quarter, guiding Cleveland on a 16-play, 80-yard march that ate nine-plus minutes off the clock before the veteran passer lobbed a 3-yard touchdown strike to Brian Hartline. McCown was mostly mistake-free, finishing with 17-of-23 passing for 117 yards with two touchdowns. With Terrelle Pryor still packaged away in bubble wrap, Cleveland's uninspiring cast of pass-catchers lacks a difference-maker, but Travis Benjamin has enjoyed a nice camp. He made a string of clutch grabs and opened the scoring with a saucy 53-yard punt return.

3. Football fans were again prevented from seeing rookie Duke Johnson. The Browns running back was yanked from action by trainers, who evaluated the third-rounder for a concussion. It's a frustrating situation for offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, who has barely had Johnson on the field during camp. The first snaps went to Isaiah Crowell, who finished with 27 yards off eight totes compared to 26 yards off seven rushes for Terrance West. This unpredictable committee-based backfield is destined to drive Fantasy Heads nutty all season.

-- Marc Sessler

New York Jets 28, New York Giants 18


1. The Giants' offense had their most competent drive of the preseason, a 14-play opus that spanned almost 90 yards midway through the second quarter. For a brief moment in time, everything looked stable. Then Eli Manning, attempting to lead a last-minute scoring drive at the half, threw a completely telegraphed pick-six intended for James Jones that was walked across the goal line by Antonio Cromartie. At least Odell Beckham had his first catch of the preseason. Watching the Cowboys and Giants on split screen, it was jarring to see two organizations with similar philosophies look so different. An example? Manning getting downed by Jets defensive tackle Leger Douzable off a four-man rush. Romo, around the same time, spent 5.27 seconds rambling around in the pocket before finding an open Lucky Whitehead for a TD strike.

2. On defense, the Giants' struggles were illustrated nicely on a clean touchdown strike from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Eric Decker. Safety Jeromy Miles, a six-year vet, was caught out of position and Decker slid right into an empty pocket of space. It says a lot about the team's roster construction that Stevie Brown, recently cut by the Houston Texans, will probably be a Week 1 starter for this team assuming all goes well with his physical. General manager Jerry Reese has done well in the face of criticism before -- especially criticism stemming from certain decisions not to address certain positions in free agency or the draft -- but the safety spot might truly sting the Giants this year. There had to be a better backup plan for losing out on Devin McCourty in free agency. The Jets know this, too, and weren't shy about testing the Giants deep early.

3. Brandon Marshall's declaration that he feels better than ever this preseason set off plenty of trope alerts, but he might actually be right. The dynamic wideout was especially smooth on an adjustment route that required a tight cut into open space in the first half. The Giants certainly respected his ability to go deep as well.

4. The Jets could have the deepest stable of running backs in the AFC, and even if Zac Stacy doesn't entice, there's no question plenty of teams (ahem, Dallas) were watching that screen pass he took in for a touchdown at the end of the first half. Is he above replacement level? Perhaps. Is he a competent running back that can handle 10-12 carries on Sunday and pick up first downs? Absolutely.

5. Jets kicker Nick Folk became the latest kicker to duff a long extra point. If this becomes a regular occurrence, the quality of games will be exponentially better. Drama!

-- Conor Orr

Minnesota Vikings 28, Dallas Cowboys 14


1. Teddy Bridgewater ducked out fairly early, but we're not sure anyone in Minnesota will have a problem with it. The budding franchise quarterback finished 7 of 7 and not just on check-down throws. Bridgewater hit a streaking Mike Wallace down the right sideline for 39 yards toward the end of the first quarter to set up a field goal -- something Wallace's old quarterback wasn't able to do consistently.

But it wasn't just the touch passes. Bridgewater is maturing in the pocket as much as he's becoming a more confident passer. Facing a formidable Cowboys rush, it was refreshing to see Bridgewater bury himself toward the line of scrimmage and keep his team in range for points.

2. Dallas' offensive line might be becoming a better pass-blocking unit, too. Though they'll stake their reputation on the running game, this is a team that might need to lean a little more on Tony Romo this season. Romo's ability to keep plays alive could finally mesh with extended time in the pocket.

This might be why the Cowboys have been fairly careful with inserting La'el Collins into their offensive line. Collins did not start and did not play in the first half on Saturday with chemistry serving as the most important reason.

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3. Completely understand the Vikings' reticence with Cordarrelle Patterson, but my goodness, he is the most athletic player on the field every time he leaves the bench. It is a type of Tavon Austin situation that has to be taken care of so as not to waste Patterson's prime years.

Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner and head coach Mike Zimmer mentioned a certain precision lacking in his routes. But just look at this kick return! Something has to give.

4. Terrance Williams looked brilliant again, especially on the 60-yard touchdown pass from Romo. On that in-route, Williams roasted five Vikings defenders on his way to the end zone. Seeing the 25-year-old develop during his third season will be fascinating. It might not surprise anyone to see him improve on last year's career-best eight touchdowns.

5. As we mentioned here, Darren McFadden took the lead in Dallas' running back competition, but we might not know how significant it was until his performance is evaluated Sunday. Injuries will always be the No. 1 question with McFadden, but he did answer some lingering questions about how much burst -- if at all -- he has left.

-- Conor Orr

Seattle Seahawks 16, San Diego Chargers 15


1. Russell Wilson struggled. The Seahawks passer threw for just 35 yards in the first half as Seattle went into the break with an uncharacteristic 80 total yards of offense and just four first downs. Wilson's first six dropbacks included an intentional grounding call, two scrambles and a hit on the quarterback as he threw.

The Seahawks held the ball for just 8:07 of the first half and looked out of sync from the start. Finishing 7 of 15 for a measly 56 yards, Wilson was far from sharp and showed a lack of chemistry with tight end Jimmy Graham.

2. San Diego's offense owned the time of possession early, but Chargers fans have reason to be concerned with the ground game. After averaging 2.0 yards per carry against the Cardinals last week, San Diego's starters amassed just 2.9 yards per tote in the first half against Seattle. We're still waiting for presumed workhorse Melvin Gordon's big breakout.

After chalking up just 11 yards off six attempts against the Cowboys in Week 1 of the preseason, Gordon -- who didn't play last week -- produced 34 yards at just 2.4 yards per rush. He looked better between the tackles, but Gordon hasn't exactly popped off the screen this month.

3. What's not to like about Tyler Lockett? Seattle's rookie wideout torched the Bolts with a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter. With two special-teams scores this preseason, the third-rounder has shown immediate playmaking ability. Stevie Johnson, meanwhile, looks like a nice fit for Philip Rivers and the Bolts.

Bonus takeaway: Rivers hit the thumb of his throwing hand on a defender's helmet in the first half, but laughed it off. He's fine.

-- Marc Sessler

Washington Redskins 31, Baltimore Ravens 13


1. If this was Kirk Cousins' audition, he did just fine. The quarterback -- a surprise starter after Robert Griffin III failed to get medical clearance from an independent neurologist -- recovered from an early Terrell Suggs interception to lead Washington on two second-quarter touchdown drives. Afterwards, coach Jay Gruden praised Cousins' performance but said no decisions would be made until they sorted out Griffin's unclear medical situation.

2. Quite an eventful preseason outing for Steve Smith. The ageless veteran showed off his ever-sneaky jets on a 64-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the first quarter, then got ejected for fighting with ex-49ers cornerback Chris Culliver.

The fracas started after Redskins linebacker Keenan Robinson delivered a WWE-style tackle on Ravens receiver Kamar Aiken. Culliver should consider himself very lucky that Smith didn't get to finish the job.

3. We learned before the game that Redskins left tackle Trent Williams signed a five-year extension that makes him the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history. On Saturday night, we were reminded how important Williams is to Washington's offensive line.

The Redskins did not allow a sack, a week after Griffin took a vicious beating that led to a diagnosed concussion. Williams sat out that game with a sore toe.

-- Dan Hanzus

Miami Dolphins 13, Atlanta Falcons 9


1. The Dolphins got a huge scare when Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey was forced to exit in the first quarter after suffering a knee injury. He'll have an MRI on his knee Sunday, but sounded supremely confident the scan will come back clean. "I ain't concerned at all," Pouncey said, via ESPN.com. "I will be back in practice next week, and I ain't missing any games. So you don't have to worry about that."

2. A troubling night for the Falcons' offensive line, which gave up four sacks in the first half. Matt Ryan was brought down three times, which is way too much contact for August football. In the O-line's defense, these were Ryan's first three sacks of the preseason. Also, Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake were involved, which probably warrants mentioning.

3. Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry turned heads with a 46-yard reception in the second quarter that showcased the crafty second-year man's ability to make defenders miss in open space. Landry finished the night with five catches for 84 yards and showed a nice rapport with Ryan Tannehill. This Dolphins offense might be ready to make the leap.

-- Dan Hanzus

Indianapolis Colts 24, St. Louis Rams 14


1. Despite a lot of penalties from his teammates and poor protection, Nick Foles did quite well to complete 10-of-11 passes for 128 yards and a pretty 44-yard touchdown to Chris Givens.

2. Aaron Donald appears to be in midseason form, including one sequence where he dominated the Colts line to get in the backfield on three straight plays.

3. High-priced Colts defensive tackle Art Jones left with an ankle injury on the second play of the game and left the stadium in a boot. The Colts' thin defense can ill afford to lose him.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

Philadelphia Eagles 39, Green Bay Packers 26


1. It's safe to say Chip Kelly's team is prepared for the regular season. After scoring 76 points the last two weeks, the Eagles blitzed the Packers' starting defense to the tune of 39 points in the first half. Sam Bradford had three touchdowns in three drives without an incompletion. His steady progress is the story of the preseason in Philadelphia.

2. Barring a Matt Barkley trade, the Tim Tebow experiment could be ending soon. He failed to convert two tries at a two-point conversion, and fumbled a snap in limited work.

3. Green Bay has more injuries to worry about: Randall Cobb suffered a shoulder injury, and defensive back Micah Hyde had a neck spasm.

4. The Packers didn't start Aaron Rodgers, but Brett Hundley looked fantastic playing the majority of the game. The Packers might have found their long-term backup quarterback; he finished with 315 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick on 31 throws. 

-- Gregg Rosenthal

Buffalo Bills 43, Pittsburgh Steelers 19


1. Rex Ryan said he'll choose his starting quarterback on Sunday. It's hard to imagine it not being Tyrod Taylor, who delivered his third-straight solid performance of the preseason. EJ Manuel also played extremely well, but Taylor has been the best man for the job this month. Matt Cassel didn't do much in his time on the field, and appears to be on the outside looking in. Then again, we've given up trying to read Ryan in this QB competition.

2. Ryan had to be scratching his head watching Michael Vick thrive in his Steelers debut. Vick -- who struggled under Ryan with the Jets last season -- delivered a beautiful rainbow deep ball for a 63-yard completion in his first throw as a Steeler.


Vick clearly needs more time with the playbook, as evidenced when he was forced to burn two timeouts in one series, but he showed a surprising lack of rust considering he spent months unattached to an NFL team.

3. Martavis Bryant delivered a dominant first-half performance with receptions of 63, 36 and 39 yards, including one score. He also drew two pass-interference penalties, all against Buffalo's first-team defense. This is what the Steelers will miss if Bryant's four-game suspension holds.

-- Dan Hanzus

Denver Broncos 19, San Francisco 49ers 12


1. The Denver Broncos look to be going with a much more balanced offensive attack this season, which bodes well for the longevity of Peyton Manning. Yet their offense was out of sync during Saturday's win against the San Francisco 49ers, but that's why they play preseason games.

Manning was average against the San Francisco 49ers' defense. He threw an interception while trying to force a ball to Demaryius Thomas, and later missed tight end Owen Daniels wide open in the end zone. Manning finished 14 of 21 for 124 yards with one interception. The team did finish with 110 yards rushing with a running back-by-committee approach.

2. Some of the Broncos' struggles on offense can be attributed to their offensive line. Manning was on the ground far too often. He was sacked three times and twice by NaVorro Bowman in the first quarter. Gary Kubiak has to be concerned with Denver's pass protection heading into the regular season.

3. The 49ers have endured a historically bad offseason, but Bowman is doing his best to make San Francisco fans forget about the drama with the team. Bowman was all over the field for the Niners in the first half. The linebacker had nine total tackles, including two sacks. Bowman was the best player on the field.

4. We're still waiting to see the improvements made by Colin Kaepernick. There were rumblings this offseason that the quarterback looked different after working with Kurt Warner over the summer. Yet the fifth-year quarterback showed some of the same flaws that plagued him last season. He still locks in on his primary target and holds on to the ball too long.


Completing a pass was a struggle for Kaepernick. He finished just 2 of 5 for 13 yards. While Kaepernick was ineffective with his arm, he did hurt the Broncos with his legs. The Nevada product had a couple of nice runs. But his ability to pass from the pocket still leaves much to be desired.

-- Tyler Dragon

Cincinnati Bengals 21, Chicago Bears 10


1. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said Andy Dalton's neck injury, which came after a fourth-and-goal QB sneak for a touchdown, is a non-issue and that removing him from the game was simply a precaution. Still, the Bengals might have wanted to get more than 16 plays out of their starter for the night, especially after a performance to forget against the Buccaneers last week.

2. Jay Cutler has quietly been one of the better quarterbacks this preseason statistically. However, this has not manifested itself in points -- as in any points for Bears offensive starters this preseason.

We've seen teams carry this malaise into the regular season plenty of times. We've also seen teams like the 2014 Giants come out and score in droves after a miserable preseason. The problem in Chicago, of course, is that Cutler isn't exactly Eli Manning.

3. Part of the Bears' problem? Alshon Jeffery hasn't practiced in almost three weeks after sustaining a calf injury, and he didn't play Saturday. As first-round pick Kevin White undergoes a potentially season-ending procedure, Chicago has to be wondering what happened to its initial vision for this offense.

-- Conor Orr

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