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Lessons learned from Thursday night's games

Those two nights without football were rough. It was nice to ease back into the football weekend with a pair of games Thursday night. Here's what we learned:

» Brandon Weeden took a step forward overall in his second preseason start. There was a lot to like, although his night would have looked a lot different if the Packers had held on to a pair of possible interceptions after some poor decisions by Weeden.

» The Packers are going to play Aaron Rodgers the minimium amount possible in the preseason. Green Bay's timing was slightly off on a few plays, but the touchdown throw and catch to Jordy Nelson was a thing of beauty.

» Injured Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop's replacement, D.J. Smith, was all over the field.

» The numbers weren't flashy, but Browns running back Montario Hardesty showed great burst while running for 45 yards and a score in the first half. He also lost a fumble. The third-year-pro entered camp on the roster bubble, but now looks like a competent fill-in for Trent Richardson. Cleveland's offensive line played well.

» A brutal night for Packers backup quarterback Graham Harrell combined with a nice effort by Browns backup Colt McCoy created a lot of dot-connecting in Green Bay and beyond. Harrell is running out of time to show he can step into this role. His protection was poor, but he's not calm in the pocket. His first 16 plays behind center created 19 yards. That was before he threw a pick six and the safety he took. (A receiver fell on the interception.)

Although we think the Packers are most likely to stand pat, they could acquire a quarterback like McCoy (or Tarvaris Jackson?) on the cheap.

» Andy Dalton threw three straight passes that showed off his much-disputed arm strength, including a 50-yard score to A.J. Green. And then Dalton crowed about it.

"My arm feels great," Dalton said, "and you can tell everybody that it's not even close to what I've got if I need it."

That's fantastic. (Although Green elevates Dalton's play, not the other way around.)

» The Falcons are not messing around in the preseason. Matt Ryan's numbers in Atlanta's new up-tempo offense through two preseason weeks: 27-for-34 for 329 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He looks very smooth in the new system. Everything is pointing to a big year for Ryan and Julio Jones.

» Cincinnati's injury problems continued. Tight end Jermaine Gresham left with a knee injury, although it's not believed to be serious. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who has impressed in camp, left with a head injury.

» Tony Gonzalez -- the "Mariano Rivera of tight ends" according to Dan Hanzus -- looked ageless as ever with three grabs for 44 yards.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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