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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
-- Conor Orr
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- If this was Kirk Cousins' audition, he did just fine. The quarterback -- a surprise starter after Robert Griffin IIIfailed 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.
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
- 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."
- 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.
- 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
-- Gregg Rosenthal
- 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 Bradfordhad three touchdowns in three drives without an incompletion. His steady progress is the story of the preseason in Philadelphia.
-- Gregg Rosenthal
- 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.
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.
-- Dan Hanzus
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 Danielswide 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.
- 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.
- 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.
-- Tyler Dragon
- 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.
- 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