Eighteen teams were in action Saturday for Week 3 of the preseason. Here are the five big takeaways:
*Here's what else we learned Saturday: *
- After appearing invincible in August, Atlanta's starting offense encountered difficulties against the Cardinals. Matt Ryan's first-ever pass in the gloriously unveiled Mercedes-Benz Stadium was tipped high into the air before tumbling into the hands of revived Arizona cover man Tyrann Mathieu. Ryan nearly threw a second pick during the following drive on a deep shot to Taylor Gabriel, who gave up on the route and allowed Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson to nearly come down with the air-mailed rope. Ryan (4 of 11 for 36 yards) later missed on a looping deep shot to Julio Jones before failing to convert a fourth-and-2 lob to Terron Ward. It was impressive to watch Tevin Coleman slice through Arizona for key yardage on the ground and through the air, but Atlanta hardly put on a show.
- The fate of Arizona's passing game boils down to John Brown producing a healthy, productive season after a lost campaign in 2016. We finally saw Brown break out on Saturday night, opening up the scoring with a 28-yard touchdown catch off a beautifully unfurled rainbow by Carson Palmer. The Cardinals quarterback has struggled to sync up with his pass-catchers this preseason, but it's hard to worry about this offense when (a) Mr. Everything David Johnson has barely seen the field and (b) Brown, until tonight, has been kept in hiding. The 27-year-old target is admittedly not 100 percent, but the Cardinals finally have some positive game tape from their most important wideout.
-- Marc Sessler
- DeShone Kizer was obviously the focal point of Cleveland's performance, but eyes should really be trained on Corey Coleman. The second-year wideout quickly established a rapport with Kizer, making a diving catch to grab a well-placed pass from the quarterback and move the chains. He made a leaping grab, again on third down in the second quarter, to extend another possession. All three of his completions from Kizer went for 11 or more yards, especially impressive on a sloppy night. While Cleveland's new addition at the position, Kenny Britt, dropped a ball to allow a drive to stall (it was pouring rain, so we give him somewhat of a break), Coleman shined. Kizer will need a reliable target as he continues to develop, and for the first time, Coleman looked like that target.
- It was a rough night offensively for Tampa Bay. In a steady downpour, the Buccaneers had every drive but their last of the first half stall out at one point. The opening possession, a promising march down the field, ended abruptly when Winston's errant throw (perhaps caused by the wet conditions) was intercepted in the end zone by Jabrill Peppers. A good amount of credit is due to Gregg Williams' Browns defense, but the blame also is split by the Buccaneers missing Mike Evans and Desean Jackson. At halftime, head coach Dirk Koetter lamented his unit's inability to make progress on early downs, often resulting in third-and-a-mile situations. His displeasure was evident when Jameis Winston remained on the field for the first possession of the third quarter. On the bright side, Winston did execute an efficient two-minute drill at the end of the first half, resulting in a 31-yard Nick Folk field goal to knot things up at halftime.
-- Nick Shook
- West of Florham Park, the Colts house the NFL's most concerning quarterback situation until Andrew Luck returns, but understudy Scott Tolzien showed signs of improvement. Following two horrifying starts, the 29-year-old backup played with more derring-do on Saturday night, completing his first pass to Donte Moncrief, who hauled in the ball on a slant and broke away from defenders for a 55-yard gain. Tolzien later whipped a pretty 32-yarder downfield to Phillip Dorsett, but also hurt the team with an ugly pick that saw speedy Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier jump the telegraphed throw. The Colts are doomed if Tolzien starts games that matter, but he wasn't the NFL's worst quarterback on Saturday night.
- Martavis Bryant beat Rashaan Melvin down the sideline but couldn't catch up with an overthrown pass in the red zone from backup Steelers signal-caller Landry Jones. The frisky, back-from-suspension wideout played into the second half, managing just 23 yards off five grabs, with two of those catches going for negative yardage. Still, what conclusions should we confidently draw from an attack that rolled out Knile Davis and Roosevelt Nix in place of August phantom-back Le'Veon Bell? For his part, Davis ran well before rookie James Conner took over in the second half to pound away at the Colts for 26 yards at 6.5 yards per pop.
-- Marc Sessler
- Eli Manning looked like he had the Giants ready to finally break the touchdown drought on the opening possession, but New York's offensive line was lurking, again waiting to ruin a good thing. The culprit this time was John Jerry, who was "manhandled" -- Bob Papa's word, not mine -- by Sheldon Richardson, who hit Manning as he threw, resulting in an underthrown pass to an open Roger Lewis and a Jets interception at the 3. Close, but no cigar yet again.
The most important takeaway was the performance of the Giants' defense. Landon Collins jumped a telegraphed pass into the flats from Christian Hackenberg, returning it for a score. Jason Pierre-Paul blew through the line to tackle Matt Forte in the end zone for a safety. And defensive back Donte Deayon grabbed a pick of his own -- Hackenberg's second of the night -- and housed it. Much like last season, the strength of Big Blue is on the defensive side.
- Christian Hackenberg seemed destined for another season of games spent wearing an earpiece and a ballcap after his first-half performance. The second-year passer threw an ugly pick-six early (the aforementioned one to Collins) and was consistently bad for much of his time with the first team. Bryce Petty took over in the second half and practically lit the city on fire with his arm, completing 15 of 18 passes for 250 yards and three scores as the Jets' reserves stormed back into contention. To cap off the hilarious oddity that has been the Jets' quarterback competition, when Petty was sidelined with a knee injury, it was Hackenberg who returned to throw his own touchdown pass to bring the Jets within one of a tie with less than two minutes to play. The two-point conversion wasn't good, sending the Jets home with a loss, and providing less clarity than ever for the quarterback position. Petty had the strongest showing this week, but is headed for an MRI on Sunday. Hackenberg was quite bad early, then rebounded late against lesser opponents. Josh McCown didn't see the field. Where this is headed, no one knows.
-- Nick Shook
- Tyrod Taylor ended his preseason with a concussion. The Bills quarterback exited the game after getting his head banged on the turf after a sack on the second drive of the game. Taylor struggled before exiting. He completed his first pass for one yard. Taylor's next pass on third down was high with pressure in his face to end the drive. On the second drive, Taylor had a pass batted down at the line, fumbled a snap, and was sacked. He'll have to pass concussion protocol before being cleared for Week 1. In three games in the preseason, Taylor went 14-of-29 passing for 100 yards (3.44 YPA), zero touchdowns and two interceptions.
Rookie Nathan Peterman took over and didn't do much better against Ravens starters. Peterman's first four drives went for 11 net yards -- not helped by the offensive line and penalties. Peterman made some hay when Baltimore's backups entered, leading the Bills only touchdown drive of the night. Like most rookies, he struggled for stretches, but Peterman looks comfortable in the pocket and is not rattled by pressure. He has done enough to lock down the backup job (and will likely get Bills Mafia chanting for him to start). He finished the up-and-down night with 4.0 yards per attempt, completing 11 of 23 passes for 93 yards. Regardless of who starts the season under center, this offense looks like it will be painful to watch in 2017.
- Ryan Mallett once again put on an unenthusiastic, pedestrian performance. Unable to find the touch down the field, Mallett is relegated to short dumps. He went 6-of-10 passing for 58 yards in just over a quarter of play. Undrafted quarterback Josh Woodrum took over with 11:50 in the second quarter. John Harbaugh wanted to get a look at the green quarterback against first- and second-teamers. It wasn't pretty. Woodrum missed badly on a deep ball to a wide-open Mike Wallace on his first drive, and followed that with a fourth-down snap flying through his hands. Things didn't get better for the athletic passer, who isn't ready for regular-season play. The Ravens' backup quarterback situation is disastrous. Pray Joe Flacco gets and stays healthy the entire of 2017 season.
-- Kevin Patra
- The Saints cooked up another intriguing showing on defense. Tom Savage's four drives on the night produced 91 yards and four punts for the Texans, but that came without Houston's top three wideouts on the field. Solid coverage from Saints first-round cornerback Marshon Lattimore, run-stuffing prowess from Sheldon Rankins, pocket havoc by Cameron Jordan and a vastly improved collection of linebackers gave Savage (10-of-16 passing for 79 yards) all he could handle. Savage will open the year, but it's hard to imagine autumn fading into winter without Deshaun Watson seeing the field. The rookie (11-of-21 passing for 116 yards) was the opposite of a magic-spinner, but Watson has plenty of time to grow. This Texans offense was a tough watch on Saturday night, with Savage and Watson generating no points, eight punts and a pass by the first-rounder that was picked off by Saints cover man Damian Swann.
- Adrian Peterson made his preseason debut, lining out wide on his opening snap. The All-Pro back motioned across the formation as the subject of a fake toss in the backfield before Drew Brees aimed the ball elsewhere. Entering the game after Mark Ingram, Peterson first touched the ball on a screen pass that lost a yard before gaining just 15 yards on six carries. The former Vikings star showed spry feet, but the challenge boils down to getting Peterson into a weekly groove with Ingram and electric rookie Alvin Kamara sharing the workload. It's worth noting that A.P. was yanked off the field in favor of Ingram on a third-and-4 snap inside Houston's 10-yard line. Still, it's nothing if not a nice problem for a Saints offense that also added deep-threat Ted Ginn, whose box score would have looked shinier if a pretty 24-yard catch-and-run weren't wiped away by penalty.
-- Marc Sessler
- In his first preseason appearance, Ezekiel Elliott earned the first three carries of the game for the Cowboys. The running back took six total totes on the opening drive for 18 yards, adding two catches for six yards. Zeke played 10 snaps on the Cowboys' 12-play field-goal drive to start the game. Elliott didn't break any big runs (long of five), but he looked like his normal self. The big question is when we'll see him next. Elliott heads to his appeal hearing for a six-game suspension on Tuesday.
- Did Cordarrelle Patterson snatch the third receiver gig with Seth Roberts sitting out? Patterson caught four passes for 30 yards from Derek Carr in the first half, including a picture-perfect 17-yard skinny post for a touchdown. Patterson's presence up the seam also helped lead to a 48-yard touchdown from Carr to Amari Cooper later in the half (Carr stared down Patterson drawing the defense before lobbing the pass to Cooper). Patterson could be a perfect complement to Cooper and Michael Crabtree, but we've been caught by the CP hype in the past.
-- Kevin Patra
- Jared Goff remains an enigma. Each time the second-year quarterback looks like he's making strides, football gets in the way. Goff made several good throws on the opening drive, including connections of 16 and 22 yards. Then inside the 10-yard-line, he displayed extreme lack of awareness, allowing Joey Bosa to strip him from the front side. The fumble was returned by the Chargers for a touchdown. On the next drive, Goff heaved a wobbly grenade into no man's land, which was intercepted. He exited after going 5-of-8 for 56 yards (7.0 YPA) and the interception.
- They were facing mostly Rams backups, but the Philip Rivers-Keenan Allen connection is beautiful to watch when it gets rolling. Rivers connected with Allen three times for 37 yards on two scoring drives to open the game. The shifty receiver is near uncoverable on slants and quick crossers, and Rivers knows just where to put the ball. The Chargers offense is deadly when the mind-meld between the two is engaged.
-- Kevin Patra
- The biggest thing I learned from this night was about Trevor Siemian's ability to move. On second down and with the rush bearing down on him, Siemian exited a collapsing pocket, juked one defender and sidestepped another before rushing for 16 yards and a first down. Most everything else we learned about Denver's offense, we already knew. Paxton Lynch also left the game after taking a low hit in the third quarter, giving extended reps to Kyle Sloter, who threw a touchdown pass to Hunter Sharp.
Defensively, Denver did a good job of bottling up the Packers' offense after Rodgers took a seat. There was an interesting dust-up between some Broncos and Packers that resulted in teammates Aqib Talib and Todd Davis exchanging spirited words while walking off the field. At one point the two had to be separated, but afterward, Talib told a local sideline reporter "I was just calming him down, man. No smoke."
- Aaron Rodgers got exactly one series, which is all he should get, even in Week 3 of the preseason. Against Denver's starting defense, Brett Hundley was more like the Hundley we've come to know than the tantalizing propsect of the last two weeks. He entered with the ball inside Denver's 10, thanks to an interception from Kentrell Brice, and Ty Montgomery pounded a carry between the tackles into the end zone. Speaking of Montgomery, the running game wasn't all that exciting, though Montgomery and Aaron Jones each ripped off runs of 25-plus yards.
"We need to run the ball more, we have to run it better here," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said at halftime. "Really, offensively, we have way too many long down and distances, obviously too many negative plays.
Hundley did do a nice job of escaping a crumbling pocket deep in Broncos' territory early in the fourth, avoiding his freshly de-cleated center before galloping toward the pylon and into the end zone for six.
- BONUS POINT! We learned on Saturday night that the preseason is chill enough for your starting offensive tackle to propose to his girlfriend, seated in the stands, during a break in the action.
-- Nick Shook