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NFL preseason Week 1: Winners and losers from Saturday’s action

Vincent Frank

NFL preseason Week 1 continued Saturday with a full slate of action starting at 1 PM ET and continuing well into the evening.

Rookie quarterbacks shined big time throughout the league as they made their preseason debuts. A veteran in the nation’s capital overcame training camp struggles to show what he’s made of.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Indianapolis Colts’ left tackle situation has to be seen as a concern. Meanwhile, another rookie signal caller struggled big time. These are among the biggest winners and losers from Saturday’s NFL preseason action.

Related: Sam Howell’s Washington Commanders debut has put some pressure on Carson Wentz

Winner: Carson Wentz, Sam Howell star for the Washington Commnders

nfl preseason: sam howell, carson wentz
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Carson Wentz is the unquestioned starter for Washington after being acquired in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts during the offseason. With that said, there’s been continued accuracy issues surround the embattled signal caller during his first training camp with the Commanders. Head coach Ron Rivera even touched on it earlier in the summer.

“It’s a lot better than you give him credit for, just because of the way things happen in practice. There’s a lot of little nuances that we see that we look at that we get to review. Yeah, there’s some inaccuracy.”

Commanders head coach Ron Rivera on Carson Wentz

In no way was this a problem for Wentz in his NFL preseason debut for the Commanders against the Carolina Panthers on Saturday. Wentz completed 10-of-13 passes for 74 yards in limited action. That included leading Washington on a 14-play, 82-yard touchdown-scoring drive.

After 2021 starter Taylor Heinicke came in and threw an interception, rookie fifth-round pick Sam Howell did his thing for Washington. The North Carolina product played stellar football, completing 9-of-16 passes for 145 yards while scoring on the ground himself.

That included consecutive completions for 44 yards en route to leading Washington a touchdown-scoring drive of his own. For a Commanders team that entered the NFL preseason with a ton of question marks, Saturday’s events had to feel like a relief.

Related: Takeaways from Friday’s NFL preseason action

Loser: Matt Pryor struggles against backups for the Indianapolis Colts

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Colts general manager Chris Ballard invested a whole lot to help this team return to playoff contention during the offseason. Primarily, the acquisition of future Hall of Fame quarterback Matt Ryan is a clear indication that Indianapolis is in win-now mode.

That’s why it’s so suprising Indy is prepared to go with Pryor as Ryan’s blindside protector at left tackle. The 27-year-old former sixth-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles has started 15 games in three seasons without standing out too much. While he posted a solid pass-blocking grade per Pro Football Focus metrics, there’s some concern here.

Those concerns came out in droves with Pryor going up against Bills backup defenders Saturday afternoon in Western New York. Pryor was defeated multiple times by Buffalo reserves out on the edge, leading to Colts quarterbacks finding themselves sacked a total of four times while being hit six times. One now has to wonder whether Indianapolis will look to either the trade or free-agent market to find an upgrade ahead of Week 1 against the Houston Texans.

Related: NFL preseason power rankings

Winner: Chicago Bears rookies were impressive

NFL: Chicago Bears Training Camp
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

A second-round pick out of Penn State this past April, safety Jaquan Brisker has been drawing rave reviews during training camp. He has a knack for the ball, is a legit ball-hawk and can stick ball-carriers with the best of them. That came out in droves with Brisker making his NFL preseason debut on Saturday. Dude was a highlight-reel waiting to happen.

Despite being a first-team Big 10 performer a season ago with Wisconsin, Jack Sanborn found himelf undrafted this past spring. There was a ton of concern over his athletic measurements and whether the linebacker’s game would translate to the NFL.

With All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith having requested a trade, the linebacker spot becomes of paramount concern for Chicago. That’s why it’s so important Sanborn stepped up big time in his inital NFL action Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs. He recorded seven tackles, recovered a fumble and came away with an interception. While Sanborn will likely be a reserve in 2022, he pretty much guaranteed himself a spot on the 53 by virtue of Saturday’s performance.

Related: Takeaways from Chicago Bears preseason opener against the Chiefs

Loser: Matt Corral can’t corral in Carolina Panthers offense

nfl preseason matt corral
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Preseason football, baby! Making his NFL debut, Matt Corral led Carolina on a game-winning 11-play field goal drive to close out Saturday’s action against the Washington Commanders. He did this despite missing on all four of his pass attempts. Washington’s defense did the Mississippi product a favor by committing three penalties on the drive. Did we mention this was preseason football at its best?

All said, Corral completed 1-of-9 passes for 11 yards in closing out the game. The youngster knows full well that this isn’t going to cut it if he wants to jump up the Panthers’ depth chart ahead of Week 1.

“We always say we want complete, clear and concise communication. We were just all over the place out there, and that’s on me.”

Carolina Panthers’ Matt COrral after NFL preseason debut

Recognizing the issues is one thing. Being able to fix them with limited experience is a completely different thing. Based on what we saw in his debut, Corral is fourth on the Panthers’ depth chart at quarterback behind Baker Mayfiield, Sam Darnold and P.J. Walker.

Related: NFL preseason Rookie of the Year rankings

Winner: Kenny Pickett awes Pittsburgh Steelers in NFL preseason debut

nfl preseason winner: kenny pickett
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pickett was the third Steelers quarterback off the bench in his debut, behind the likes of starter Mitchell Trubisky and veteran Mason Rudolph. While both of the other two signal callers played well, it was this rookie first-round pick who put up an awe-inspiring performance in front of his home crowd.

Displaying accuracy on the shorter routes, Kenny Pickett completed 13-of-15 passes for 95 yards with two touchdowns. That included a game-winning 24-yard touchdown strike to Tyler Vaughns with just three seconds left. It was absolutely amazing.

Talk about getting the ball quick and to the outside with an accurate pass. Sure Vaughns did a lot of work there, but this is an example of why some view Pickett as Pittsburgh’s starter sooner rather than later.

Related: NFL Playoff and Super Bowl predictions

Other winners and losers from NFL preseason action Saturday night

nfl preseason; tyler johnson, tampa bay buccaneers
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Winner: Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Johnson was able to get more action in against the Miami Dolphins Saturday evening with Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Julio Jones sitting out the opener. A fifth-round pick of the Buccaneers back in 2020, he more than made the most of this opportunity. Johnson caught 6-of-7 targets for 73 yards without Tom Brady on the field. It’s a crowded wide receiver room in Tampa, but he continues to impress.

Loser: Soldier Field

We read reports leading up to the Chicago Bears’ preseason opener. Game conditions inside the old Soldier Field were not great with the turf torn up big time. It led to one big-time NFL agent opining that the game against Kansas City should’ve been canceled. Heck, Justin Fields talked about the conditions following Chicago’s win. This is something to keep an eye on moving forward as Chicago prepares for its regular-season opener against San Francisco.

Winner: Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks

Competing to replace the traded Russell Wilson under center, both Drew Lock and Geno Smith shined in the Seattle Seahawks NFL preseason debut Saturday evening. The two combined to complete 21-of-30 passes for 203 yards with three total touchdowns and zero interceptions. At least for one night, it seems as if head coach Pete Carroll made the right decision to go with this competition rather than an outside option.

Loser: Dallas Cowboys lack of intensity

Dallas entered Saturday night’s opener against Denver without many of its first-team players. In no way does that mean reserves shouldn’t have come to play for embattled head coach Mike McCarthy. It was an absolute disaster in the first half with the Cowboys’ allowing Josh Johnson to complete 16-of-23 passes for 172 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. It led to a 17-0 Cowboys deficit at the half. Offensively, Cooper Rush did nothing of substance with Dak Prescott sitting out. From a team-wide perspective, Dallas also committed nine penalties in the first 30 minutes alone. Ouch!