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NFL preseason Week 3: Biggest winners and losers, including Drew Lock

Vincent Frank

NFL preseason Week 3 wrapped up the exhibition slate around the league. Two games on Sunday concluded what was a pretty interesting four-week slate.

One young quarterback in Nashville impressed the masses while there’s some concern about a second-year signal caller a bit further back east. A high-priced New York Giants wide receiver seems to be in the dog house. Meanwhile, a certain veteran defender in Sin City opened up some eyes.

Below, we look at the eight biggest winners and losers from Week 3 of the NFL preseason.

Related: Updated power rankings following NFL preseason

Winner: Malik Willis ends first NFL preseason with a bang

nfl preseason: malik willis, tennessee titans
Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

Tennessee Titans rookie Malik Willis was showcased big time during the NFL preseason as the team attempted to gauge where the talented signal caller is at in his maturation process. It wasn’t always pretty for the former Liberty standout, but he wrapped up the exhibition slate with some wow plays. That included an eye-opening touchdown pass to fellow rookie Treylon Burks.

That’s some Patrick Mahomes-level stuff right there from Willis. All said, he finished Saturday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals in stellar fashion as the talented signal caller proves his worth in the NFL.

  • Malik Willis stats (Week 3 NFL preseason): 15-of-23 passing, 131 passing yards, 79 rushing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

To be clear, Willis is still as raw as they come. He’s not going to be ready to take over for Ryan Tannehill as a rookie. But the Titans more than got what they wanted him in him during the preseason slate.

Loser: Kenny Golladay is an absolute mess

nfl preseason:  kenny golladay
Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

Signed by New York’s previous brass to a four-year, $72 million contract ahead of the 2021 season, this former Pro Bowler with the Detoit Lions suffered through an injury-plagued first season with New York. That included Golladay recording a mere 37 rceptions for 521 yards while catching less than 49% of his targets in 14 games.

Things have not gone better for the big-name free agent this summer. Sunday’s preseason finale against the New York Jets adds another layer to this. Golladay logged 14 offensive snaps with one target and zero catches. For the preseason, he hauled in a single catch for six yards. It led to new Giants head coach Brian Daboll making some eye-opening post-game comments on Sunday.

“All those receivers are competing. Joe and I will sit back and talk about everything,” Daboll on Giants’ wide receiver situation.

To be clear. The Giants are not going to release Golladay. He has $17.5 million guaranteed for the 2022 season. New York would take a $31.35 million dead cap hit by releasing him. No team is going to trade for the free-agent bust, either. But we wouldn’t be suprised if he found himself as a reserve when New York opens the regular season against the Tennessee Titans on September 11.

Related: 2022 NFL QB rankings

Winner: Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins get it going

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Miami Dolphins
Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

We have to give new Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel credit for making sure his starters exited the NFL preseason on a high note. That included both Tua Tagovailoa and star wide receiver Tyreek Hill seeing action early on. It also included the two making sweet music together. Tua completed 6-of-7 passes for 121 yards, including a touchdown. He also hit Hill on a long bomb to open the game up.

A lot has been made about whether this former first-round pick from Alabama can be a true franchise quarterback in South Beach. Seven passes doesn’t change the narrative. A strong preseason performance won’t quiet the critics. But it sure does seem that McDaniel’s new offense fits him like a glove.

Loser: Drew Lock loses starting job in disastrous NFL preseason finale

nfl preseason week 3: seattle seahawks, drew lock
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

It was an uphill climb for Drew Lock to earn the Seahawks’ starting job heading into Friday night’s NFL preseason finale in the first place. That’s especially true after he missed last week’s game with COVID-19. Nothing Lock did against the Cowboys did him any favors. The former Denver Broncos second-round pick completed 13-of-24 passes for 171 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. That included one absolutely abhorrent pick.

After the game, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll confirmed that Geno Smith will be the Week 1 starter against former Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos.

“Geno’s going to start. He’s going to start the opener. He has earned it, he has won the job. With the time and the timeframes that got messed up for us for Drew, Drew just ran out of time in making his bid for it.”

Seahawks’ pete carroll on QB situation after NFL preseason final

The question now becomes whether Seattle will look in a different direction should Smith struggle to open the season. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo could soon become available. Forget QB1, the Seahawks will be in trouble if Lock needs to see any action during the regular season.

Related: Ranking NFL defenses heading into Week 1

Winner: Tashawn Bower earns Las Vegas Raiders roster spot

nfl preseason: tashawn bower
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

How good was Bower during his preseason with the Raiders? The former undrafted free agent recorded three sacks in the finale against the Miami Dolphins and was about as productive as any player during the NFL preseason. Here’s a dude who registered 12 pressures, six QB hits and four sacks in 148 snaps. That’s just insane.

Las Vegas has two Pro Bowl starters out on the edge in Maxx Crosby and free-agent signing Chandler Jones. After that, it seems to be an open competition. Former No. 4 pick Clelin Ferrell did not see action during the preseason due to an injury. He’s been an absolute bust with the Raiders. Malcolm Koonce has shown enough to be considered. But there’s absolutely no reason to believe that Bower has not earned a spot on the 53.

Loser: Unfortunate Sam Darnold injury

nfl preseason: sam darnold injury
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Baker Mayfield had already been named Carolina’s starting quarterback ahead of its preseason finale against the Buffalo Bills on Friday. Despite this, Danold wanted to showcase his ability to be either QB2 with the Panthers or catch the eye of other teams. That did not happen. The former No. 3 pick of the New York Jets suffered a high-ankle sprain and could be out up to six weeks.

In limited action during the preseason, Darnold completed a mere 50% of his passes. He looked to be very much the pedestrian version that we’ve seen since the USC entered the NFL back in 2018.

Even if Mayfield were to struggle early in the season, it wouldn’t be Darnold replacing him under center. And with Matt Corral out for the season , P.J. Walker takes over as QB2.

Related: 2022 NFL Playoff and Super Bowl predictions

Winner: Justin Fields does his thing to conclude NFL preseason

nfl preseason: justin fields
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

A lot has been made of Justin Fields and Chicago’s inability to put a strong supporting cast around the second-year quarterback. Earlier during the preseason, we saw offensive line struggles in front of Fields. Taking on the Cleveland Browns in Chicago’s preseason finale this weekend, none of these struggles were apparent.

Fields led Chicago on three long scoring drives, each one culminating in a touchdown pass from the former Ohio State star. The kid looked like the talented version that saw him make waves during his days in Columbus.

“I just think (Fields) is getting better. Like I said the other day, he’s a young player, he needs experience. I think this was game-like experience for him that he needed to have. He took a big step forward for him and for our football team just getting comfortable, operating the offense and doing his thing. I thought he did that tonight.”

chicago Bears Matt Eberflus on Justin Fields following preseason finale

Fields and his Bears will face a tough two-game stretch to open the regular season with outings against elite-level defenses in that of the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers. If what we saw in Chicago’s preseason finale, the young quarterback and his team could very well surprise early on.

Loser: Mac Jones continues to struggle for the New England Patriots

nfl preseason: mac jones
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

On the other end of the spectrum, Mac Jones just has not been the same quarterback this summer as we saw during his rookie campaign. That came out in a big way during his NFL preseason finale agianst the Las Vegas Raiders on Friday. While the Alabama product completed 9-of-13 passes, he threw one of the ugliest interceptions we saw during the exhibition slate.

What is even happening there? How did Jones not see the linebacker dropping back into coverage? It’s just the continuation of major struggles on the part of the second-year quarterback in grasping New England’s expanded offense. One now has to wonder how he’s going to look Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins.

Other NFL preseason winners

  • Demarcus Robinson, wide receiver, Baltimore Ravens
  • Jaret Patterson, running back, Washington Commanders
  • Dameon Pierce, running back, Houston Texans
  • Denzel Mims, wide receiver, New York Jets
  • Samuel Womack III, cornerback, San Francisco 49ers

Other NFL preseason losers

  • Desmond Ridder, quarterback, Atlanta Falcons
  • Cleveland Browns quarterbacks
  • Joe Flacco, quarterback, New York Jets
  • San Francisco 49ers offensive line