Biggest winners and losers from NFL preseason Week 2

Jesse Reed
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey during the NFL preseason

We’re one more step closer to games that actually matter at the halfway point of the NFL preseason. While there are still plenty of questions that won’t be answered until the regular season begins, Week 2 gave us a glimpse into the future.

For instance, the New York Jets have their answer about who will start behind center. On the other side of the same coin, the Chicago Bears might soon have a legitimate quarterback controversy on their hands, if that’s not already the case. And the Jacksonville Jaguars? Their quarterback troubles are just getting started, which is bad news for a team with playoff aspirations.

Some players stepped up and some fell down, creating these circumstances and many others. These are the biggest winners and losers from the second week of NFL preseason action.

Winner: Tarik Cohen blazing his way onto Chicago’s final roster

We first got a taste of what this fourth-round pick out of North Carolina could do last weekend when he ripped off a few nice runs in the Bears’ preseason opener. In that game he ran for 39 yards on seven carries.

Then on Saturday night, Cohen got red hot against the tough Arizona Cardinals’ defense. He absolutely romped, going for 77 yards on 11 carries, including a 25-yard scamper. Cohen got the opportunity to work with the first team because Jordan Howard didn’t make the trip to the Southwest after suffering an injury to his eye. If this diminutive speedster continues to put forth these kinds of efforts the rest of the preseason, he’ll probably be Chicago’s No. 2 back behind Jordan during the regular season.

Loser: Tyrod Taylor, Bills offense going the wrong way

The Buffalo Bills got rid of Taylor’s most important weapon in the passing game when they traded away Sammy Watkins. The offense is also missing left tackle Cordy Glenn at this time. So it’s not all that surprising that he struggled on Thursday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

But Taylor did more than just struggle. He looked hopeless at times. Faced with a blitzing Eagles defense, he completed under half his passes, averaged just 2.9 yards per attempt, threw two interceptions and led just one drive out of six that ended with any points. Buffalo is sticking with Taylor as its starter…for now. Another stinker like this one in the pivotal Week 3 regular-season tuneup could lead the Bills to reconsider that stance. Making this even more of a sticky situation is the fact that Anquan Boldin abruptly retired on Sunday night. That’s a big loss for a reeling offense.

Winner: Rex Burkhead is the next big thing in New England

The New England Patriots have a knack for turning players who’ve held minor roles with other teams into stars. Burkhead, who played the past four years in Cincinnati, appears to be in prime position to be the next man on that list.

In his first appearance with his new team (he didn’t play in the first preseason game) Burkhead gained 70 yards on just 10 touches and scored on a 22-yard pass from Tom Brady. He’s a guy Bill Belichick has been keeping his eye on since Burkhead was at Nebraska. Now that he’s in the fold, Burkhead is fitting in perfectly and looks to be heavily utilized this season, both as a runner and a receiver.

Loser: Colts defense isn’t scaring anyone

Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant scores a touchdown against the Colts in NFL preseason Week 2

The Colts are in trouble. Serious trouble. In addition to the fact that their offensive line is made up of paper mache and they might not have their starting quarterback to open the season, Indy’s defense is atrocious. Sans Ezekiel Elliott, the Dallas Cowboys had their way with the Colts, marching up and down the field with ease while Dak Prescott ran the offense. He and Dez Bryant showed they’re on the same page in a big way (watch here). That should scare the heck out of the rest of the NFC.

But it wasn’t just the big plays in the passing game that were so worrisome for Indy. The Cowboys wrecked the Colts on the ground, too. Veteran Darren McFadden was riding a wave of big bodies to his 59 yards in nine carries. It’s not crazy to say that the Colts would be lucky to win five games without Andrew Luck.

Winner: Patrick Mahomes looks like he’s ready to play with the big boys

Alex Smith is still the starter, and that’s not likely to change. But man, Mahomes is breathing down his neck in a big way. The rookie out of Texas Tech had a tremendous opening game against San Francisco last weekend. Then he followed it up with an even better performance Saturday night against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Mahomes finished with 88 yards on 10-of-14 passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 29 yards on three carries and didn’t take a sack. He looked composed and very much in control of Andy Reid’s offense. If Smith were to succumb to injury (heaven forbid), the Chiefs likely wouldn’t skip a beat.

Loser: Christian Hackenberg was awful in his first start

After spending his first season on the weekly inactive list, Hackenberg has been let out of purgatory in 2017. He played okay last week after Josh McCown left the game but didn’t take any chances, settling for easy completions. Then on Saturday in Detroit, Todd Bowles surprised many when he made Hackenberg the starter. It’s likely a decision he won’t make again any time soon. Hackenberg looked lost. He couldn’t complete a single pass beyond the line of scrimmage. He also fumbled after getting blown up on a blitz (watch here).

It was just an awful performance, and one that proved beyond a shadow of doubt that he’s nowhere near ready to start.

Winner: Dalvin Cook thrives against the Legion of Boom

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook against the Seattle Seahawks in NFL preseason Week 2

Cook did a very nice job in Week 1 of making plays in limited action against the Bills. Minnesota was in Seattle Friday night for a sterner test against the Seahawks, and the rookie out of Florida State actually raised his level of play against that tough defense.

Rushing for 40 yards on seven carries (including one 15-yard scamper), Cook took what the defense gave him, and then some. He also added another 10 yards on one reception, which means he averaged 6.25 yards per touch. That’s very impressive going up against Seattle’s starters, who were out there hitting like it was the regular season.

Loser: Packers’ running game in trouble

With Ty Montgomery (who struggled last week) sidelined, the Packers would have loved to see rookie Jamaal Williams make a statement against Washington. While he continued to show he’s a downhill runner who always falls forward, the BYU product only managed to gain 17 yards on seven carries with a long run of five yards.

The Packers as a whole managed to post decent rushing stats (108 yards) until you realize the bulk of it came from quarterbacks. Taysom Hill and Aaron Rodgers combined for 53 yards on eight rushes. That’s not a good sign. It’s also a problem the team had last year, and it irked head coach Mike McCarthy to no end. Hopefully Williams and/or Montgomery can do something positive next week during the regular season dress rehearsal. For now, the Packers’ rushing attack is not looking great.

Winner: D’Onta Foreman shows off all the moves

The Houston Texans have landed quite a gem in Foreman, who dominated last year playing for the Universtity of Texas. Selected in the third round of this year’s draft, he’s showcased some serious abilities as both a runner and passer the past two weeks.

After running rampant over the Patriots last week (76 yards on nine carries), Foreman showed off his skills as a receiver Saturday. Catching one pass that went for 63 yards, he finished with 83 total yards on nine touches and scored a touchdown at the goal line. Suddenly, it looks like Lamar Miller’s usage might decrease just a bit (if not a lot) in 2017 as the rookie comes on strong.

Loser: Another very sloppy game for the 49ers

For the second week in a row, the San Francisco 49ers were unable to stop penalties from being a major factor. They finished with 11 penalties for a total of 86 yards. It’s down from the 14 they incurred last week, but turnovers more than made up the difference. San Francisco turned the ball over five times against Denver and forced none.

Three of those turnovers occurred on consecutive drives in the first half, with all the starters in the game. Even worse, 27 of the 33 points Denver scored in the game came as a direct result of those five total turnovers. Every coach knows that penalties and turnovers equal losses. Thankfully it’s still the preseason. But Kyle Shanahan and Co. have just two more games to get their problems fixed.

Winner: James Conner has big day on the ground in first NFL game

Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner

Sunday’s outing against the Atlanta Falcons at home marked Conner’s first game as a professional. The local hero played at Pitt and grew up in Erie, Penn., so you know he had to have some serious butterflies heading into this contest. Those butterflies manifested early with some drops in the passing game. But rather than allow himself to get wrapped up in the negativity, Conner refocused his energy and had a fabulous game on the ground.

All told, Conner finished with 101 total yards, 98 of which came on the ground. He broke off some big gains in the contest and averaged 4.9 yards per carry. The drops are something he can work on. The big story, however, was that he hit running lanes hard and fast, and that he finished with power.

Loser: Ryan Mallett has another awful game

Mallett has been atrocious this preseason, following up his horrible performances in practice this summer. After a terrible game in Week 1, Mallett was even worse on Thursday night in Miami against the Dolphins. He finished with 113 yards on 13-of-22 passing, throwing one touchdown and two interceptions. Accuracy is a huge issue Mallett has never been able to correct in his career, and it was clearly a problem against Miami (watch here).

Joe Flacco cannot return to the practice field soon enough for the Baltimore Ravens. He’s expected to make his return before the regular season begins, and based on Mallett’s play, he better.

Winner: Alvin Kamara shreds San Diego defense

The New Orleans Saints are going to be very interesting to watch this year. In addition to what appears to be an improved defense, they feature three excellent running backs. While veterans Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson rested up on Sunday in Los Angeles, rookie Alvin Kamara got some opportunities to make a big impact.

Taking full advantage of this chance, he had a field day going up against San Diego’s first-string defense. Kamara ripped of a 50-yard touchdown on the game’s opening play from scrimmage to put Saints on top early. He followed that up with a 22-yard reception and finished the game with 83 total yards on just six touches, plus the touchdown. Sean Payton loves having options. He’ll definitely figure out a way to get Kamara involved in the offense this year based on what we’re seeing so far.

Loser: LeGarrette Blount can’t get out of first gear

It’s too early to panic, but Philadelphia Eagles fans cannot be thrilled about what they’ve seen from Blount. Neither can the coaches, for that matter. In two preseason games, Blount has managed to rush for just 17 yards on nine carries. His performance against the Buffalo Bills on Thursday was abysmal — eight yards on five carries. Even more alarming is the fact that his two long runs in these first two games went for nine and eight yards, respectively. That means he’s gained a total of zero yards on his other seven carries.

No wonder Blount is reportedly no lock to make the Eagles’ final roster.

Winner: Samaje Perine bounces back nicely

Perine was under some pressure to perform because he had a rough outing that prompted head coach Jay Gruden to call him out a bit.

The rookie out of Oklahoma rebounded nicely on Saturday against the Green Bay Packers, however. Showing off all the moves that made him a highly regarded prospect, Perine made big plays on the ground and one through the air. Finishing with 74 total yards on just nine touches while taking care of the football, Perine moved closer to establishing a big role for himself on Washington’s offense.

Loser: Eddie Lacy looks slow

Just how overrated is Eddie Lacy?

In two games, playing mostly with Seattle’s starters, Lacy hasn’t done much to show us he’s back to his rookie form. The former Green Bay Packers star hasn’t showcased much explosion when he’s gotten a chance to burst through a hole. So far this preseason, he’s managed 30 yards on 10 carries while adding just three yards on one reception. Those numbers aren’t good. And they actually look worse when you realize one of those runs went for nine yards. That means he’s gained just 21 yards on nine carries otherwise, which equates to just 2.33 yards per rush.

Seattle’s offensive line is really bad. And it lost starting left tackle George Fant for the season Friday night, which means it will be even worse than expected. Lacy isn’t going to fare well behind a line that can’t consistently open up big holes. That’s more bad news for the Seahawks, who were hoping Lacy could bring the thunder this year.

Winner: Jared Goff really settling into new offense

Ah, what a difference a year makes. With Jeff Fisher gone and Sean McVay calling the shots, young Jared Goff has a chance to develop into a real quarterback. He barely played last weekend but looked good in limited action. On Saturday, Goff played the entire first half against the Oakland Raiders. He was completely in control of both himself and the offense, and his connection with rookie Cooper Kupp is developing nicely. Goff finished the game with 160 yards on 16-of-20 passing with one touchdown and no interceptions.

This must make the Rams and their fans feel some relief after last year. After all, Los Angeles gave up a ton of draft capital to move up to the top spot to land this kid. He better deliver.

Loser: Blake Bortles looks done

After watching Bortles on Thursday night, it became crystal clear this kid has no confidence in his game. He finished with just 65 yards on 8-of-13 passing, which doesn’t look awful on the surface. But he missed a wide open Allen Robinson multiple times, at one point under-throwing him by about four yards on what could have been a touchdown pass.

Bortles looks done, and the Jacksonville Jaguars need to accept the truth and cut him before it’s too late. If he’s injured and still on the roster next spring, the team will owe him $19 million. Better to cut him now and move on than be saddled with that kind of financial handcuff.

Winner: Christian McCaffrey is already a superstar

Christian McCaffrey makes the kind of wow plays that make everyone take notice. He has been doing it consistently all through college and blew people away during training camp. Now that the Panthers are playing other teams he’s really opening eyes nationally.

On Saturday against the Tennessee Titans, the rookie out of Stanford was a dynamo. He touched the ball just five times but produced 72 yards and his first NFL touchdown on a gorgeous counter run in the red zone from 17 yards out (watch here). That’s 14.4 yards per touch, people. That’s some potent firepower. Just imagine what this kid will do if he’s touching the ball 15-20 times per game.

Loser: Paxton Lynch loses quarterback competition to Trevor Siemian

Denver Broncos quarterback Paxton Lynch

The quarterback competition between Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian is officially over, even if Vance Joseph isn’t ready to say it’s over. Lynch was mediocre in the first preseason game as Siemian’s backup. Then he started against San Francisco Saturday night in Week 2. His final stat line — 9-of-13 for 39 yards — doesn’t tell the real story. He was tentative, didn’t see the field well and didn’t hit his open targets. At one point he had Demaryius Thomas wide open on third down and didn’t see him. A while later he had him streaking wide open down the left sideline and airmailed the pass well beyond his receiver. Thomas was visibly upset.

Then Siemian came into the game and immediately led a touchdown-scoring drive, capping it off with a gorgeous throw to Jordan Taylor to close out the first half.