It’s about that time, folks. Following the conclusion of NFL preseason Week 3 there’s less than two weeks until games that actually count.
During this weekend’s full slate of games, plenty of players showed they’re already in midseason form, while others showed much more rust than we’d like to see.
These are the biggest winners and losers from all the action.
Winner: Eli Manning excelling in Pat Shurmur’s offense
What a difference a year makes. Pat Shurmur, who worked wonders with his quarterbacks during his tenure in Minnesota, appears to be helping Manning get back to the top of his game. On Friday night at MetLife Stadium, the veteran quarterback looked amazing. Despite playing without Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr. he was on point, completing 17-of-23 passes for 188 yards. He also closed out the first half by leading the Giants on four straight scoring drives and showed a very strong connection with Sterling Shepard. Once Barkley and OBJ are in the fold, this offense is going to be very tough to stop.
Loser: Kansas City’s defense is a train wreck
Right now it’s looking like the Chiefs will have to score 30-plus points per game to post a winning record in 2018. The team’s defense has, for three weeks in a row now, looked atrocious. It’s saying something that the Chiefs made Brandon Weeden and Chase Daniel look like All-Pro quarterbacks this summer. On Saturday, Chicago’s second-string offense opened the game as Matt Nagy rested all his starters. Then it promptly shredded Kansas City’s Swiss cheese defense, scoring three straight touchdowns to open the game. That’s not encouraging.
Winner: Myles Garrett, Browns defense looks fierce
At this point it sure seems like the Browns have a legitimate chance to win some games this year. And while a lot of press goes to the team’s offense, it’s the defense that could lead the charge, with last year’s No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett being the linchpin. All summer Browns coaches have been talking this guy up, and on Thursday night he showed up big time, logging two sacks and a safety to lead a four-turnover, shutout effort against the Philadelphia Eagles. We look forward to much more of this in the future.
Loser: Cam Newton still taking unnecessary risks
Ever since he entered the league as the first pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, Newton has shown a propensity for seeking out contact as he strives to make big plays. The Panthers have tried like crazy to help him learn to avoid these kinds of plays, because quite honestly they are only going to go as far as he takes them. On Friday night against the New England Patriots, Newton forgot all those lessons and is honestly lucky he’s not seriously injured as a result. The quarterback got upended as he scrambled on third down and ended up landing right on his head. In the end, he suffered nothing more than a black eye and a bruised ego. Hopefully he can remember to slide next time.
Winner: Adrian Peterson looks refreshed
Less than a week after signing with Washington, which has been hit with a rash of injuries at running back, Peterson took the field for his new team and was immediately placed in the starting lineup. Let’s just say, the old man looked darn good. Peterson made his impact felt on the game’s first offensive possession and continued to churn out yardage throughout the first half as the team’s workhorse. In the end, the former league MVP piled up 56 yards on 11 carries, sparking plenty of excitement around the league.
Loser: Rough preseason continues for Matthew Stafford
The Matt Patricia era in Detroit appears to be heading toward a rocky start, if the preseason is any indication about what to expect, anyway. The Lions have struggled in all three phases of the game, but perhaps nothing is more alarming than the team’s inability to protect Stafford. In his two preseason games, Stafford has been sacked five times and pressured plenty more. As a result, he’s completed just 11-of-23 passes for 164 yards and hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass. Hopefully the offense can figure things out before the season opener against the Jets, who have a talented defensive front.
Winner: The Mahomes-Hill connection is red hot
Following a breakout 2017 season, Tyreek Hill appears to be moving into the upper echelon of NFL receivers. He and second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes clearly have some excellent chemistry. Beat writers have been talking this duo up all summer, and the past two preseason games have been eye-opening. After wowing us with his 69-yard sprint last week, Hill was workmanlike on Saturday, hauling in eight passes for 88 yards. He’s going to be a target monster this year and should eclipse his 2017 production by quite a bit.
Loser: Raiders officially have a backup QB problem
For the second week in a row, Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden was critical of his backup quarterbacks. For good reason, too. Both EJ Manuel and Connor Cook have been brutally bad this preseason. On Friday night against Green Bay, they combined to complete 14-of-27 passes for 159 yards with no touchdowns, an interception and a lost fumble. This is a big problem, because if Derek Carr suffers an injury, there’s literally nobody behind him on the depth chart that Gruden can count on to make smart decisions with the football. It’s going to be interesting how he addresses this shortcoming ahead of the season.
Winner: Big Ben, Steelers’ offense in midseason form
No Antonio Brown? No Le’Veon Bell? No problem for Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were fantastic this week against the tough defense of the Tennessee Titans. James Conner hauled in six passes, as did JuJu Smith-Schuster, who’s been electric this preseason. Roethlisberger also connected with former Titans draft pick Justin Hunter for a beautiful 32-yard touchdown in the right corner of the end zone before giving way to his backups. Just your casual show of deadly offensive prowess.
Loser: Ugly, brief outing for Deshaun Watson
Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams did not go according to plan for Watson and his first-string offense. The second-year quarterback, who’s coming back from season-ending knee surgery, played in just two series. And his day concluded after he was absolutely walloped by none other than Ndamukong Suh, who helped force an interception on the play. Bill O’Brien smartly kept Watson out of the game after that nearly disastrous sequence. But this really does highlight the Texans’ biggest problem going forward, which is that they will struggle to protect their franchise quarterback.
Winner: Lamar Jackson finally put it all together
Those of us who’ve followed Jackson closely throughout his college career and know what kind of potential he has have been waiting for the light to come on this summer. On Saturday it did, as the former Heisman winner put together an incredible all-around performance against the Miami Dolphins. Jackson completed 7-of-10 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown, and he scored again on a crazy 19-yard run that saw him somehow keep himself on his feet throughout the second half of the play. Joe Flacco is still the undisputed starter in Baltimore, but Saturday’s performance was a strong indicator that Jackson has a bright future with the club.
Loser: Marcus Mariota is struggling
Mariota is coming off a dismal 2017 season that saw him throw more interceptions than touchdowns. So it was disconcerting, to say the least, to see him continue to struggle Saturday against Pittsburgh. Sure, he completed 5-of-8 passes. But he only managed 43 passing yards and also missed badly on a play where Corey Davis was wide open, skipping the ball in front of his receiver. It’s also worth noting that Tennessee’s offense went punt, punt, punt, interception on the four drives that Mariota led in this game. The interception itself was truly ugly, as Mariota looked like a fish out of water trying to throw the ball on the run to his left. We’ll be very interested to see if he can right the ship once the regular season begins.
Winner: Randy Gregory is back and looking better than ever
It’s been a long time since Gregory dominated on the gridiron. A supremely talented young prospect coming out of Nebraska, his off-field issues have been the big story so far in his NFL career. But thankfully it appears he’s got his life in order now, and with that, his ability to contribute as a member of the Cowboys seems to finally be coming to fruition as well. On Sunday night against Arizona, Gregory was very active off the edge in the first half. He had one sack, two quarterback hits and three tackles, but his impact was felt even more than the stat sheet shows. If he can continue to make good choices off the field, then he’ll be a nightmare on it for opposing quarterbacks this season.
Loser: Blake Bortles keeps turning the ball over
The past two games have seen Bortles throw no less than five passes that should have been intercepted, and three that actually were. On Saturday against Atlanta, he threw two picks, negating what had been an otherwise successful show of offense by Jacksonville. The Jaguars have a championship-caliber defense and some intriguing offensive playmakers. The last thing they need is a quarterback throwing wins away this season. Hopefully Bortles is just getting it out of his system.
Winner: Marcus Davenport has outstanding debut
The New Orleans Saints gave up quite a bit of draft capital to move up and snag pass rusher Marcus Davenport this past April. With that in mind, it’s been frustrating that he has been unable to practice much of the summer due to injuries. On Saturday, the rookie finally made his pro debut, and it showed he’s going to make a big splash this year if he can stay healthy. Davenport flashed with elite-level quickness and athleticism, ending up with a half-sack and three tackles, including one impressive stop on a reverse that he sniffed out beautifully.
Loser: Josh Allen had no chance
The Buffalo Bills liked what they saw out of Allen the first two preseason games and throughout camp so much they made him the starter for the critical third exhibition game Sunday against Cincinnati. It was, quite simply, a disaster. Allen was constantly under pressure as his offensive line was overwhelmed by the Bengals from the opening snap. He ended up being sacked five times for negative-39 yards, which led to him finishing with negative-five yards passing total after completing 6-of-12 passes for 34 yards. Even worse, just before halftime Allen hit his head hard on the turf and was placed in the NFL’s concussion protocol, though thankfully he was cleared a bit later on.
Winner: Andrew Luck looked phenomenal
Boy, is it great to see Luck looking like himself again. After missing all of last year due to complications that stemmed from an injury suffered way back in 2015, he’s not only playing well but is having a blast, too. On Saturday at home against San Francisco, Luck was outstanding. He completed 8-of-10 passes for 90 yards and his first touchdown since 2016. He also scrambled well, took hits without fear and added 27 yards on four attempts on the ground. The Colts might struggle this year due to their defense, but Luck will keep them in every game.
Loser: Cowboys’ WR Lance Lenoir’s awful night
One of the ways that young players earn roster spots is by proving their value on special teams. For Lenoir, who’s been trying to show he’s worth keeping on the active roster after being a practice-squad guy for Dallas last year, pretty much the opposite of that occurred Sunday night at home against the Arizona Cardinals. Lenoir muffed two fumbles in a row on punt returns in the first quarter. While the first one arguably was not his fault, the second absolutely was and led to a touchdown on the fumble return. Needless to say, his roster spot is in jeopardy now heading into the final preseason game.
Winner: Andy Dalton was throwing darts
Even before Sunday’s game in Buffalo began, Dalton was having a phenomenal day. Then he stepped onto the field and shredded the secondary of the Bills, pretty much having his way with them. Playing until midway through the second quarter, Dalton completed 11-of-16 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns, both of which were impressive throws. The first one was exciting for the Bengals and their fans, as John Ross finally came through with his first NFL touchdown on a 57-yard strike from Dalton. If Dalton can play like this on a weekly basis, then the Bengals will rebound in a big way in 2018.
Loser: Nick Foles appears to have lost his mojo
Throughout his career, Foles has either been razor sharp or pretty awful, if we’re being honest. After showing off the former during his team’s Super Bowl run last year, Foles is back to living on the other end of the spectrum. Appearing in two of the team’s preseason games, Foles has completed 16-of-26 passes for 171 yards, which isn’t bad on its face. But he was 3-of-9 in his first appearance, threw two interceptions on Thursday night and has been sacked six times combined. Based on the latest news surrounding Carson Wentz, this is really not an ideal situation for the defending champs heading into Week 1.