Football is back ... kind of. The NFL preseason holds a special place in the hearts of fans. On the one hand, there is delight that football is back. On the other hand, it is preseason football.
Six games were on the docket Thursday night, featuring everything from Robert Griffin III's NFL debut, the return of Peyton Manning and replacement referees looking dumbfounded by geography as much as by the rule book. Preseason or not, there was plenty to talk about.
To facilitate our Friday-morning quarterbacking session, our crack team of GIF gurus spent the night waist deep in digital bytes and bits, chugging sugary energy drinks and powering through pack after pack of Marlboro reds to helps us recap the evening.
Be sure to let us know what your favorite moment from Thursday's NFL action was in the comments, and give us a heads up for the stories we should be watching for Friday night.
The RGIII Show Debuts
I really did not know what to expect from Robert Griffin III on Thursday night. Maybe something like his Adidas commercials? Instead, we saw a young quarterback being managed with a very efficient and effective game plan from head coach Mike Shanahan, who lacked the "what am I doing here" face for the first time since taking over on the Washington sidelines.
RGIII's touchdown to Pierre Garcon was one of the four short- to medium-range passes he completed. It would have been five had Garcon been more aware of his feet . Garcon looks like he could be Griffin's favorite target, and the Redskins look they will be a much better team this year.
Here's another RGIII highlight, if an incomplete pass can be a highlight.
Peyton Manning Returns
Staying with quarterback debuts, Peyton Manning made his first appearance after missing all of last season. As far as results go, he was somewhere between his old self and Broadway Joe goes to LA.
But how did he really look?
Good touch with the jacket, but the khakis need to go.
On the field, Manning was rusty, but certainly not hopeless. Throws lacked the old pop, save for this bullet to Eric Decker on third-and-17. He was off target on a throw to Brandon Stokley that was tipped for an interception. For a guy who hasn't played football in more than a year, it was an acceptable performance. Keep an eye on him through the preseason to watch how things progress.
Check out the high and the low with Manning's play on Thursday night.
Michael Vick Is Hurt
Speaking of quarterback injuries, Michael Vick was hurt last night. Huge surprise, though he does usually wait until much later in the year. Instead of a Kamikaze run into the arms of a hulking linebacker, this time he was making a throw as the pocket collapsed, hitting his fingers on a teammate's helmet on the follow-through of his throw.
How Soon Can Philly Trade Nick Foles?
The Eagles-Steelers game seemed to pull more weight with the Twitterati than any other show on Thursday night. And why not? It had two of the biggest surprises of the night. Nick Foles looks like the next quarterback that the Eagles can flip for a princely sum after his six-for-10 effort with 144 yards and two touchdowns. With a little help from some speedy receivers auditioning for a job, Foles was able to get behind Pittsburgh's backup secondary for 70-yard and 44-yard touchdown passes. This 44-yarder to Mardy Gilyard had everything you want to see.
Quick, someone call the Cardinals!
Chris Rainey Runs Fast
Steelers running back Chris Rainey earned some attention for his speed display in this game. The fifth-round pick worked as a running back and receiver, similar to what Todd Haley did with Dexter McCluster in Kansas City. Paired with Isaac Redman, Pittsburgh might be just fine without Rashard Mendenhall.
Rainey caught a screen pass and slipped through defenders with ease on this 57-yard touchdown. Granted, this was not the first-team defense, but it was an impressive display.
Rainey was so fast he made a pair of Eagles players crash into each other which looks like something out of a Buster Keaton film in GIF form.
That's about as preseason football as it gets right there.
Julio Jones Is That Good
Moving to Atlanta, Julio Jones really did look like he was in midseason form, catching six passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter. He made this fade to the corner of the end zone look routine.
You might want to put him pretty high on your fantasy football draft board, if you're so inclined to have such a thing.
Replacement Refs In Preseason Form
Atlanta, Arizona ... they're pretty much the same thing.
A little later on in the game, this same crew blew it on a first-down marker and had to nix the play. The NFL might want to soften its stance in talks with the referees. Replacements had a rough night on Thursday, and for every comical interlude like this, blown calls and injuries will eventually result. The notion that you get what you pay for holds true for officiating as well as it does seafood, and these Division II refs stink like the dumpster behind Captain D's.
NFL to DRC: We'll Call You
The replacement refs at least got it right when they flagged Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for a leaping hit on Steelers backup Byron Leftwich. Of course, this one was pretty obvious. Leftwich had thrown the ball already when DRC launched into his head.
James Harrison will be watching the situation closely.
Down Goes Brady
New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo knows Tom Brady well enough. It was his Giants team that upset the Patriots the first time in the Super Bowl. His attacking defense got around Brady's left side and hauled him down for a sack Thursday night. It delighted fans who dislike the Patriots (everyone not in the greater New England area) and prompted a flood of bounty jokes on Twitter.
The bounty jokes are going to get old real fast.
So there you have it, the first night of the preseason is in the books. Was it everything you hoped it would be? Tell us which moment was your favorite and which ones we missed in the comments.