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8 winners and 7 losers from Week 1 of the 2018 NFL preseason

Kirk Cousins had a successful, if short, debut with the Vikings. We hope you didn’t watch any of the Cardinals-Chargers game, though.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The first week of league-wide preseason action is in the books, which included the debuts of Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, Saquon Barkley, and much of the rest of the 2018 NFL rookie class.

There were a total of 12 games Thursday night, leaving four games left on the schedule for Friday and Saturday. On Thursday, the Browns extended their preseason winning streak to five with a 20-10 win over the Giants, and the Patriots overcame a 17-0 deficit to beat Washington, 26-17. On Friday, the Jets blanked the Falcons, while the Raiders took down the Lions, 16-10.

On Saturday, the Vikings beat the Broncos 42-28 in Denver, and the Cardinals topped the Chargers, 24-17.

But scores don’t really matter in preseason. The real focus is on the players who made the most of their opportunities to impress and those who didn’t. Here’s who stood out to us — good and bad.

Loser: Chargers vs. Cardinals, for being a bad stereotype of preseason football

Preseason football is an inferior product in every way, and that makes it an easy target for jokes, often unimaginative ones at that. But there are real reasons to want to watch it — this year especially — and we were unabashedly all-in for the first week.

That said, lawd, we hope not many people were watching the preseason Week 1 finale (and considering it was the Chargers and Cardinals, late Saturday night, we doubt many were).

There were a couple of highlights — David Johnson looked good in his brief appearance, and Geremy Davis caught a fine-looking touchdown. But other than that, it was pretty unwatachable for all the reasons people complain about the preseason:

1. Most of players you actually know — Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, Joey Bosa, Larry Fitzgerald — didn’t play. Late in the game, the two quarterbacks were Nic Shimonek and Chad Kanoff, who belong to the “Brogan Roback Club of Quarterbacks Who Can’t be Real.”

2. The play was sloppy, especially on the Chargers’ end. They lost three fumbles, and both teams were on the hook for one interception each. (Speaking of bad stereotypes, Geno Smith threw one and Mike Glennon the other.)

3. The two teams combined for 26 penalties for 265 yards, which is absurd even if all of them weren’t legit:

4. The cart came out for one player, Cardinals linebacker Jeremy Cash.

5. This stupid game lasted for almost three hours and 40 minutes.

But hey, are we going to do this all again next week? You betcha. — Sarah Hardy

Winner: The Vikings’ offensive newcomers

Kirk Cousins only played in one series on Saturday night in Denver, but the new Minnesota quarterback looked like a great fit in his limited action. He completed all four passes for 42 yards. Three of those passes went to Stefon Diggs, including the night’s first touchdown.

Vikings rookie running back Roc Thomas was the star of the first half in his first NFL action. The former Jacksonville State star ran for 29 yards but it was catching three passes out of the backfield where he did the most damage. He scored twice and racked up 102 receiving yards, including 78 on this well-executed screen:

—Eric Stephen

Loser: Penalties in the Raiders-Lions game

The Raiders already own the single-game and single-season records for most penalties in the NFL. So it’s almost a cliche for them to rack up penalties every time they hit the field. That didn’t stop them from doing it in Jon Gruden’s return — and the Lions decided to join the flag party.

In the first half alone, the two teams combined for 10 penalties. By the end of the game, that total rose to 17. A few of those stood above the rest, though.

In the first quarter, the Raiders were called for four holding calls (three offensive, one defensive). The most costly one wiped out a 60-yard touchdown from Marshawn Lynch, who flew by everyone and probably would have scored even if Kolton Miller hadn’t held.

The Lions also saw a terrific run called back because of a hold. Kerryon Johnson, the rookie they hope will finally help solve their chronic rushing problem, broke loose for 57 yards that didn’t end up counting:

The new helmet rule hasn’t been too controversial so far this preseason. But the way it was implemented against Karl Joseph feels a little foreboding:

Did Joseph lower his helmet, a clear violation of the new rule? Yes. Did it seem like Joseph couldn’t have tackled much differently in that situation? Also yes.

Officials call more penalties in the preseason in general, as painful of a watching experience as that can be. But it also seems like it’s only a matter of time until the new helmet rule becomes as contentious as we feared it could be. — Sarah Hardy

Winner: The Jets quarterback situation

Like the Browns, the Jets have been looking for an answer at quarterback for years. It’s quite possible that they have three starting caliber quarterbacks on the roster right now.

Josh McCown, the incumbent starter, only threw one pass for 4 yards before coming out of the game. Teddy Bridgewater saw his first extended action since the 2016 preseason and looked like the guy that the Vikings were sold on as their future franchise quarterback. Bridgewater finished the game going 7 of 8, 85 yards, and one touchdown — he’s a likely trade candidate if he can continue this level of play through the preseason.

Sam Darnold, the third overall pick in the draft, had a fantastic debut for the Jets.

Darnold looked extremely comfortable playing in a condensed pocket, threw well on the run, and was accurate to every level of the field. He made a serious case to be the Jets’ starting quarterback for the season opener against the Lions on Monday Night Football.

— Charles McDonald

Loser: Duke Riley’s rookie year struggles continues

The Falcons were hoping to get a potential starter in Duke Riley when they selected him in the third round of the 2017 draft. He struggled mightily as a rookie with his play on the field and suffered a knee injury that required surgery.

Through one game, Riley looks to be on the same path as last year where he’ll struggle to get reps on a talented defense. Riley is in a serious competition with seventh-round rookie Foye Oluokun, who had a decent debut against the Jets. — Charles McDonald

Winner: Andrew Luck is playing football again

Just stepping out on the football field was a win for Luck. But surprisingly, the Colts didn’t play it ultra conservative with the quarterback.

He didn’t throw deep or do anything reckless, but he played two drives and got plenty of reps, finishing his preseason debut against the Seahawks with six completions on nine attempts for 64 yards.

We’ll need to see more before it’s safe to consider Luck an MVP candidate any time soon, but Thursday was a good sign that he’s on the right track. — Adam Stites

Winner: The Browns quarterback situation looks ... good?

Since the Browns have been reintroduced to the NFL, they’ve struggled mightily to find any semblance of competent quarterback play. If the first half of their preseason opener against the Giants is any indication, the Browns look to have two starting-caliber quarterbacks on their roster.

Tyrod Taylor, the incumbent starter, was flawless in his debut with the Browns. He played two drives and went 5 of 5 for 99 yards and a perfect touchdown throw to David Njoku.

Taylor also had a dime on a comeback route to Jarvis Landry for a big gain. All in all, a perfect start for the former Bills quarterback.

Baker Mayfield had a fantastic debut for the Browns. He showed poise, accuracy, and good decision-making. Mayfield didn’t have the efficiency of Taylor, but he had a productive evening (11 of 20, 212 yards, two touchdowns) — including this strike to Antonio Callaway along the sideline.

This is the best quarterback situation the Browns have had in very, very long time. If these two can continue their play into the regular season, it just might be the Browns’ year after all. — Charles McDonald

Loser: Sean Mannion, yikes

It was pretty obvious the Rams didn’t see Sean Mannion as their quarterback of the future considering they spent the first overall pick on Jared Goff the year after selecting Mannion. Still, it’s hard to imagine a worse performance than the one Mannion just delivered, especially in a preseason game.

Mannion completed 3 of 13 passes for 16 yards, tossed one interception, and took two sacks for 13 lost yards. Yikes!

A deeper breakdown of Mannion’s numbers showed how hilariously bad he was in the preseason opener.

(If you don’t know what some of these abbreviations stand for, check out the Pro Football Reference glossary.)

With Brandon Allen playing solid in limited action, Mannion’s roster spot legitimately might be up for grabs. — Charles McDonald

Winner: Lamar Jackson’s ankle-breaking ability

His Hall of Fame Game debut was pretty forgettable, but on Thursday night Jackson looked more like the Heisman Trophy winner the Ravens expected to get when they drafted him in the first round.

He completed just seven of his 18 passes, but looked deep a few times and showed his unique skill set when he broke the ankles of two Rams defenders on his way into the end zone.

The path to supplant Joe Flacco is still a long one for Jackson, but more plays like that and his 36-yard pass to Chris Moore is a good start. — Adam Stites

Loser: The 49ers’ injury report

There’s really just two goals of preseason:

  1. Get ready for the regular season
  2. Don’t get hurt

The 49ers really didn’t have much luck with the latter, racking up several injuries early in their game against the Cowboys:

That’s not ideal.

The good news for the 49ers is that early word on Breida and Kittle is positive. Hopefully the others avoid a fate similar to Washington rookie running back Derrius Guice, who tore his ACL Thursday night and is out for the season. — Adam Stites

Winner: The Steelers’ celebrations are back

Antonio Brown stayed on the sideline all night, but the Steelers’ celebration game didn’t miss a beat.

Juju Smith-Schuster — no stranger to creative celebrations — put on a show, first by Mossing Eagles corner Rasul Douglas and then punctuating it in the end zone by ... eating the ball? (IDK, please don’t own me, youths):

But another receiver managed to upstage Smith-Schuster. Damoun Patterson made a terrific snag, topped only by his freakin’ backflip after:

Patterson’s battling for a roster spot, but he certainly looked like he belonged on the Steelers Thursday night — and not just because he led the team in receiving with six catches for 77 yards. — Sarah Hardy

Loser: Josh Allen’s blooper

The Bills’ first-round pick wasn’t that bad Thursday night. He showed some wheels and his big arm on a couple plays in his preseason debut.

The problem is that there’s a three-way battle for the starting job in Buffalo and the rookie was clearly the third best against the Panthers. Nathan Peterman finished his night with nine completions on 10 attempts for 119 yards with a touchdown, and AJ McCarron completed seven of his 10 throws for 116 yards.

Allen completed just nine of his 19 passes and had the blooper of the night when he ran backward 18 yards and hurled the ball like a grenade into traffic.

That’s not the best first impression. — Adam Stites

Winner: Cowboys receivers post-Dez Bryant

Dallas didn’t do much to help Dak Prescott following the retirement of Jason Witten and release of Dez Bryant, but the Cowboys’ young group of unheralded receivers got off to a good start Thursday.

Rookie third-round pick Michael Gallup took just a few minutes to show how he fits, hauling in a 30-yard touchdown from Prescott in the first quarter:

Among those impressed with Gallup’s debut was the man who wore the shoes he’s trying to fill:

Later in the game, second-year receiver Lance Lenoir who spent most of 2017 on the Cowboys’ practice squad showed what he’s got too:

The Cowboys will likely heavily lean on Ezekiel Elliott and the run game in 2018, but it’s a good sign that the young receivers are shining early in preseason. — Adam Stites

Winner: Shaquem Griffin

The fifth-round rookie linebacker has taken some first-team reps in practice for the Seahawks while K.J. Wright deals with a nagging hamstring injury. While he didn’t get the start Thursday, Griffin looked good when he stepped into action.

On his first drive of the game, Griffin made tackles on four consecutive snaps and ended up as the game’s leading tackler, with nine tackles, including a TFL.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was among those who came away impressed.

Early in the second half, Griffin knifed through the Colts offensive line to stuff a run play for a loss. It was the first game in a long time that Griffin played as a teammate of his twin brother, Shaquill Griffin, and he looked like he definitely belonged as a member of the Seahawks defense. — Adam Stites

Loser: The Bucs’ kicker curse makes an appearance

The Buccaneers — the same team that traded UP to draft a kicker in the second round, only to cut him a year later, never forget— have not had good kicking luck lately, to put it mildly. They cycled through eight different kickers in nine seasons and then hoped they had solved their kicking woes this offseason when they signed former Cardinals and Jets kicker Chandler Catanzaro.

On Tuesday, they waived Catanzaro’s only competition, Trevor Moore. On Thursday, the curse struck:

And it struck again:

BUT, Catanzaro got one more chance: a 26-yarder with 23 seconds left and the Bucs down by one. He nailed the attempt, which ended up being the game-winning score.

Maybe, just maybe, that killed the curse once and for all ...

But probably not:

— Sarah Hardy