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10 winners and 7 losers in Week 2 of the 2018 NFL preseason

Joe Flacco’s job is safe. The new NFL rules? UGH.

Los Angeles Rams v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The second week of the preseason is a little bit of a comedown from the euphoria of “welcome back, football!” the week before. That doesn’t mean there weren’t things get excited about, though.

On Monday night, the second week of the preseason concludes with a game between the Ravens and the Colts. Without a doubt, the most notable appearance in that game was be none other than Andrew Luck, who hadn’t seen a game snap at Lucas Oil Stadium since Jan. 1, 2017. He’s expected to get at least a quarter of playing time on Monday.

Elsewhere, this week’s matchups were pretty dang good for a random preseason week. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers made their 2018 debuts Thursday night and — shocker of all shockers — they looked like two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks.

Friday was Brownsbills Day — and this time, the game was worth watching, mostly because of the two rookie quarterbacks (Baker Mayfield vs. Josh Allen). The Bills edged the Browns 19-17, ending Cleveland’s five-game preseason winning streak.

Now that Week 2 is over, we’re halfway through the NFL preseason. Here were this week’s winners and losers:

Winner: Joe Flacco should be feeling safe

The idea of Lamar Jackson usurping Joe Flacco has been fun to think about throughout the offseason, but Flacco is clearly the Ravens’ best immediate option. Flacco is playing great football so far this preseason (when he has time to throw in the pocket). He’s showed great poise, accuracy and his trademark arm strength.

Against the Colts, Flacco went 7 of 9 for 72 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown throw to new receiver John Brown was a dime in the back of the end zone.

With Lamar Jackson still growing as a passer, Flacco has no real threat to lose the starting job right now. Unless he completely stinks it up this year, expect at least 16 more games of Joe Flacco starting. — Charles McDonald

Loser: Colts’ offensive line

The Colts’ offensive line got brutalized by a deep, talented Ravens defense. The starters and backups wreaked havoc all day, collecting four sacks and six tackles for loss. The talent discrepancy between the Ravens’ front seven and the Colts’ offensive line was apparent throughout the game.

With Andrew Luck coming off a pretty severe shoulder injury, the Colts offensive line really needs to be on point this season. If their performance against the Ravens was any indication, it might be a long season for Luck. — Charles McDonald

Winner: This Patrick Mahomes 69-yard touchdown

Forget the nice part of this touchdown. Because holy crap, look how NIIIIIICE this touchdown is:

Now you understand why a few weeks ago, Tyreek Hill said, “Pat (Mahomes) is the first guy that I have played with that has the arm strength.”

Mahomes, who made a brief appearance last week in the Chiefs’ preseason opener, played the entire first half Friday night against the Falcons. He had an uneven night — he completed 8 of 12 passes, but also threw a pick and nearly a second one.

Yet all it took was that 69-yard touchdown strike with 17 seconds left until halftime to show the world what kind of magic Mahomes can bring. And that’s gotta feel nice for Chiefs fans. — Sarah Hardy

Winner: The Falcons’ offense showed some life

Last year, the Falcons’ offense regressed coming off of a record-setting season in 2016 under first year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Last week looked like much of the same as Atlanta’s starting offense struggled with penalties and went three-and-out against the Jets.

This week against the Chiefs, their starting offense was locked in. Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman didn’t play, but that didn’t stop them from driving right down the field for a touchdown on their first drive.

Matt Ryan played well, Tevin Coleman ripped off a couple big runs, and Calvin Ridley showed off the explosive skills that made him a first-round pick in the NFL Draft.

It’s early, but if the Falcons’ offense can improve upon their numbers from last year, they’ll make an already tough NFC even tougher. — Charles McDonald

Winner: Josh Allen’s chances of starting in Week 1

Allen was called into duty earlier than expected after AJ McCarron went down with an injury. Allen had a fairly good debut last week, other than a lol-worthy blunder. But he didn’t necessarily outplay Nathan Peterman or McCarron, either.

Against the Browns, Allen helped his case to be the Week 1 starter. His stats don’t really jump off the page — he went 9 of 13 for 60 yards and a touchdown — but he led his team down the field for a score in all three of his series, looking confident out there and playing smart:

With McCarron’s status day to day, the QB battle is now between Peterman and Allen. That’s a race Allen could win with another strong performance next week. — Sarah Hardy

Loser: Tyrod Taylor’s revenge

The Bills never really embraced Taylor, described by expert QB evaluator Jalen Ramsey as “a better quarterback than he gets credit for.” In March, they thanked him for helping them end their nearly two-decade playoff drought by trading him to the NFL’s QB wasteland, the Browns.

Taylor said that he was motivated to play against his former team Friday, but if you were hoping he’d go all Kill Bill on the Bills, you were left disappointed. Taylor completed just 4 of 7 passes for 22 yards.

At least Taylor gave us the second-best NFL story of the week (first, obviously, being Ramsey’s glorious trash-talking): Is his name pronounced TIE-rod or TUH-rod?! — Sarah Hardy

Loser: The OL play in Giants-Lions

The last few years, the Giants have had major offensive line problems. At the end of last season, new general manager Dave Gettleman promised he’d bring in some “hog mollies” to help remedy the situation — and he delivered in free agency (Nate Solder) and the draft (Will Hernandez).

The good news on Friday night is that the Giants didn’t give up a sack. Eli Manning’s backups all faced a good amount of pressure, though.

With Saquon Barkley resting his sore hamstring, the Giants’ rushing game only averaged 3.7 yards per carry ...

... which was still better than the 3 yards the Lions averaged. Plus, Matthew Stafford, who played just three series, was sacked twice — and that was with most of the first unit out there. And let’s just say that the less said about the backups, the better. — Sarah Hardy

Winner: The PatriotsSuper Bowl do-over

OK, so the Patriots’ preseason win over the Eagles definitely doesn’t make up for their Super Bowl loss in February. But after six months of people basking in the glow of New England being a five-time Super Bowl loser, it had to feel good for the Patriots to get a small measure of revenge — especially since they looked so great doing it.

In a lot of ways, the Pats’ 37-20 blowout win was what many fans expected out of that winter night in Minnesota. Brady was efficient and hardly faced any pressure (perhaps more importantly, the Patriots didn’t try to turn him into a receiver on any plays). James White found every hole as a receiver and runner, gaining 91 yards on just 10 touches. The New England defense had some fight, allowing just seven points in the first half and harassing the Philly quarterbacks to the tune of eight sacks.

The Eagles were sloppy and sometimes undisciplined: they turned the ball over twice and totaled nine penalties. Nick Foles, who missed last week due to muscle spasms, was easily rattled and kept missing his receivers — and that was before he left the game with a shoulder strain.

But nothing changes the past. The Eagles are still the reigning champs and Foles is still a Super Bowl MVP (and Carson Wentz’s backup).

And right now, what matters is the future. For the Patriots, that looks like nothing but sunshine, as usual. They had some kinks to work out; earlier this week, Brady seemed frustrated with himself and with his receivers. But they were on the same page Thursday night and that bodes well for the regular season:

Despite the forgettable night, the Eagles should be fine, too. If nothing else, no one can ever take that Super Bowl 52 win away. — Sarah Hardy

Loser: Mason Rudolph’s first start

After a solid outing last week in the second half of his first preseason game, the Steelers’ backup had a rougher go of it against the Packers defense. The first throw of the game was a pick-six by Rudolph. Packers corner Tramon Williams jumped the route and ran it back 25 yards for a score.

He redeemed himself two drives later, finding JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 4-yard touchdown, after the Steelers got the ball back because of a Packers fumble. Rudolph finished the night 5-for-12 with 47 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

It wasn’t an awful performance, but it wasn’t exactly the kind of outing that inspires much confidence in the rookie’s readiness to be the No. 2 QB in Pittsburgh. Ryan Van Bibber

Winner: The Joshua Dobbs and James Washington duo

The Steelers’ other backup quarterback had a better game. His two touchdowns came against the bottom of the Packers roster, but a good effort is a good effort.

Dobbs’ first pass was a pick six too, but he had a nice evening after that. Regardless of the level of competition he was playing against, what stood out most was that he had the offense humming along. He and rookie receiver James Washington had a mind meld going:

Washington made tough catches and caught the deep throws, finishing with 114 yards on five catches. Ryan Van Bibber

Winner: Aaron Rodgers to Jimmy Graham

Get used to hearing that. The two scored an easy red zone touchdown from 8 yards out to cap off Green Bay’s first drive of the game.

That’s a big reason the Packers, normally tight-fisted in free agency, went out and signed Graham to a three-year, $30 million contract. Green Bay’s tight ends caught a grand total of two touchdowns last season. Ryan Van Bibber

Winner: Look at James Conner run!

Conner’s touchdown in the first quarter wasn’t necessarily the kind of thing that really puts a preseason game on anyone’s radar. But he did manage to rush for 57 yards on just five carries, and when you put that next to his 4.5 yards per carry last season, his rookie year, it’s a good sign.

Bigger than that, Conner’s a great person to root for. He beat cancer during his college career at Pitt, and got picked with the 105th selection in the 2017 draft by the hometown team. — Ryan Van Bibber

Loser-ish: Sam Darnold hype

Darnold’s stats against Washington didn’t really jump off the page, but he didn’t do anything to derail his chances of winning the starting job, either. An interception in the second quarter damaged his QB rating, but it wasn’t exactly the kind of pick that’s going to give Jets fans Mark Sanchez flashbacks. It was just a tipped pass on fourth-and-1 that he probably shouldn’t have thrown.

He finished the first half 8-for-11 with 62 yards, a pick and 5.6 yards per attempt. He was 6-for-6 in the shotgun, with 42 yards, but just 2-for-5 under center.

Darnold’s place on the roster is not in doubt, but he will need a good outing next week to get the hype train back on track and maybe have a chance to start in Week 1. — Ryan Van Bibber

Winner: Teddy Bridgewater and the Jets

The Darnold hype train took a sidetrack while the Teddy Train was full speed ahead.

He was 8-for-12 with a touchdown, but on his 13th pass, he forced a throw to the sideline that wasn’t well placed. Interception. Cold water.

For all the talk about trading him, maybe that’s not a wise move for the Jets. It’s not like this is a team known for its stellar quarterback play in recent decades. He’s clearly the best quarterback on the roster right now. — Ryan Van Bibber

Winner: Chad Kelly has the Broncos backup QB job on lock

I suppose we could do this section as a Paxton Lynch loser one, but let’s think positively here. Maybe it would be a negative situation if picking between Kelly and Lynch was deciding who was less terrible, but things have been easy for the Broncos because Kelly actually looks fantastic.

He isn’t 6’7 like Lynch, but Kelly can sling it with some power and he was firing away against the Bears defense Saturday night. His touchdown pass to Courtland Sutton had about as much mustard on it as you’ll ever see.

It’d be a surprise if Lynch stuck on the Broncos’ roster much longer. — Adam Stites

Loser: The injury bug

Injuries never belong in the “winners” column, but they’re double losers in meaningless preseason games.

Here’s a quick rundown of some notable injuries so far this week:

Eagles: backup QB Nick Foles (shoulder)
Patriots: rookie OT Isaiah Wynn (ankle)
Washington: RBs Samaje Perine (ankle) and Byron Marshall (leg), for the same team that lost rookie Derrius Guice to an ACL tear last week
Packers: RB Jamaal Williams (ankle), guard Justin McCray (leg), and WR Jake Kumerow (shoulder)
Bills: QB AJ McCarron (collarbone), DT Kyle Williams (knee)
Vikings: Pretty much the entire OL
Texans: CB Kevin Johnson (shoulder)
Cowboys: OL Zack Martin (knee)

Most of those injuries don’t appear to be serious — Foles should be fine, and the early word was positive for Perine, Marshall, Williams, McCray, and Kumerow. McCarron was originally reported to have a broken collarbone, but that was premature. Now he’s day to day.

But the news was much worse for Wynn:

Every preseason injury deserves a big “booooooooo,” especially the ones that jeopardize a player’s season before it even really begins. — Sarah Hardy

Loser: New rules

It remains to be seen if officials are being extra strict about new rules because it’s preseason, or if the regular season will be called the same way. But the crew of referee Shawn Hochuli gave the blueprint for a nightmare application of these rules during the Jaguars’ 14-10 win against the Vikings.

Maybe the most egregious was a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on Vikings linebacker Antwione Williams for a sack of Jaguars quarterback Cody Kessler.

The penalty was thrown because the officials determined Williams dropped his body weight on to the quarterback — a ruling the league has determined will be an emphasis in 2018.

If that was the worst penalty of the game, the personal foul on the Jaguars’ A.J. Bouye was a close second. The cornerback was called for lowering his helmet to initiate contact as he was run over while attempting to make a tackle.

The pair of flags were two of 20 penalties that were accepted Saturday in the Jaguars-Vikings game, which racked up 200 yards’ worth of combined penalties. If this is what the regular season ends up looking like ... uh ... yikes. — Adam Stites