The first true week of the 2019 NFL preseason offered up an acceptable football substitute with a handful of uplifting stories. Patrick Mahomes was perfect over the course of seven plays before getting taken off the field and rolled in bubble wrap. The Patriots got their long-awaited revenge over the Lions. Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi lied his way onto the Browns roster and then returned a punt for a touchdown in his first game with the team.
This week was similarly uplifting as coaches broke out some of their good china and threw even more starters into the mix. Weeks 2 of the preseason saw a few more high-profile starters take the field as stars like Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson joined Week 1 veterans like Alvin Kamara and Kirk Cousins in the mix — for no more than a few series of playing time.
Of course, the real action during the preseason comes off the gridiron. With that in mind, who won Week 2 of the NFL preseason, barring a furious finish from the 49ers and Broncos on Monday night?
Not considered: The Arizona Cardinals, who looked baaaaaad
First-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offensive revolution has yet to take flight with his first-string quarterback. Kyler Murray, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and top pick in April’s NFL Draft, looked every bit an overwhelmed rookie Thursday night. Murray completed only one of his five pass attempts against the Raiders’ blitz and was sacked twice — one of which resulted in an entirely avoidable safety.
He finished his day with eight total pass attempts and a very un-air raid 12 passing yards. By the time Murray headed to the bench for the night — after four series — the Cardinals trailed 26-0.
That deficit wasn’t just Murray’s fault. Arizona will have to fix major holes in its passing defense, which will be without Patrick Peterson for the first six weeks of the season due to a PED suspension. Offseason addition Robert Alford, who signed the second-largest contract of the Kingsbury era in hopes of offsetting Peterson’s absence, will also miss a “significant” chunk of the regular season due to injury.
How is the unit holding up behind them? Let’s just see how they did against the Raideeeeauughgggh oh my god.
That’s two perfect passer ratings from Derek Carr and Mike Glennon, and a technically perfect performance from interception god Nathan Peterman — even though only three of Peterman’s completions traveled more than five yards downfield. Peterman’s career regular season passer rating, for reference, is a robust 32.5.
It’s only the preseason, but geez.
Now on to this week’s winners
10. Josh McCown’s jersey room, which just got 10 percent more decoration
McCown will soon find his picture listed under the Webster’s Dictionary entry for “journeyman,” (should my letter to the editor find its way to the right hands). The 40-year-old broke his brief retirement to join the Eagles as Carson Wentz’s backup, making Philadelphia the 11th stop in a 17-year NFL career.
The veteran has alternated good and bad seasons since 2013. Fortunately (?) for the Eagles, 2018 was decidedly “bad” for the former Jet — his 55.8 passer rating was his lowest ever in a season where he’s thrown at least 20 passes. He’ll supplement a quarterback room that’s been ravaged by injury this preseason, as both Nate Sudfeld (broken wrist) and Cody Kessler (possible concussion) are slated to cede snaps. If McCown snaps back to form, he could carve out a spot as the No. 1 option behind Wentz this season — which, if history is any indication, will lead to an eventual Super Bowl MVP award.
9. The Cowboys, who appear to have a decent Plan B if Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout persists
Tailback/receiver Tony Pollard was exceedingly versatile at Memphis. The 2019 fourth-round pick earned only 139 career carries, but he also made 104 catches in three active seasons with the Tigers. He made the most of his touches, too — the explosive runner averaged nearly seven yards per rush and more than 12 yards per reception for a program that went to the postseason every year he was on the roster.
On Saturday, the rookie proved he can translate those skills to the NFL, at least in the preseason.
Pollard isn’t going to replace a player who led the league in rushing in two of his first three pro seasons, but the rookie is capable of making life a lot easier if Elliott fails to report to Dallas before the regular season. He finished his night with 42 rushing yards on only five carries, all of which came in a 97-yard opening drive against a smattering of Rams starters.
8. The Bears defensive line
It’s been good enough to make veteran guard Kyle Long completely lose his shit in practice.
Quite a practice for Bears RG Kyle Long tonight. Got into a scrap with rookie DE Jalen Dalton. Took Dalton’s helmet and starting hitting him with it. Then chucked it down the field. Was pulled from practice.— Jason Lieser (@JasonLieser) August 15, 2019
Oh, and then Long barfed a couple times on the sideline.
7. Underdog WRs battling for Bill Belichick’s attention
The Patriots came into 2019 needing targets for Tom Brady. This got so bad Bill Belichick spent a first-round draft pick on a wide receiver for the first time in his 19-year tenure with the club.
That pick, Arizona State standout N’Keal Harry, returned to Foxborough to rehab an injury suffered in Week 1 of the preseason. The rest of his team spent its week in Nashville prepping for Saturday’s exhibition against the Titans.
He wasn’t the only New England wideout to swap the practice field with a spot on the trainer’s table. On Saturday, the Pats were without:
- Julian Edelman (non-football injury list)
- Josh Gordon (not eligible to return to the team until Sunday)
- Phillip Dorsett (thumb injury)
- Demaryius Thomas (placed on the physically unable to play list)
- Cameron Meredith (also PUP), and
- Maurice Harris (undisclosed injury)
That left Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham to sling passes at undrafted free agent Jakobi Meyers, 2018 sixth-round pick Braxton Berrios, 2018 undrafted free agent Damoun Patterson, and Bemidji State defensive back Gunner Olszewski. And that group shined.
Meyers continued his meteoric rise with a six-catch, 82-yard performance that likely cements his place on the regular season roster. Patterson, who spent last fall on the club’s practice squad, hauled in the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Gordon’s return to the lineup will make it even tougher for these guys to make the roster in 2019, even if the timing of his eventual activation still raises questions. That aside, these wideouts got a solid chance to contribute Saturday night.
6. The Falcons, who finally have their answer to Taysom Hill
What’s that, New Orleans? You thought you’d be the only NFC South team to rely on trick play gadgetry from a former college-QB-turned-Swiss-Army-Knife-wideout? Nuh uh.
We have claimed QB Danny Etling off of waivers from New England. https://t.co/hvRhyuo1eB— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) August 14, 2019
And the rich get richer. Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley combined for 2,498 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. With Ridley in the mix, that aerial Cerberus could even go for 2,500 and 19. Dream big, Falcons.
Hill, on the other hand, spent his weekend proving he can push Teddy Bridgewater for the main understudy role with the Saints. The former BYU QB showed out against the Chargers second- and third-team defense, completing 11 of his 15 passes for 136 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also ran for 53 yards in a performance that should make the rest of the NFC South all the more uncomfortable.
5. Jamie Gillan, who got into this whole football thing sort of by accident
The Inverness, Scotland native only played in five total high school football games before earning a scholarship to Arkansas-Pine Bluff — an offer he accepted sight unseen thanks to a Facebook post, some fortutious luck, and the most laidback attitude in football. That crooked path brought him to the Browns as an undrafted rookie free agent. If he can keep uncorking kicks like this he very well may unseat Britton Colquitt for a spot on Cleveland’s roster.
Like you needed more of a reason to root for a guy nicknamed the Scottish Hammer.
4. Warren Sapp, who is an ass about Gerald McCoy but is not wrong
Sapp cropped up in the news this week for calling out former Buccaneer Gerald McCoy in an appearance on the Pewter Nation Podcast. McCoy, he explained, doesn’t have the resume to qualify as a Tampa Bay legend. And that means McCoy shouldn’t be upset the team gave away his No. 93 jersey to Ndamukong Suh this offseason. Sapp even suggested McCoy owes back some of the $110 million he made in his nine years with the club.
As a headline, these comments seem like petty sniping from a player whose best days are behind him and whose post-football career has been turbulent. He was roasting a six-time Pro Bowler whose oversized salary made him a poor fit on a rebuilding team, but who still had plenty to offer as a player. Sapp also referred to himself in the third person so, eesh.
In context, however, Sapp makes a pretty good argument.
“The way I look at it, the thing that kind of threw me sideways was Gerald talking about now that this organization doesn’t have a right [to give away his 93 jersey]. And then he wanted to say that Sapp, [Derrick] Brooks, Lee Roy [Selmon], [John] Lynch, Ronde [Barber], nobody wore their numbers. Last time I checked, those were Hall of Famers and champions. We didn’t go to one playoff game with him (McCoy) and not one damn divisional title, so, I think he owes some of those hundred million dollars back in that sense.”
The Bucs’ Ring of Honor features nine players, five of which were on the team’s lone Super Bowl squad. All but one of those men, offensive lineman Paul Gruber, has won a playoff game for Tampa. Only three of the team’s jersey numbers have been retired — NFL Hall of Famers Sapp, Brooks, and Selmon. McCoy might wind up honored back in Florida sometime in the future, but Sapp’s right about the fact McCoy can’t quite match up with the rest of the Buccaneers’ hallowed brethren.
t-2. The Los Angeles Chargers, who play the Colts in Week 1
At this point, questions about Andrew Luck’s health are the familiar chorus to a depressing song for Colts fans. Unfortunately for Indianapolis, the second verse is coming to an end right as the preseason has kicked into gear.
Colts aren't ready to determine whether Andrew Luck will or won't be ready for a Week 1 start; plan right now is to calm the ankle pain down.— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) August 13, 2019
Luck’s “little bone” problem (team owner Jim Irsay’s words) will shut him down for the preseason, though he looked mobile in pregame warmups this weekend. There’s a chance this roaming lower leg affliction could keep him off the practice field and leave him at less than 100 percent to start the 2019 regular season.
This is welcome news for the Chargers, who face Indianapolis to start the year. If Luck sits out Week 1, Los Angeles would go from facing a quarterback who has led his team to the postseason in each of the four seasons he’s started 16 games to facing Jacoby Brissett, who went 4-11 in 2017.
Brissett is better than that record suggests. The presence of banshee offensive lineman Quenton Nelson and rock-solid young tackle Braden Smith mean he’s unlikely to get sacked on 10 percent of his dropbacks like he did in ‘17. Even so, he’s a significant step down from Luck. Los Angeles needs all the help it can get against a loaded schedule. Taking flight against a hobbled Indy team would an excellent start to the Chargers’ haggard quest to win Philip Rivers a title.
t-2. The Indianapolis Colts, who play the Chargers in Week 1
Here’s who Los Angeles could be without for the season opener:
Notable Chargers:— Field Yates (@FieldYates) August 16, 2019
* RB Melvin Gordon: holding out, willing to miss games
* S Derwin James: fractured 5th metatarsal, no timetable to return
* LT Russell Okung: on non-football illness list after a pulmonary embolism
* WR Keenan Allen: ankle surgery, likely to miss preseason
Eep. James opted for surgery on his broken foot this week and will likely miss two to three months while he rehabs. Bad luck and injury problems are wrecking the Chargers.
That is an extremely Chargers sentence to write.
1. Lamar Jackson, who looks very much like Lamar Jackson
It’s fair to be worried about a running quarterback and the damage he takes over the course of a season. Jackson, who ran the ball 17 times per start, has mitigated that risk my making sure no one touches him, ever.
That touchdown run didn’t count thanks to an illegal blindside block, but it was still showcased the “why?” behind Baltimore’s furious finish in 2018. It wasn’t all running on Thursday, either. Drops prevented what should have been an 8-10 performance in a pair of Week 2 drives that ended in field goals for the Ravens.
The Browns have a great opportunity to climb up the AFC North this fall, but Jackson has the chops to make sure their division title-less streak reaches 30 years in 2019.