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9 takeaways from the 1st night of the 2016 NFL preseason

Some rookies got off to a good start in their preseason debuts on Thursday.

NFL: Preseason-Denver Broncos at Chicago Bears Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The most important thing to remember about preseason — particularly the first week of preseason — is that it can be deceiving. Just last year, Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles looked downright unstoppable, racking up 133 points in four games before opening the regular season 0-2.

All takeaways come with a grain of salt and the knowledge that a complete reversal is possible; however, there are usually signs of things to come during the exhibition games in August. On one hand, don’t get too excited and don’t throw a team to the wolves for preseason performances. On the other, it’s still worth whatever attention you can muster before the game becomes too boring (and that can come quick).

On Thursday, the preseason officially got started, which included the debuts of the 2016 versions of the two teams that played in the Super Bowl in February. The Denver Broncos won and the Carolina Panthers lost, but the scores don’t tell the whole story:

Highlights of the night

1. It’s not a secret that the Jacksonville JaguarsAllen Robinson is one of the best young receivers in the NFL, but he was in midseason form on Thursday night. On back-to-back players, Blake Bortles just put it in the general vicinity of Robinson and let the 22-year-old Pro Bowler do the rest.

2. The New England Patriots essentially opened up the preseason with the entire offense out of action. While Jimmy Garoppolo got some crucial live snaps before his regular season debut, he was without many of the team’s top weapons, including Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman.

So linebacker Jamie Collins went ahead and helped out the offense himself with a pick-six (as did Trey Flowers with a strip sack returned for a touchdown) along with some plain ol' dominant run defense.

3. Eagles fans were excited to see Carson Wentz and, while they got a so-so performance out of the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, it was still an exciting glimpse at what’s to come. He completed 12 of his 24 passes for 89 yards, which is far from a great stat line, but Wentz also showed off a lot of the athleticism that excited the Eagles in the first place. He’s not ready to live up to that potential yet, but there’s no doubt the high ceiling is there.

4. Michael Thomas led the New Orleans Saints with four receptions for 67 yards against the Patriots and a couple of the catches dazzled.

His teammates think he’s the real deal and the second-round rookie certainly kept the hype train chugging right along with his performance.

No need to panic

5. Mark Sanchez looked Mark Sanchez-y, finishing with a touchdown and an interception, but that’s really not that bad. The offense looked its best when the veteran was in and it struggled to move the ball with Trevor Siemian under center.

In the grand scheme, Sanchez is just a stopgap until Paxton Lynch is ready to take over the starting job, and the rookie showed his big potential Thursday night. Things in Denver are exactly the way Broncos fans should have expected them to be for the preseason opener.

6. The Atlanta Falcons were completely inept early and then came back late to beat Washington. Matt Schaub looked much better than Matt Ryan, which is certainly not a good sign. But Ryan has been essentially the same exact quarterback since his rookie season, posting almost the same numbers every year in the NFL.

There’s not much reason to believe a preseason game — and one against a much improved defense at that — means a sudden collapse of his career is upon us. Deep breaths, Falcons fans.

7. What’s most frustrating about the gruesome elbow injury for Malcolm Mitchell is how good the Patriots receiver was playing just before it happened. The fourth-round pick looked great in his debut in a New England uniform before his elbow bent in the wrong direction and ended his night.

It’s certainly not a good injury, but the early reports are that it was just a dislocation without much structural damage and the Patriots believe he’ll be ready to return in about four weeks. That’s great news for the Patriots, as the team will want its offensive arsenal as stacked as possible while Tom Brady serves a four-game suspension to start the season.

That doesn’t bode well

8. There are questions about the Chicago Bears' offensive line and things definitely didn’t get answered on Thursday when Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer were sacked five times in the first half. The good news is that the Broncos' defense makes a lot of offenses look bad, so all is not lost. Still, it’s not a good start for a unit that many already worried about. What say you, Jay?

9. Stopping the Panthers' offense can be tough, but certainly the Baltimore Ravens can do better than that in coverage, right? Both Jerraud Powers and Kyle Arrington struggled and looked lost at times, which isn’t a good sign for the team. Jimmy Smith and Shareece Wright are the starters, but teams have to have more than two capable cornerbacks to survive in this era of the NFL.

If it’s not a case of rust that needs to be shaken off, the Ravens might have to look for a veteran cornerback on the open market to patch the roster hole.