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8 winners and 6 losers from Week 3 of the NFL preseason

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Andy Dalton deserves a round of applause, but the Bills OL really doesn’t.

Cincinnati Bengals v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The third week of the preseason is supposedly a dress rehearsal for the regular season. More starters play more snaps, sometimes a few of them even make it into the second half of the game.

Teams still aren’t going all out or opening those back chapters of the playbook. And this week, for coaches, is still more about putting the finishing touches on the roster than anything else.

But it’s close enough — less than two weeks now! — to give us a better sense of where things are going. What we can maybe be excited about, and which things should leave fans in the depths of despair.

This week’s preseason action opened with the Eagles at the Browns, a 5-0 Cleveland win that was pure exhibition football. It ended Sunday night when the Cardinals crushed the Cowboys, 27-3.

Since the scores don’t really matter, we still feel obligated to name some winners and losers. This is sports, after all.

Winner: Randy Gregory is back in the sack business

The talented pass rusher showed well in Dallas’ second exhibition game, but didn’t get a sack in his limited reps. On Sunday, he once again got limited reps, but he did even more with them. Most notably, Gregory outright annihilated 2015 first-round pick D.J. Humphries on this play to sack Sam Bradford:

Gregory has missed more games than he’s played due to multiple substance-abuse-related suspensions, but his talent is real. If he keeps doing things like that play above, and can stay on the field, the Cowboys might have one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league with Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence.

(After the game, there were rumors Gregory could be dealing with another off-the-field issues, but Jerry Jones said he expects Gregory to play in the season opener.)

I suppose you could also call Sam Bradford a winner as well, seeing as how he took the sack and didn’t break in half. — James Brady

Loser: Josh Allen’s supporting cast

In his first start — and his chance to nail down the Week 1 gig — Allen didn’t get much help at all from the rest of Buffalo offense.

Kelvin Benjamin jumped too early and dropped an easy pass, while other teammates had trouble lining up:

But the worst offender was the Bills offensive line. With little time to throw and little in the way of pass protection, Allen was sacked five times for 39 yards and only completed 6 of 12 passes for 34 yards.

The Bills should have listened to Stephen White and called Allen’s day over after that fifth sack:

But they gave him one more chance with less than a minute to go before halftime. Allen was swarmed once again, but rather than take a sixth sack, he managed to throw the ball away. Unfortunately, his head hit the ground on the tackle.

He stayed in the game for another play, even though he shouldn’t have, handing the ball off to Marcus Murphy. He was evaluated for a concussion after that and was later cleared.

Nathan Peterman entered the game for Allen and may have locked down the starting job for Week 1. Peterman quietly has had a great preseason, and the offense — which was still mostly starters when he was in, albeit against Bengals backups — found a rhythm when Peterman took over.

On Sunday, Peterman finished with 200 yards passing. In three preseason games, he’s completed 80 percent of his passes (33 of 41), with three touchdowns and one interception. Especially with the dire state of the offensive line, the Bills might want to hold off on starting Allen right away during the regular season. — Sarah Hardy

Winner: Andy Dalton and the Bengals’ passing game

Andy Dalton got a standing ovation from Bills fans before the game. That was the last time they cheered for Dalton all day.

Dalton picked on the Buffalo secondary on the first play of the game and didn’t really let up in the five drives he played. On his first snap Sunday afternoon, he found John Ross — the first-round pick who ended his rookie year with zero catches — for a 57-yard touchdown strike that was punctuated with Ross embarrassing a couple of defenders:

Dalton spread the ball around, connecting with six different receivers. That included tight end Tyler Eifert, who played for the first time in almost a year, for an 11-yard gain. Dalton also threw a touchdown pass to his favorite target, A.J. Green.

In less than a half, Dalton completed 11 of 16 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns. That deserves another round of applause, even if it’s not from the Buffalo crowd this time. — Sarah Hardy

Loser: The Bills’ MIA challenge flag

Look, I know it’s preseason. And I know the Bills have a punter competition going on after signing former Seahawk Jon Ryan earlier this week.

BUUUUUT:

It sure looked like Josh Allen got this first down. Allen’s known for his big arm, but his acceleration on this run was impressive — and at least deserved a challenge from Sean McDermott when the refs called him short:

Instead, McDermott decided to hurry up and punt. On fourth-and-1. At midfield. Down 14-0. Preseason football, ladies and gents! — Sarah Hardy

Winner: Lamar Jackson’s breakout night

Jackson has looked like a work in progress so far this preseason — or in other words, he’s looked like a rookie. But he’s trending up after he had his best performance yet in Week 3.

On Saturday night against the Dolphins, Jackson was accurate and looked much more in control, completing 7 of 10 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown and only taking one sack.

He got it done with his legs too, picking up 39 yards on the ground and dazzling us with this touchdown run:

Let’s get a close-up of that extension to appreciate it a little more:

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Flacco isn’t in danger of losing the starting job yet, but it’s hard not to be excited about Jackson’s future, especially on nights like that. — Sarah Hardy

Loser: Blake Bortles was careless with the football

The Jaguars quarterback has been an interception machine for most of his career and it doesn’t look like he’s changed much. He played the entire first half Saturday and the first drive of the second half, but tossed interceptions on his first and last drives of the night.

On the first, he didn’t see a linebacker underneath.

On the second, he was just wildly inaccurate.

But he was fortunate that his most egregiously awful throw of the night fell incomplete.

Bortles finished with 17 completions on 23 attempts for 204 yards, but turnovers have been, and still are, the bane of his existence. The Jaguars defense is good enough to keep the team in every game, but Bortles is always a threat to put them in a bad spot. — Adam Stites

Winner: Adrian Peterson is aliiiiiiiive

Peterson, the one-time NFL MVP and owner of the single-game rushing record, turned 33 this March. He had been a free agent since about the same time, which wasn’t much of a surprise in a league that values running backs over 30 like they’re characters in Logan’s Run.

But then Washington came a-calling, following preseason injuries to young running backs Derrius Guice, Samaje Perine, and Byron Marshall. Just four days after signing with the team, Peterson made his Washington debut.

You’d understand if he was rusty — he’s elderly in running back years, missed his last five games in Arizona last season with a neck injury, and had practiced just a few times with his new team.

He wasn’t, though. He ran hard, found some holes, made cuts, and even looked ... spry?

That 15-yard gain on fourth down was his longest play against the Broncos. By the end of the night, Peterson was the game’s leading rusher, with 11 carries for 56 yards.

That doesn’t mean that Peterson has found the fountain of youth. He even said after the game that he’d have to see how his body responds the next day. And this is the same player who kept alternating between strong games and terrible ones last year before he got hurt.

But for someone who just joined a new team and hadn’t played since November, that was an impressive performance — no matter what his age is. — Sarah Hardy

Winner: Sam Darnold looks ready to be the Week 1 starter

Sam Darnold kept his stellar preseason rolling against the New York Giants. On his first drive, he led the Jets down the field on an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. He had a key scramble on a third-and-long to keep the chains moving en route to a touchdown.

Darnold has shown the poise, accuracy, and ball security to make a serious case to be the Jets’ starter right out of the gate. At this point, he probably will be considering he started the past two preseason games, including the ever-important Week 3 “dress rehearsal.”

As it stands now, the only other rookie quarterback with a real shot to start is Josh Allen — two rookie quarterbacks starting in the AFC East. Somewhere, Bill Belichick is smiling. —Charles McDonald

Loser: Matt Patricia and the Lions fail a Kick 6 lesson

At the end of the first half against the Bucs, first-time head coach Matt Patricia made a curious decision. The Lions were facing third-and-5 from the Tampa Bay 37 with 20 seconds left and had all three timeouts. Patricia declined to use one then to set up a play and Matthew Stafford got sacked on third down instead.

It was only AFTER that when Patricia decided to use two timeouts ... to set up a Kick Six, Auburn-Alabama style:

But ... what if it was all on purpose? Maybe Mr. P was just trying to teach them a lesson and see how they’d handle a Kick Six in a game situation:

It’d be befitting of the guy dressed like a substitute teacher who wants to be taken seriously:

But nah, there’s no excuse for such lousy clock management. Somewhere, Bill Belichick is shaking his head. — Sarah Hardy

Winner: Christian McCaffrey is thriving in Norv Turner’s offense

When the Panthers selected Christian McCaffrey with the eighth overall pick, they were hoping to get a do-it-all back with the ability to create explosive plays on a consistent basis.

Heading into his second year, he looks poised to become that player. McCaffrey had another strong preseason performance — this time against the New England Patriots. After scoring a 71-yard touchdown against the Dolphins, McCaffrey has continued his streak of hot play.

It’s taken them awhile, but it appears the Panthers finally have a weapon not named Greg Olsen to alleviate some of the pressure on Cam Newton. McCaffrey looks fantastic — hopefully his play continues into the regular season. — Charles McDonald

Loser: What happened to Nick Foles?

Are you a half-full glass kind of person or half-empty? That outlook on life may have a lot to say about how you view Nick Foles’ uninspiring preseason performance so far. Three games into the preseason, he’s yet to produce any points for the Eagles.

Thursday night was his worst outing yet. Foles was responsible for three turnovers, a fumble and two interceptions. He even got sacked for a safety.

A glass-half-full take would immediately point out that the Eagles were without their starting left tackle and best wide receivers. Half-empty says we’ve seen a lot more of this Nick Foles in his career than we have the guy who won the Super Bowl MVP.

Can he bounce back? Maybe. — Ryan Van Bibber

From Bleeding Green Nation:

It’s only the preseason, and we’ve certainly seen Foles bounce back from bad games before. But even including training camp practices, it has not been a good summer for No. 9.

Winner: The Browns QBs survived

Nobody would’ve questioned the Browns, or any other team, for keeping the playcalling as vanilla as possible. This is a preseason game. Not the Browns though. Sitting on first-and-goal, the Browns lined up in the shotgun and threw the ball, not once, not twice but FOUR times. It was on the fourth-and-1 when Taylor injured his hand.

Taylor left the game with a left hand injury. Turns out he was okay. Bullet dodged. Not content to leave fate well enough alone, Hue Jackson decided to let Taylor back into the game.

Remember too that Taylor has the starting job locked up, so this move makes even less sense.

Baker Mayfield was evaluated for a concussion in the second half, but he cleared the protocol. The rookie’s stats were nothing special, but he certainly wasn’t getting ANY help from the offensive line backups. But he did show the ability to avoid sacks and looked good in the pocket. — Ryan Van Bibber

Winner: Myles Garrett and the Browns defense

Led by Garrett, the Browns pass rush pushed around Philadelphia’s offensive line. Garrett had two of Cleveland’s seven sacks on the night, and the unit produced four turnovers.

Rookie corner Denzel Ward left the game with a back injury. He did not return to the game. However, it does not appear to be a serious injury. Ward will have an MRI on Friday. — Ryan Van Bibber

Loser: The Chiefs defense might be a nightmare

While Cleveland’s defense is headed in the right direction, Kansas City’s is not. It had a dearth of talent in 2017 and may be even worse off in 2018 without players like Marcus Peters, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Bennie Logan, and Ron Parker.

The hope was that a long list of new defenders would help spur a revival, but the Chiefs’ performance against the Bears should sound alarms.

Chicago sat a long list of players — including Mitchell Trubisky and most of the rest of the Bears offense — and still carved up the Chiefs defense with ease. Eric Berry and Steve Nelson didn’t play, but for the most part, it was the first-team that couldn’t handle Chase Daniel and co.

At halftime, the Bears had a 24-10 lead and Daniel had a 149.5 passer rating with 15 completions on 18 attempts for 198 yards and two touchdowns. Daniel also had 48 rushing yards.

Daniel is a quality NFL backup, but yikes, the Chiefs defense looks really rough. — Adam Stites