2021 NFL preseason, Week 3: What we learned from Sunday's games

NFL.com breaks down what you need to know from Week 3 of the 2021 NFL preseason. Catch up on each game's biggest takeaways using the links below:

Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville Jaguars
2021 · 1-2-0
Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys
2021 · 0-4-0

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. Trevor Lawrence is the real deal. Lawrence compiled his best performance of the preseason Sunday, looking every bit like the No. 1 overall pick in leading two touchdown drives. His second scoring march was his most impressive, as he connected with Laviska Shenault Jr. on a trio of completions, with the final -- a perfectly placed pass to Shenault on a corner route -- going for a touchdown. Lawrence was red hot, repeatedly delivering passes on time and on target while working with a slight advantage of having some of Jacksonville's starters at his disposal. After trading Gardner Minshew to Philadelphia, Jacksonville took its first step forward with Lawrence in charge Sunday. The rookie delivered and appears ready to embark on his first professional season.
  2. The Cowboys' backup quarterback battle remains murky. Cooper Rush started the game with a chance to take a firm hold on the No. 2 spot on Dallas' depth chart, but with the Cowboys trotting out their second-stringers against a Jacksonville defense mostly filled by starters, it was an uphill battle from the start. Rush did little to impress, completing just 4 of 8 passes for 16 yards and failing to move the offense before handing the keys to his competition, Garrett Gilbert, who had an easier go as Jacksonville replaced starters with backups. With this considered, we really didn't learn much at all about how Dallas might proceed at the position, even after Gilbert led a nice touchdown drive that included a fourth-down conversion and a well-timed touchdown pass to Aaron Parker. It'll be interesting to see how this situation plays out as the Cowboys trim their roster to 53 by the Tuesday deadline.

NFL Research: Trevor Lawrence is the first rookie, and only the third player, since 2017 to record at least 130 pass yards and two pass TDs on 12 or fewer attempts in a preseason game.

Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins
2021 · 2-1-0
Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati Bengals
2021 · 1-2-0

Jeremy Bergman's takeaways:

  1. One small step for Joe. Making his first on-field appearance since blowing out his knee last November, Joe Burrow played just three snaps on Sunday. The Bengals QB took the field to a deserved standing ovation from the Cincinnati faithful and proceeded to hand the ball off twice -- once to Tyler Boyd on a sweep, once to Joe Mixon on a third-and-forever. Burrow's lone passing attempt came on second down. The Bengals QB took the snap out of the gun and threw a dart of a screen to his left toward former LSU teammate Ja'Marr Chase. The rookie, who's been struggling with drops, dropped Burrow's lone attempt as defensive backs closed in. Burrow's stat line: three snaps, one attempt, no completions, no yards -- but most importantly, for Burrow and the 2021 Bengals, one game played and healthy.
  2. Did down-roster Dolphins do enough? Miami is entering the season with a three-headed monster at WR (DeVante Parker, Will Fuller, Jaylen Waddle) and a Myles Gaskin-led backfield. But is there any room on the 53-man roster for a pair of seventh-round picks? As Miami's starters sat Sunday, RB/WR Malcolm Perry (2020) and RB Gerrid Doaks (2021) each made their case to crack the Week 1 lineup with productive performances. Perry played nearly every offensive snap and caught four of five targets from Reid Sinnett (also on the bubble) for 69 yards, including a 36-yard haul in stride on a crossing route, plus Miami's game-sealing two-point conversion. Doaks led all Dolphins with 16 carries and 56 rushing yards and was a hammer on the goal line, scoring two rushing TDs. Neither player is a game-breaker, but both could break through on cutdown day.

NFL Research: Reid Sinnett's 343 passing yards against Cincinnati were the most by a QB in a preseason game since at least 2017.

San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers
2021 · 2-1-0
Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders
2021 · 2-1-0

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. Prepare for takeoff, 49ers fans. Kyle Shanahan wasted little time Sunday involving Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance in a rotation, throwing Lance in on the 49ers' fifth offensive play and continuing to intermittently rotate the two through their first few possessions of the half. The results were astounding, with Garoppolo leading the 49ers through the air and Lance's mere presence clearing more room for Raheem Mostert to run. Ironically, it was Garoppolo, not Lance, who scored the first rushing touchdown of the day, but Lance got his own later in the half. By the time the intermission arrived, everyone watching came to the same realization: The 49ers are going to be a nightmare to defend if this is how Shanahan intends to deploy his quarterbacks this season.
  2. Sunday gave us a peek of what the Raiders could get out of a pair of young corners. Damon Arnette was a surprise first-round pick and needs to be better -- both in health and in performance -- than he was in 2020. He showed signs of improvement early in Sunday's game, breaking up a pass intended for Deebo Samuel (and getting away with a little contact), and closing quickly to disrupt a pass intended for Trent Sherfield. The latter showed off some of the skills -- play recognition, reaction, ball skills -- that made Arnette an effective corner at Ohio State, and could help him become one for the Raiders. And Amik Robertson seems to have found a home on the outside after his slot conversion attempt failed, finishing with four tackles, including one that required Robertson to fight through a block to cut down a Jalen Hurd jet sweep attempt short of the sticks. If Las Vegas can get production out of these two, or a sign of consistent improvement, they'll be much stronger on the back end than they were a year ago.

NFL Research: The 49ers rushed for 242 yards and four TDs against the Raiders on Sunday. San Francisco is the only team since at least 2017 with at least 240 rushing yards and four rushing scores in a single preseason game.

New England Patriots
New England Patriots
2021 · 3-0-0
New York Giants
New York Giants
2021 · 0-3-0

Adam Maya's takeaways:

  1. Restart. The Giants didn't play all their offensive starters in the preseason finale, just the ones they seem to have the most questions about. Sunday's answers weren't particularly encouraging. Daniel Jones was picked off in the Patriots’ end zone and nearly again on a subsequent drive. He did rally by leading a textbook touchdown drive to close out the first half. But too often over five series, the third-year QB was indecisive when looking past his first read. That sometimes wasn't an option, as left tackle Andrew Thomas struggled to protect Jones' blind side, allowing two sacks and drawing a holding call. New York has to be concerned about the No. 4 pick of the 2020 draft, especially after an uneven rookie campaign. Nate Solder, once the team's prized free-agent signing who opted out of last season, didn't fare much better on the right side.
  2. Running it back. Sony Michel was unlikely to ever produce enough for the Patriots to warrant his first-round selection in 2018, a pick that's aged even worse when considering fellow Georgia product Nick Chubb and Lamar Jackson were still on the board. Netting a pair of late-round picks in a swap with the Rams is fair compensation. Michel, who wasn't a full-time starter last year, was really a roster luxury. Just ask the Giants. The triumvirate of J.J. Taylor, Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson, who scored his fifth rushing touchdown of the preseason, combined for 128 yards on just 18 carries Sunday. Add in James White and Brandon Bolden to the mix, and you can understand why New England was more than comfortable parting with Michel.

NFL Research: Rhamondre Stevenson's five rushing TDs are the most by any player in a single preseason since 2017.

Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns
2021 · 3-0-0
Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta Falcons
2021 · 0-3-0

Adam Maya's takeaways:

  1. Prime selection: The Browns have some tough calls to make with their skill players before cut day. Rookie Demetric Felton shouldn't be among them. The 2021 sixth-rounder closed out the preseason with his finest performance yet. Within a six-minute span during the second quarter, Felton logged a 37-yard kickoff return, 11-yard punt return and 15-yard run. Last week he had eight rushing attempts, the previous week four receptions. His primary role moving forward might be as a returner, but his ability to line up everywhere on offense gives Kevin Stefanski another interesting chess piece. KhaDarel Hodge might have also stamped his ticket on the 53-man roster by catching a touchdown pass for the second consecutive week. It's just hard to be certain. Cleveland is loaded with weapons.
  2. Will Rosen be chosen? The No. 10 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft has played so little over the past three years that his best trait often gets buried amid the criticism. For all his faults, Josh Rosen can rip it. He offered a timely reminder Sunday evening against the Browns, just two days before all rosters have to be trimmed to 53. Rosen, a mere five days removed from signing with the Falcons, played the entire second half of the NFL's final preseason game of 2021. It was enough time for him to produce a handful of highlight throws, including one off his back foot for a 7-yard TD to Juwan Green. Rosen also had his share of miscues, which were expected given his late arrival and lack of familiarity with a new playbook. But his arm talent alone warrants a longer look from around the league, if not Atlanta.

NFL Research: The Browns' 51 pass attempts are the second-most by any team in a preseason game in 2021. Their 130 pass attempts this preseason rank third most by any team. The Browns recorded the fifth-fewest pass attempts (501) in the NFL last season.

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