This was a night for the football diehards. While most of the country was focused on a pool a hemisphere away, the return of preseason football felt like a wave of relief washing over us.
Thursday's six games weren't all memorable, meaningful barnburners. They were proof that live football is here and it's not going away for 26 weeks.
From the Broncos' tight quarterback battle to Carson Wentz's debut to more spectacular catches from Michael Thomas, Thursday felt fresh. Even Jim Schwartz's sideline scowl looked different in Eagles garb. Here's what we learned:
- By most accounts, the Mark Sanchez / Trevor Siemian battle has been a push throughout training camp. Thursday night was similar and mostly encouraging for both players.
Sanchez had his career distilled into three drives: Touchdown, interception and three-and-out. Siemian showed command, timing and calm while leading the Broncos to three field-goal attempts in four drives. Both players made a few impressive throws. It comes down to what kind of quarterback coach Gary Kubiak wants to roll with. Siemian, a 2015 seventh-round pick, strangely could be the safer option. Sanchez is more prone to the big moment and the big mistake. This battle remains too close to call.
- Rookie first-round quarterback Paxton Lynch played the entire second half, simultaneously showing why he's not yet in the starting picture and why he should be before long. Lynch held the ball too long while taking three sacks and didn't lead the Broncos to any points. But he showed off his arm and legs on a handful of plays and only had one incompletion.
- Perhaps Kubiak and Broncos general manager John Elway aren't sweating the quarterback situation because they watch the Broncos' defense daily. Denver's defense attacked the Bears like the team was angry at former coach John Fox. Chicago started the game with a three-and-out on three of its first four possessions. The Broncos had seven sacks on the way to a shutout despite missing Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and Chris Harris.
- One positive for the Bears: Rookies Leonard Floyd and Jonathan Bullard both created pressure on passing downs.
- Jimmy Garoppolo has taken a test drive as a potential Patriots starter before. His solid play looked a lot like most of his steady efforts in the preseason before. He took what the defense gave him. He belonged without lighting it up.
- The Patriots' receiver group was missing Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan. Then it lost promising rookie Malcolm Mitchell, who suffered an ugly elbow injury. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported that an MRI is coming for Mitchell, whose elbow was "popped back into place" after a subluxation. At the moment, he stands to miss four weeks.
- Saints rookie receiver Michael Thomas has been one of the stories of training camp with daily jaw-dropping catches. It was nice to see that carry over into the games; two of his four catches for 67 yards were highlight reel stuff. Thomas was fourth in the rotation at receiver but that shouldn't last long.
- The Saints need an improved pass rush and defensive end Kasim Edebali is stepping up. He recorded two sacks and two tackles for loss. He looks like a starter.
- Wentz's debut wasn't nearly as bad as his stats would suggest. While he only finished with 89 yards and a pick on 24 attempts, Marc Sessler notes that Wentz flashed plenty of talent.
- There's no need to panic (of course), but it was hard not to notice Washington's struggles to run the ball with their top backs. Matt Jones and Keith Marshall combined for no yardage on seven carries. At least the Redskins' starting defense looked good, forcing Matt Ryan into consecutive three-and-outs.
- Credit should go to the Falcons' young defense for showing well in its first try. Rookie linebackers Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell give this group a faster, more athletic look.
- Ravens running back Terrance West was another player that built on camp buzz with a quality preseason effort. His numbers weren't great (32 yards and two scores), but his explosiveness, power and footwork were easy to see. Rookie running back Kenneth Dixon also looked good playing against backups.
- Geno Smith celebrated the one-year anniversary of "The Punch" by getting booed by Jets fans after a few incompletions. He bounced back to throw a go-ahead 17-yard touchdown because that's what Geno Smith does.
- Writers at Jaguars camp have written that receiver Allen Robinson looks like a much better player this year, which is scary coming off a 1,400-yard season. Jets cornerback Dee Milliner agrees.
- For the fantasy leaguers: Ronnie Hillman played ahead of Devontae Booker in the Broncos' backfield. Jacquizz Rodgers played ahead of Jordan Howard in Chicago.
- Bucs rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo will be in the spotlight this season after the Bucs traded up to take him. He didn't miss a single field goal under 40 yards or an extra point in college, but his first kick in the NFL was a missed extra point. Hopefully he gets the yips out of the way early; he closed out his night with a 38-yard field goal.