What we learned from Friday's NFL preseason games

We're knee deep in Week 3 of the NFL preseason -- also known as dress rehearsal week for the upcoming season. Here's what we've learned from Friday's games:

  1. Cam Newton opened the tilt with a 16-play, 77-yard field goal march that chewed nearly 10 minutes off the clock. It was a relief to see Ace Boogie finish the drive after Carolina's starting passer briefly left the field after crashing helmet-first into the ground on a diving 10-yard scramble to move the chains. After visiting the blue tent for a spell, Newton bounced back to finish 11-of-17 passing for 142 yards. Cam showed chemistry with his targets, hitting Devin Funchess on a 28-yard bullet and a wide-open Curtis Samuel for 28 yards of his own. Greg Olsen came on late with a pair of huge grabs to set up a field goal that ended the first half. On the ground, Christian McCaffrey piled up 64 total yards off 14 touches and looked great ripping off a physical 18-yard run down the sideline. He's a stronger specimen this time around, one bound for a fascinating campaign.
  1. We won't see Julian Edelman until October, but the slot man looked spry on a pair of chain-moving grabs for the Patriots. He also dropped a ball he should have had along the sideline. While Rob Gronkowski wound up catch-free off two drives, Tom Brady made solid use of Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson. Both players add an element of speed to the attack, but the Patriots were forced into a field goal on their second march thanks to a handful of phenomenal stops by Panthers All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly near the goal line. Not sure it means much, but we saw receiver Riley McCarron take the field before Eric Decker for New England.
  1. It's fair to wonder what Carolina's line will look like come Week 1. Right tackle Jeremiah Sirles was carted off and quickly ruled out with a hamstring injury. Typically a guard, Sirles was filling in for Taylor Moton, who previously shifted over to replace banged-up bookend Matt Kalil. For what it's worth, reserve tackle Blaine Clausell was the next man up on the right side.

-- Marc Sessler

  1. Broncos general manager John Elway has come under fire for shaky quarterback play and a dilapidated offensive line of late, but his rookie class is poised to deliver a shot of redemption. First-round pass rusher Bradley Chubb combined with Von Miller for a sack. Second-round wideout Courtland Sutton showed an impressive catch radius and leaping ability on a sideline catch over Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman. Third-round running back Royce Freeman found the end zone for the third straight week. Don't sleep on undrafted scatback Phillip Lindsay, who converted a third-and-3 with an 18-yard catch-and-run on a wheel route to extend the opening drive. Lindsay has played well enough not only to make the team, but also to carve out a role as a change-of-pace option and a jitterbug mismatch out of the backfield.
  1. Not to be outdone by the fresh faces, veteran wideout Emmanuel Sanders looks rejuvenated after a disappointing 2017 campaign. At one point late in the second quarter, an explosive Sanders touched the ball four times on five Denver plays for 82 yards and a touchdown.
  1. Before signing Adrian Peterson to bolster a banged-up backfield, Redskins coach Jay Gruden insisted Rob Kelley was entrenched as the starter. Friday night's game suggested the situation is more fluid, as Peterson followed up with an impressive debut after wowing the Redskins in a workout early this week. Former Washington star Clinton Portis, operating as the Redskins' sideline reporter, stated twice that Peterson is already the favorite to handle lead-back duties because he's on the only runner on the roster who can get downhill in a hurry rather than hesitating at the line of scrimmage. Starter or not, Peterson figures to have a significant role in Gruden's backfield.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. In his first game action since tearing his ACL early last October, running back Dalvin Cook carried the ball twice for 1 yard on the Vikings' opening possession. Slated for just one series to knock off the rust after a long layoff, Cook assured sideline reporter Ben Leber, "It felt great to get banged around, tossed around. ... I'm ready." Cook is slated to open the season as the starter, with veteran Latavius Murray and impressive undrafted rookie Mike Boone also in the mix.
  1. Just days after cutting veteran Kai Forbath, coach Mike Zimmer is already stressing over replacement kicker Daniel Carlson. Asked if he was concerned after the rookie missed a pair of field goals in the first half, Zimmer replied, "Yes, yes. Definitely."
  1. If Brandon Marshall's roster spot was in jeopardy, Friday night's first half might have removed all doubt. Marshall led the first-team offense with three receptions for 34 yards, including a pair of catches versus physical Pro Bowl cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Keep an eye on 2017 seventh-round pick David Moore, who shined for the second straight week. After catching a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter Friday night, Moore returned a punt 75 yards for another score only to have it wiped out by penalty.

The reason venerable punter Jon Ryan was released earlier this week? Hotshot rookie Michael Dickson, who booted five balls for 268 yards (53.6 yards per punt), including a pair of punts that bounced inside the 5-yard line, took hard right turns at Albuquerque and rolled out of bounds near the goal line. The Texas Bowl MVP is going to be fun to watch in Seattle.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. The offseason certainly hasn't dampened Eli Manning's chemistry with his receiving corps. The veteran passer looked sharp in his first-half foray against the Jets, completing 17 of 23 passes for 188 yards. He wasn't finicky in whom he targeted as the whole wide receiving corps got involved -- except for Odell Beckham, who didn't play. Sterling Shepard caught seven passes for 78 yards. Unfortunately, tight end Evan Engram left in the first half after suffering a concussion. While there was plenty to like about the offense, running back Jonathan Stewart's struggles continued. The veteran was supposed to be a lock for the No. 2 RB position behind rookie Saquon Barkley, but a lost fumble coupled with another dire ground-pounding effort (minus-7 yards on three carries) won't help his cause. Gallman and Jhurrell Pressley did a better job.
  1. Did Sam Darnolddo enough to win the Jets' starting QB job? Jets coach Todd Bowles isn't one to announce big decisions without having time to stew over the evidence, so don't expect an imminent decision. Darnold, based on his playing time Friday in combination with a solid overall effort, appears to be the favorite. He completed 8 of 16 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown over nearly three full quarters of play. Teddy Bridgewater also put in a steady effort in what was a much smaller observation window against Giants reserves. He completed 11 of 15 passes for 104 yards, but couldn't punch it into the end zone late. Bridgewater could see significant playing time next week as the Jets try to figure out their biggest preseason question. Outside of the QB duel, the Jets' special teamers need to learn to hold onto the ball. Turnovers and fumbles on special teams devastated their chances at a win. Thirteen penalties also didn't help.

-- Austin Knoblauch

  1. Following a highly ponderous weather delay, the Bucs and Lions tussled on a rain-soaked field in Tampa. I left this tilt concerned about Detroit's starting defense. Commentator Bruce Arians complimented Ryan Fitzpatrick's ability to throw a wet football -- that was part of it -- but Tampa's starters simply rolled through Detroit, with runner Peyton Barber shredding Matt Patricia's gang for 34 yards on an opening drive capped by the back's 14-yard scoring gallop. With the Saints, Eagles and Steelers on tap during Jameis Winston's suspension, the Bucs want to pound the ball to help Fitzpatrick. The old vet can still wing it, though, unfurling a beautiful 37-yard rope to rookie Ronald Jones and finishing with 6-of-7 passing for 87 yards on the night.
  1. In a still-awkward scenario, franchise arm Jameis Winston again took the field after Fitzy. He made a string of big plays, hitting DeSean Jackson in stride on a beautiful 19-yard inside fade before galloping for another first down. Winston capped that march with a well-placed back-shoulder scoring dart to a leaping Chris Godwin. The CBS broadcast team noted that Fitzpatrick called last year's version of Godwin "the most professionally complete rookie receiver he's ever seen." This offense has plenty of talent, but it's up to coach Dirk Koetter to overcome Winston's suspension and make this operation sing. That said, Fitzpatrick looked the part on Friday night.
  1. Matthew Stafford's two-plus quarters of work took shape when the Lions starter masterfully escaped pressure to unfurl an on-the-mark deep shot to T.J. Jones. The ball fell incomplete, but drew a monster 53-yard pass-interference call on rookie Jordan Whitehead. That drive netted just a field goal, though, giving Detroit a pair of first-half marches that died inside Tampa's 10-yard line. It was concerning to see Detroit run for just 2.8 yards per carry in the first half, perhaps one reason Patricia yanked the entire starting offense back onto the field after the break. Running out of the no-huddle, Stafford saw a pristine, third-down toss to Marvin Jones flitter through his hands. More work to be done for the Lions.
  1. Broadcasting note: Half a quarter in, new CBS addition Bruce Arians feels like a gem, offering brilliant little details with every formation and snap. "Something new for Detroit. I haven't seen them in this three-tight end jumbo set in a long time," Arians, the ex-Cardinals coach casually noted. Cliche-spewing analysts will slowly phase out as NFL viewers demands more than tropes and observations a half-attentive grandmother could make. Arians fits the bill.
  1. Patricia was visibly annoyed after Matt Prater's botched, 62-yard field goal attempt at the end of the half fell into the arms of Tampa's Adam Humphries, who weaved and bobbed through a host of dazed Lions for the 109-yard kick-six touchdown. Play of the night.

-- Marc Sessler

  1. Raiders coach Jon Gruden must be pleased with the sackalicious performance he saw from his Khalil Mack-depleted pass rush, even if it came against a relatively nameless Packers O-line. Defensive end Fadol Brown had 1.5 sacks, 3 QB hits and four tackles and linebacker Shilique Calhoun added a sack and two tackles for a loss in Oakland's five-sack night. It was an encouraging performance for a defense that needs to improve drastically in order be competitive in the AFC West.
  1. The Packers deployed their virtual "worst-case scenario" offense, and all things considered, it didn't go all that bad. Brett Hundley endured two sacks and was frequently pressured playing behind an offensive line featuring no projected starters. He then lost running back Ty Montgomery to a foot injury, hastening his descent into what was another challenging night. Hundley completed 8 of 17 passes for 78 yards and never reached the red zone. DeShone Kizer, who completed 8 of 18 passes for 93 yards, looked very unpolished at times in taking three sacks against roster-spot hunters. Based on Friday's performances, Hundley still leads the backup QB race in Green Bay.
  1. Jaire Alexander looks poised to be a star in the Packers' secondary. In his second game since returning from a nagging groin injury, the first-round pick recorded his first interception off quarterback Connor Cook on a nicely executed read. Sure, it wasn't the best pass of Cook's career, but it showcased the ball-hawking skills that made Alexander such a valuable commodity in the draft. Along with fellow rookie Josh Jackson, Alexander is spearheading a pass protection youth movement in Green Bay that should be interesting to watch this season.
  1. Derek Carr's preseason debut started with a bang on a 49-yard pass to Amari Cooper that had to have riled up the new Gruden Grinders section in the Black Hole. Unfortunately, Carr's first drive of 2018 sputtered to an unimpressive end when the QB narrowly fumbled away the ball on a red zone sack. The Raiders settled for a field goal and Carr parked it for the night after connecting on 2 of 3 passes for 68 yards. Cook had another disappointing performance in trying to prove his backup credentials and EJ Manuel didn't fare much better (8-of-12 passing for 87 yards). When asked after the game by reporters if the Raiders' 2018 backup QB is currently on the roster, Gruden responded, "I don't know." The Raiders really, really need Carr to stay healthy this season. Running back Chris Warren had another solid game, tallying 54 yards and a TD on 14 carries.

-- Austin Knoblauch

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