NFL preseason winners, losers: Questions linger for Bryce Young, other top rookie QBs
The second weekend of the NFL preseason is an extension of August’s smorgasbord of approaches by all 32 teams as they prepare for the wins and losses that actually count in September.
Week 2 featured high-profile rookies on some teams still trying to find their professional sea legs, high-profile starters on others getting re-acclimation snaps while trying to preserve the juice in their legs plus a preponderance of players battling to retain or claim middle-of-the-roster security or bottom-of-the-roster opportunity.
Week 2 (pre) doesn’t wrap until Monday night, when the Baltimore Ravens could add to their league record with a 25th straight preseason victory, but plenty has already happened to designate the latest batch of winners and losers … all of them likely overreactions:
Will Anderson Jr.: The 2023 draft’s third overall selection arguably produced the highlight of the weekend, the Houston Texans pass rusher blowing up (and through) Miami Dolphins RB Salvon Ahmed on the way to his first professional sack … which was of the strip variety.
New York Giants offense: QB Daniel Jones made his 2023 preseason debut Friday and connected on eight of nine pass attempts for 69 yards and a touchdown, his only incompletion a drop by TE Darren Waller. That aside, Jones and his new weapon showed nice chemistry, hooking up three times for 30 yards on a night when RB Saquon Barkley didn’t play. Rookie WR Jalin Hyatt also chipped in with a 33-yard TD grab, furthering bolstering hopes for an attack that ranked 18th last year.
Scary injuries, positive outcomes: Way too many backboards and medical carts in use league-wide in recent days, Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB John Wolford, Philadelphia Eagles Tyrie Cleveland and Moro Ojomo and New England Patriots DB Isaiah Bolden experiencing various degrees of distress that included loss of mobility – Wolford and Bolden briefly hospitalized. The Pats and Green Bay Packers even called off the remainder of their contest Saturday night after Bolden was taken off the field after lying on it motionless for minutes. Fortunately, all the players regained full movement in their extremities, Bolden well enough to fly home with his teammates.
Bijan Robinson: Widely considered the favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, the eighth overall pick of this year’s draft got his first game action for the Atlanta Falcons on Friday, looking smooth on his way to 26 yards via five touches.
Kyle Trask: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ third-year passer completed 20 of 28 throws for 218 yards and a touchdown while playing most of Saturday’s 13-6 victory over the New York Jets. Trask, who started and also finished the game following Wolford’s injury, appeared to extend his battle with Baker Mayfield – he didn’t play against the Jets – with head coach Todd Bowles declining, for now, to announce his choice to replace retired legend Tom Brady.
Ties: No overtime during the exhibition slate, y’all. Hence Eagles-Browns and Bengals-Falcons ending deadlocked after four quarters.
Tank Bigsby: The Jacksonville Jaguars’ rookie back rumbled for 70 yards on 13 carries in Motown – his 122 yards on the ground this month ranked second in the league – and the third-rounder out of Auburn is showing ample signs he’s capable of reducing the load on Jags RB1 Travis Etienne Jr.
Damar Hamlin: His comeback tour hit the road Saturday, the Buffalo Bills safety serving as a team captain in Pittsburgh – his hometown and site of his college career with the Pitt Panthers. More than seven months following his on-field collapse due to cardiac arrest, Hamlin called it “super special” to suit up against the Steelers.
Jimmy Garoppolo: The Las Vegas Raiders’ new quarterback played his first game since suffering a foot injury last December and completed all four of his passes for 39 yards in a knocking-off-the-rust win over the Los Angeles Rams.
Brock Purdy: The San Francisco 49ers’ second-year quarterback played his first game since suffering an injury to his ulnar collateral ligament in last season’s NFC championship game loss to Philadelphia. Purdy nailed four of five passes for 65 yards in Saturday’s win against the Denver Broncos.
Tua Tagovailoa: The Miami Dolphins’ fourth-year quarterback played his first game since suffering a concussion last Christmas. Generally sharp, Tagovailoa hit on five of seven passes for 61 yards and led a 14-play, 93-yard TD drive in Houston. Hopefully a harbinger of things to come.
Kansas City Chiefs in midseason form? The reigning Super Bowl champs torched the Cards 38-10, and MVP Patrick Mahomes was K.C.’s lowest-rated passer Saturday with a 109.0 rating. The Chiefs’ updated offensive line allowed exactly zero quarterback hits even as the team put the ball in the air 38 times.
Teddy Bridgewater: The Lions’ new QB2 has worn jersey No. 5 for his entire career, but RB David Montgomery already claimed it in Detroit. So, for preseason anyway, Bridgewater – while making the start Saturday – opted for five … and zero. He won’t be able to wear 50 once the regular season begins, but seeing a veteran dressed up like a Pop Warner player in the last available jersey makes preseason a touch more fun.
Zach Wilson: The Jets’ starter the past two years but now QB Aaron Rodgers’ backup, Wilson continued his on-field rehabilitation by completing nine of 13 passes for 70 yards and stirring his teammates with a 35-yard run that he concluded by lowering his left (non-throwing) shoulder. Wilson’s encouraging preseason could be a sign he deserves to remain in New York’s long-term plans … or, at least, might be rebuilding some trade equity if Rodgers sticks around for several years.
Joint practices: In the contemporary NFL environment, one increasingly (and rightly) geared toward the health and safety of the players, these controlled sessions seemingly serve as the best forums for teams to put personnel in productive situations minus the risks of a preseason game. And fans certainly don’t want to see their most important performers hurt in the least important games.
Joint practices: They make it even harder for season-ticket holders to unload – or desire to use – those exhibition ducats. Bears-Colts, Chargers-Saints and Eagles-Browns were among the games largely devoid of recognizable players – they got their meaningful work done during the week – leaving the games largely to fringe prospects.
Zach Wilson: He’s still missing a few too many gimme throws, should not be lowering his shoulder to cap off runs in August and may not have another opportunity to play again for some time – Rodgers rumored to be starting the Jets’ final preseason game. After making positive strides, can Wilson maintain his momentum on the practice fields of suburban New Jersey moving forward?
Teddy Bridgewater: No magic in that No. 50 anyway, Teddy B. In his first game with Detroit, Bridgewater fumbled and led the offense to all of 2 yards on his first three drives against Jacksonville.
Arizona Cardinals in midseason form? Early front-runners to finish atop the 2024 draft order, the Kyler Murray-less Cards looked feckless against the Chiefs and did little suggest this won’t be a long season that finishes well short of the playoffs. In addition to losing by four touchdowns, Arizona was outgained 504-286.
Tua Tagovailoa: He was intercepted on his first snap in Houston. Tagovailoa battled back in a game Miami won 28-3, but it was a bit of a microcosm of his career. After two so-so seasons, he led the league with a 105.5 QB rating in his injury-interrupted 2022 campaign. He’ll need to get back on that track if he hopes to secure the long-term financial commitment 2020 draft mates Jalen Hurts and Justin Herbert already have.
Jake Moody: The highest-drafted kicker since the ill-fated Roberto Aguayo was a second-rounder in 2016, Moody (a third-rounder this year) hit a game-winning 32-yard field goal for the Niners … barely. However Moody has now missed three of his seven preseason kicks. San Francisco might want to keep free agent Robbie Gould on speed dial.
Matt Barkley: Four turnovers (3 INTs, fumble) in the loss at Pittsburgh … not the optimal way to snatch the backup job behind Bills starting QB Josh Allen.
Rookie quarterbacks: Yes, the Carolina Panthers’ Bryce Young and Houston Texans’ C.J. Stroud made incremental progress from their Week 1 debuts … though pretty low bars. Still, neither led a touchdown drive nor looked especially effective despite mixing in a few positive plays. At least Young and Stroud, the first and second picks, respectively, of the 2023 draft played. The Indianapolis Colts held out newly anointed starter Anthony Richardson, the No. 4 overall pick, and Tennessee Titans second-rounder Will Levis was too banged up to post himself. The quartet have collectively thrown zero TDs this month.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL preseason winners, losers: Bijan Robinson up, rookie QBs in limbo