NFL Pre-Season, Mayfield, Murray, Jones, Darnold All Have Smooth Starts

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August 9, 2019


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Baker Mayfield played only one series, but what a series it was for the second-year quarterback. Utilizing a hurry-up, no-huddle tempo, Mayfield took the Browns 89 yards down the field in only 2 minutes, 13 seconds, completing 5 of 6 passes and capping the breakneck drive with a 21-yard touchdown strike to Rashard Higgins. Mayfield did it without Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, as both star receivers sat out. Mayfield looked rather comfortable operating out of tempo, which he played in almost exclusively at Oklahoma. In Beckham, Landry and Higgins, Mayfield has the weapons. A consistently aggressive, hurry-up component could make Mayfield and the Cleveland attack all the more, well, dangerous. Jake Trotter

First-round pick N’Keal Harry, who surprisingly played after appearing to tweak something in his right leg on Tuesday, made two excellent catches before limping off and getting looked at by the athletic training and medical staff. Harry didn’t return. Both catches reflected how his size (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) and physicality could help the Patriots this season, as fellow wide receiver Maurice Harris has compared Harry’s body type to that of former NFL great Anquan Boldin. But Harry’s injury status bears watching. It is commendable that he wanted to play through injury in the preseason opener, although now the decision could sideline him if the injury lingers. Mike Reiss

Even though he didn’t score or even get the ball past midfield, rookie quarterback Kyler Murray looked crisp, sharp and efficient. He officially went 6-for-7 for 44 yards, spreading the ball all over the field and evading pressure using an unmatched escapability. But for as good as Murray looked, the first-team defense looked bad, letting the Chargers move down the field with relative ease. But the story for the Cardinals was Murray’s showing in his first NFL action. Josh Weinfuss

The Colts don’t have a timetable on when Andrew Luck (calf) will return to practice, but they’re working under the expectation that the quarterback will be ready for the start of the regular season. Until that happens, though, Jacoby Brissett will remain the starting QB. The offense had no success with Brissett on the field for the first three series Thursday. The Colts totaled just 22 yards with only one first down while Brissett was in the game. Brissett continues to have his passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage, and he finished 2-of-5 for 21 yards. The Colts are expected to give their next update on Luck’s status once the team returns to practice Saturday. Mike Wells

Daniel Jones looks like the real deal. OK, it was only the first preseason game. It was only one drive in which he was on the field. It doesn’t matter. What the signal-caller did — 5-for-5 passing for 67 yards and a touchdown — in his only drive was impressive. Jones made some throws into tight windows and didn’t flinch under the spotlight in his first foray into a live NFL game environment. Jordan Raanan

Wide receiver Russell Gage continues to show up. He is making tough catches down the field and running sharp routes, as he showed in Miami. He has displayed great hands, even making grabs out of bounds. Why is this important? Well, Gage is playing the same role that star Julio Jones would be playing, but Jones is rehabbing a foot injury and awaiting a new contract. Jones won’t play in the preseason. And if the contract doesn’t get resolved by Sept. 8, there’s a chance Jones won’t be on the field against the Vikings in the opener. Gage has to be ready to contribute. Even if Jones is back on the field for the regular season, as the Falcons expect, having another capable target such as Gage would be a nice asset. Vaughn McClure

First-round draft pick Brian Burns was impressive. The Panthers selected the former Florida State edge rusher with the 16th pick to shore up a defense that finished 27th in the league in sacks last season. Burns continued to show his effectiveness as a speed pass-rusher against Chicago with two sacks; he used a nice spin move to register his first and his speed to tally his second. Marquis Haynes also had two sacks as the Panthers debuted their 3-4 base defense. David Newton

Backup quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sharp in his debut with the Titans. He ended the day having completed 12 of his 16 pass attempts for 130 yards and two touchdowns. Tannehill’s best throws came on a crisp pass to Kalif Raymond on a post route for a 19-yard gain and a perfectly placed drop shot to Anthony Firkser on a seam route. He could have added a third touchdown but underthrew Taywan Taylor, who dropped the pass in the end zone after slowing down. The Titans wanted to upgrade their backup quarterback position. Judging from Tannehill’s debut, they have accomplished their mission. Turron Davenport

 The Seahawks’ backup quarterback competition is closer than it seemed a day ago. Before Seattle’s preseason opener, it would have been difficult to imagine Paxton Lynch beating out Geno Smith based on how each has looked two weeks into training camp. But Lynch closed the gap at least a little with a strong night against his former team, going 11-of-15 for 109 yards with a passing and rushing touchdown. He was decisive and mostly accurate, save for a misfire on his first attempt. Meanwhile, Smith went 3-of-9 during a nondescript first half and is now headed for surgery to remove a cyst in his knee, which the team hopes will only keep him out for about a week. That’ll give Lynch an opportunity to make up more ground as the two vie for the lone backup spot behind Russell Wilson. Brady Henderson

Three of the Jaguars’ top five draft picks did not play because of injuries, but the two that did were certainly impressive. Defensive end Josh Allen, the team’s first-round pick, beat the block of tight end Nick Boyle to tackle running back Gus Edwards for a 2-yard loss on his first NFL snap. Allen also got a pressure on QB Lamar Jackson before being taken out. It was good to see Allen flash in his limited playing time. Running back Ryquell Armstead (fourth round) ran hard and also showed some elusiveness with a nifty move to avoid an unblocked linebacker in the backfield. Armstead’s numbers weren’t great (eight carries for 22 yards), but it was the way he ran — physical, breaking some tackles — that is encouraging. The Jaguars are hoping Armstead (who left the game and was evaluated for a concussion) can become the primary backup to Leonard Fournette. Mike DiRocco

 The Texans didn’t make it out of their preseason opener unscathed. Slot receiver Keke Coutee had to be helped off the field in Green Bay after he was tackled to the ground during the second quarter after catching a pass. The 2018 fourth-round pick immediately grabbed his leg and did not return to the game. Coutee later tweeted and then deleted, “Minor setback, nothing major.” Coutee showed flashes of excellence last season but missed all but six games due to injuries to both of his hamstrings. Earlier in the week, receiver DeAndre Hopkins called Coutee “one of the most improved players on this offense.” And quarterback Deshaun Watson said he has noticed that the slot receiver has learned how to read defenses and “do exactly what the offense has been wanting him to do.” Sarah Barshop

When Vic Fangio was hired by the Broncos, he emphasized the importance of avoiding “death by inches” — the little mistakes and flaws in fundamentals that cause teams to lose games. Two games into the preseason, the Broncos have watched not inches, but lost yards, cost them dearly. After eight penalties in the Hall of Fame game, the Broncos were flagged 15 times in the loss to the Seahawks, with 11 of those penalties being accepted. The starting offense, led by quarterback Joe Flacco, put together a 12-play scoring drive to open the game. The Broncos’ pass rush on defense also had its moments, but the flags eventually overwhelmed their efforts. They certainly won’t agree with all of the penalties, but with three preseason games still to play, the Broncos are not the fundamentally sound operation Fangio wants. Jeff Legwold

 With Melvin Gordon missing his team’s preseason opener due to a contract dispute, the rest of the running back group picked up the slack. The Chargers finished with 179 rushing yards on 28 attempts (6.4 per carry) against the Cardinals. Rookie QB Easton Stick led the charge with 51 rushing yards, including an explosive, 31-yard scramble for a score. Justin Jackson also had an impressive run, bowling over an Arizona defender on his way to a 4-yard score. With Gordon’s holdout possibly lasting into the regular season, the Chargers will continue to search for effective options at running back to help fill the void until the Wisconsin product returns. Eric D. Williams

Since Bears coach Matt Nagy opted to rest most of the starters (the ones who did play saw only brief action), the attention at Soldier Field focused on — you guessed it — the kicker battle. The night belonged to Elliott Fry, who whipped the crowd into a frenzy when he hit from 43 yards — the same exact distance and direction as Cody Parkey’s double-doink miss in last season’s playoff loss to Philadelphia. Fry also made his lone PAT attempt. On the other hand, Eddy Pineiro had an uneven Bears preseason debut, sailing a 48-yard attempt wide left before connecting on a 23-yard chip shot. Jeff Dickerson

A total of 26 players sat out Thursday night — 16 of them were probable starters — so there wasn’t much to evaluate at the top of the roster. But if you’re looking for something positive, there’s this: Two things the Packers didn’t do last season — take the ball away and make plays on special teams — went their way Thursday night. They came up with two first-half interceptions (one by rookie sixth-round pick Ka’dar Hollman and another by second-year cornerback Chandon Sullivan) and a special-teams touchdown when Equanimeous St. Brown recovered a muffed punt in the end zone. DeShone Kizer quarterbacked the Packers in the first half with decent numbers — 8-of-13 for 102 yards and a touchdown — but at this point, there’s not much difference between Kizer and third-stringer Tim Boyle (who threw two touchdown passes). — Rob Demovsky

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PHOTO: Sports Illustrated

The Bills’ top two picks in the past draft acquitted themselves well. Ed Oliver held his own against All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson, while Cody Ford was used at both right guard and right tackle throughout Buffalo’s first few series. Josh Allen (6-for-11, 66 yards) showed the restraint the Bills need for him to develop, but he still took four shots downfield — completing one. Buffalo’s defensive depth looked strong, albeit against a heavily depleted Colts offense, and Devin Singletary (27 rushing yards, 21 receiving yards) might be a PPR star in the making. The Bills’ offensive line, while improved on paper, still needs to jell as it battles through injuries. Marcel Louis-Jacques

It was only one series, but QB Sam Darnold displayed the traits that make you believe he can be a franchise quarterback. He moved well in the pocket, buying time and finding his second and third reads — which he did so well at the end of his rookie season. Darnold (4-for-5, 68 yards, one TD) almost threw an interception on his first pass, but he rebounded nicely. This was an encouraging start for Adam Gase’s offense, which didn’t have its two most accomplished players: running back Le’Veon Bell and center Ryan Kalil. Rich Cimini

The Redskins’ quarterback competition remained in neutral. Colt McCoy didn’t play, but he also didn’t lose any ground. Dwayne Haskins showed that he is not ready to be a Week 1 starter — which the team already knew. Case Keenum, who played with mostly backups as three-fifths of the starting line sat, did not distinguish himself. He completed 4 of 9 passes, with 46 of his 60 yards on one touchdown completion. Keenum didn’t have much time to throw on some plays because of the offensive line, so it’s hard to accurately judge, but he didn’t separate himself from the pack. Keenum still is learning the offense; he’ll need a stronger showing in subsequent weeks to earn the job. John Keim

The good news for the Lions is it can’t get much worse. It’s preseason. Most starters didn’t play. But make no mistake about it, the Patriots’ 31-3 annihilation of the Lions raised serious concerns about the depth of the roster, and it might be rough enough that general manager Bob Quinn should at least look at the waiver wire. Backup tackles Tyrell Crosby and Andrew Donnal struggled all night long against whoever the Patriots lined up against them. The offensive line allowed nine sacks — a number higher than the seven passes Detroit quarterbacks completed. The secondary was routinely beaten on routes by New England’s receivers. And the backup quarterback situation could be worrisome. Michael Rothstein

Josh Rosen is showing continued progress in his bid to hunt down Ryan Fitzpatrick and win the Dolphins’ starting quarterback job. We saw a (mostly) good version of Rosen on Thursday as he overcame poor protection to lead a few strong drives down the field. He finished 13-of-20 for 191 yards and a bad interception. But he gets a thumbs-up for making enough flashes out of his six drives in the second and third quarters. Fitzpatrick got the start and looked OK in limited action (two drives, 2-of-5, 20 yards). Rosen’s day adds even more intrigue to a tightening QB battle. Cameron Wolfe

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