SportPulse: It’s the most wonderful time of year! No, not Christmas. That window of time just after Week 1 of the NFL preseason where we get to overreact about everything.
For those begging for football to return, well, the first full week of the NFL preseason is over. And while starters barely played, we did get a glimpse of what 2018 might hold. Here are 20 things we learned:
1. For all the posturing the owners did this offseason, their rushed attempt to solve the national anthem issue won’t go away. With talks between the league and the NFL Players Association not yielding an answer, players like Marshawn Lynch, Kenny Stills, Demaryius Thomas, Robert Quinn and Russell Okung showed they will continue to protest social injustice during the pre-game playing of the anthem.
2. At this time last year, David Johnson was the hottest name in fantasy football, but a wrist injury ended his season after Week 1. It’s like much of the NFL forgot about the Cardinals’ versatile running back. Though he had just two carries in the preseason opener Saturday, each run went for 14 yards, and he showed the speed and burst that should make him a valuable weapon (no matter who the quarterback is) this season.
3. Speaking of that quarterback race, Josh Rosen, arguably the most pro-ready rookie passer to come out of the draft, didn’t put up the statistical performance (6-for-13 for 41 yards) that popped on the box score. But he showed so much potential playing with a second-string offensive line that left him scrambling and constantly evading pressure. He stepped up in the pocket and fired a quick release in the face of oncoming linemen.
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4. It’s rare to see the first two overall draft picks debut in the same game, but that’s what we got when Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield took on the Giants and No. 2 overall running back Saquon Barkley. Cleveland coach Hue Jackson continues to say veteran Tyrod Taylor will start, but Mayfield showed plenty of pocket awareness, accuracy, vision, and athleticism that may end years of futility at QB.
5. Barkley burst onto the scene with a 39-yard scamper on his first career carry, but New York’s offensive line may be a work in progress. He gained only 4 more yards the rest of the game, on four carries. Which means if Barkley puts up big numbers in 2018, it may be a lot of him turning nothing into something, as he did on that first rush.
6. We hate to see season-ending injuries this early, so we’re wishing speedy recoveries to Redskins RB Derrius Guice and Cardinals center A.Q. Shipley (practice), both of whom suffered torn anterior cruciate ligaments.
7. The Jets have to be thrilled with what they saw from rookie quarterback Sam Darnold as they continue their quest to find a franchise quarterback. In a 17-0 victory against the Falcons on Friday, Darnold showed excellent pocket presence, extended plays and looked downfield, making his case to be the Week 1 starter with a 13-of-18 night with 96 yards and one touchdown.
8. Their time together on the field Saturday was brief, but the Vikings have to be happy with what they saw out of quarterback Kirk Cousins and receiver Stefon Diggs, both of whom received hefty new contracts this year. Cousins completed all four of his passing attempts, including three to Diggs — with a 1-yard touchdown pass on third down.
9. Andrew Luck played his first snaps of live action against opponents in 585 days. He had been dealing with a seemingly unceasing injury to his throwing shoulder, and in the Colts’ 19-17 victory against the Seahawks Thursday, Luck completed six of nine throws for 64 yards. Best of all, the Indy O-line kept him mostly upright.
10. Hard to get a sense of what the Cowboys will do at receiver, but position coach Sanjay Lal lauded rookie Michael Gallup for beating one-on-one coverage to pluck a 30-yard TD pass and complimented Allen Hurns (one catch, 13 yards) on his blocking.
11. The new rule prohibiting players from lowering the helmet to initiate contact, on offense or defense, came with mixed results and needs more refining before the regular season. We saw a textbook application Thursday when Indianapolis safety Shamarko Thomas was ejected after diving headfirst at a Seattle receiver. (Thomas, whose roster spot was already tenuous, was released by the Colts on Sunday.) Saturday, Cardinals safety A.J. Howard was flagged for what upon every replay looked like a clean, shoulder-first tackle against the Chargers. His head was up, and his helmet did not make contact. It’s understandable that in real-time, officials made a different judgment call, but it’s just a sign that this rule, no matter how well intentioned, will be a major storyline this season.
12. Josh Allen incompletion highlights became a thing. The Bills rookie, known for his powerful arm, launched several beautiful deep balls in a 28-23 loss against the Panthers. Most of them missed long or out of bounds, but deep ball gawkers shared the snippets on social media.
13. The Patriots flopped in the first half against the Redskins, stumbling into a 17-point deficit before they converted a field goal seconds before halftime. New England turned things around in the second half, winning 26-17, so we’re guessing Bill Belichick’s half-time speeches are already in midseason form.
14. The Broncos hoped that by signing veteran quarterback Case Keenum, former first rounder Paxton Lynch would have some time to finally develop. But what Lynch showed in the preseason opener Saturday against the Vikings was disappointing. He still looked lost under center, struggled with accuracy, was slow to make reads and quick to run. To make it worse for Lynch, No. 3 quarterback Chad Kelly, who missed all of his rookie year in 2017 while recovering from knee and wrist surgery, showed spark and poise and could overtake Lynch on the depth chart.
15. There’s no story more inspiring in the league right now than Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin, who has only one arm. He immediately swarmed to the ball when he entered the game against the Colts and led all players with nine tackles.
16. New (old?) Raiders coach Jon Gruden said “Chucky came out,” referring to his nickname, when officials wiped off a 60-yard Marshawn Lynch touchdown due to a holding penalty. We’re just glad to see Gruden back on the sideline and are really curious to see how he shapes this team.
17. It’s preseason, so sloppiness is to be expected. But the debut of Lions coach Matt Patricia (eight penalties for 69 yards and one turnover) and the first game of Chargers coach Anthony Lynn’s second season (15 penalties for 155 yards and four turnovers) were filled with issues that need quick correcting.
18. It’s still Joe Flacco’s team, no doubt, but is there any player more exciting to watch than Ravens rookie Lamar Jackson?
19. All those Chiefs fans who were clamoring for Patrick Mahomes were likely disappointed. He only played two drives, both of which were short and ended in punts. He went five of seven for 33 yards, but misfired high on a pass to tight end Travis Kelce and also stepped into an avoidable sack.
20. Finally, we also learned that the Packers, Saints, Steelers, Patriots, Rams, and Lions feel comfortable enough with their starting quarterbacks to sit them out of the preseason opener. With names like Brady, Rodgers, Stafford, and Brees, we would, too.
Contributing: Lindsay Jones