The usual caveat applies: Namely, yes, it's Week 1 of the preseason and we shouldn't put much stock into in how players, units and teams look based on a handful of plays, sometimes against opponents who won't even be in the league a month from now. With that, let's get to the knee-jerk reactions from Friday night's action!
1) Teddy Bridgewater's debut. Funny story. In the weeks leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft, and especially in the hours and days following his pro day, Teddy Bridgewater went from one of college football's best quarterbacks to a popcorn-armed, undersized passer whose game at Louisville suddenly wouldn't translate to the next level.
And then, after the Vikings drafted him with the final pick in the first round, Bridgewater has been mostly impressive during OTAs and training camp, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner admitted earlier this week that he was excited to see what the rookie would do against the Raiders Friday.
Bridgewater's number's weren't anything special -- he was 6 of 13 for 49 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs -- but the way he played jumped off the screen, starting with his very first pass attempt.
Midway through the first quarter, Bridgewater replaced Matt Cassel (who was surgical in his one series, leading the team on a 10-play, 70-yard touchdown drive). On his first play from scrimmage, he rolled right and threw a laser to Greg Jennings near the sideline for what would have been a 21-yard completion if not for an illegal formation penalty. It was textbook in every sense.
In the scheme of an NFL season -- or, hell, an NFL preseason -- that one play doesn't mean much. But after months of getting killed in the media for what amounts to not wearing gloves during his pro day, the poise, decision making, mobility in the pocket and arm strength Bridgewater showed in his first preseason effort is, at the very least, encouraging.
But we'll say it again before you do: We know, these games don't count. If they did, Brandon Weeden would already be in the Hall of Fame (see here and here, for example). Instead, he's the backup in Dallas, and the very last guy any Cowboys fan wants to see trotting onto the field.
2) Blake Bortles looked good too. We tuned into the Jags-Bucs game midway through the third quarter, just in time to see Bortles leading Jacksonville on nine-play, 75-yard drive that ended in a field goal only because wide receiver Chad Bumphis couldn't haul in a short Bortles pass from the Bucs' four-yard line. And that was the worst thing you could say about the possession.
Bortles stood tall in the pocket, appeared to go through his progressions and was decisive -- and more importantly accurate -- with the ball. Which of, course, led to this Pete Prisco-ism, a theme he's been preaching pretty much since the Jags took Bortles third overall back in May.
Whoop, there it is! RT @PriscoCBS: Hey, Jacksonville. Play the Kid.— John Oehser (@JohnOehser) August 8, 2014
But Prisco wasn't alone in being impressed with the rookie.
So far Bortles presnap recognition of pressure and the defense has been terrific. Has made good check downs mixed with stick throws.— NFL Philosophy (@NFLosophy) August 9, 2014
Unfortunately, both the Jags and Bucs' first-team offenses struggled. The good news is that the first-team defenses looked sharp. The bad news is that defense alone won't magically save the fate of two teams that combined to win eight games last season.
The Bucs new (old) quarterback Josh McCown was under pressure on every drop back and he tossed an awful pick-six on a pass intended for rookie Mike Evans. The talk heading into training camp was that McCown could replicate the success he had with the Bears a season ago because Tampa Bay had similarly sized pass-catching targets in Evans and Vincent Jackson. And maybe McCown can but the offensive line is going to have to improve substantially for that to happen.
#Bucs OL yielded a sack/strip fumble, hold and illegal hands penalties in two series.— Rick Stroud (@NFLSTROUD) August 8, 2014
I want to be in the #Buccaneers OL meeting room when they watch this 1st quarter from tonight.— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) August 8, 2014
3) Ryan Tannehill and Matt Ryan both looked good. It's easy to make the case that Mike Sherman's offense was a pretty big impediment to any progress Tannehill might make in his second season. With new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor now drawing up the plays, it's clear that the plan is to simplify Tannehill's job, get the ball out of his hands quickly, and let his playmakers, well, make plays.
The third-year quarterback was efficient early, leading the Dolphins on a 10-play, 73-yard drive that culminated in a six-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson, who was able to sashay into the end zone he was so wide open.
We'll hear countless references to offense and defenses playing "vanilla schemes" during the preseason, but the Falcons' defense on that first drive has to be troubling nonetheless. Especially after coach Mike Smith preached the importance of toughness in the team's Hard Knocks debut last Tuesday.
Upside: Matt Ryan looks like Matt Ryan, even without Steven Jackson and Julio Jones. Atlanta's offense answered Miami's touchdown drive with one of their own, and Ryan was 7 for 7 for 53 yards.
Perhaps even more impressive: running back Antone Smith, the former undrafted free agent out of Florida State. His stats: three rushes, five yards. The untold story: Whether it counts or not, he will break your ankles. What should have been a 76-yard touchdown shimmy and sprint was called back after rookie right tackle Jake Matthews was flagged for holding.
Matthews, drafted sixth-overall, was called for two penalties Friday.
4) Sammy Watkins is fun to watch, even when he's making routine catches. A week ago, rookie first-rounder Sammy Watkins was held without a catch in the Hall of Fame game. No one, save the truly troll-worthy, thought much of the development because it was Watkins' first preseason game.
Wow, ESPN. pic.twitter.com/KQXyq6nNBD— Robert Klemko (@RobertKlemko) August 4, 2014
On Saturday, Watkins got his first NFL catch on the Bills' third play. It was a nice grab on an in-cutting route and Watkins snatched the ball out of the air right before taking a hit. By NFL standards, it was as routine a play as you'll see. But the way Watkins catches the ball is mesmerizing because it's so effortless.
We're on record as saying that Watkins almost certainly won't be worth what the Bills paid to trade up and get him, but that doesn't mean he can't be a special player.
Which brings us to...
5) Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin. There has never been a first-round receiver his size who has had sustained success in the NFL. At 6-5, 240 pounds, the closest comparison is former Lions wideout Mike Williams (moving on...),
But Benjamin looked nothing like Williams Friday, showing downfield speed, the ability to separate from the defender, and, ultimately, make the tough catch. In this case, a falling-to-the-ground 29-yard touchdown grab.
This development has to make Cam Newton very, very happy.
6) Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez and Brandon Weeden. Here's a nice summation of Foles' night: In less than a quarter of work, he matched his interception total for the entire 2013 season. Specifically, he tossed two picks, looked shaky for much of the three series he was on the field, and no one should care.
Yes, Foles is young, and yes it's reasonable to expect that he might regress some early in his career, but if Chip Kelly is ever at the point where he's forced to bench Foles for Mark Sanchez the season is already lost.
By the way, Sanchez looked great in his Eagles debut, further cementing the case that the preseason isn't necessarily a good predictor of regular-season success (which brings us full-circle to Weeden).
Preseason football: Where Nick Foles looks shaky and Mark Sanchez is throwing lasers.— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) August 9, 2014
Oh, and this is Jim Miller, the former Bears quarterback who now is a member of the preseason broadcast team:
7) Special teams are in midseason form. Here is the Eagles' Josh Huff taking a kickoff 102 yards to pay dirt:
And here's the most Jeff Fisher thing ever: A fake punt that leads to a first down.
We're almost at the point where an actual Rams punt is a story.
And then there's this:
Silver lining: The Dolphins were penalized on the play and forced to re-kick. Hester fielded that punt ... for -2 yards.
8) About that pool at EverBank Field. So this is officially a thing, with a life guard on duty and everything:
Not impressed? How about THIS GINORMOUS SCOREBOARD?
9) Matt Schaub, Derek Carr and the Oakland QB situation. A couple fun facts: The Raiders didn't get past midfield for the first 22 minutes of the game. Schaub, whom Oakland traded for in the offseason and was immediately installed as the starter, finished the game 3 of 7 for 21 yards.
The numbers don't inspire confidence that he's finally found his game. But to be fair, the knock against him last year in Houston was that he wasn't looking downfield. On Friday during the second series, Schaub made a nice downfield throw on third-and-6. He put the ball just out of the reach of Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, and right into the mitts of tight end Mychael Rivera ... who promptly dropped it.
Hey, it's something. But if you're looking for an excuse, here ya go:
Schaub hits Rivera downfield on 3rd and 6 but TE dropped it ... #Raiders never play well in preseason games in college stadiums— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) August 9, 2014
Derek Carr, meanwhile, looked okay, but wasn't nearly as consistent as rookie counterparts Bridgewater and Bortles.
Not surprisingly, Carr excelled at short, quick passes, but his timing looked off on longer throws. And this may sound blasphemous to some folks (then again, the dude just got a new deal, and has been to the playoffs three straight seasons), but Carr's quick release reminds us of Andy Dalton. (As we write this, Carr overthrows his receiver in the flat for an interception. Our bad, Derek.)
10) Michael Sam played. He becomes the first openly gay player to take the field in an NFL preseason game. As we wrote earlier, while Sam's story is an important one, his sexuality is a footnote to the bigger question: Can he play football in the NFL?
NFL Network's Steve Mariucci said that Sam will need to find his way onto special teams to better his chances of making the 53-man roster, but Fisher said before the game that rarely do defensive linemen play on special teams.
As it stands, Sam is currently the Rams' ninth-best defensive lineman, and he's listed third on the depth chart at defensive end. He'll likely battle undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrook for one of the final roster spots.