Preseason usually goes the same way for pretty much every NFL team. The starters play somewhere between a series and a quarter during the first two preseason games, then play into the second half in the third game before sitting out the fourth game entirely. There are some exceptions, of course, but that's a pretty rough sketch for how things usually go.
This year was anything but usual for the New England Patriots. Tom Brady is, of course, suspended for the first four games of the regular season, so he did not follow the typical starters' schedule. In the Pats' fourth preseason game on Thursday night, Brady wound up playing the entire first half.
Even as it was happening, people were ... perplexed.
It's madness for Brady to be out there. If any other coach took a risk like that he'd be eviscerated.— Dave Dameshek (@Dameshek) September 2, 2016
Tom Brady is on the field for a 6th series behind an o-line of Fleming-Barker-Kline-Karras-Waddle.— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) September 2, 2016
Tom Brady is up to 38 offensive snaps played (including 2-point conversion), as 6th drive ends with 1:11 remaining in second quarter.— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) September 2, 2016
Tom Brady plays entire first half, 39 offensive snaps, and is 16 of 26 for 166 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) September 2, 2016
Brady's No. 1 wideout, Julian Edelman, was out there, too. They connected on 3 of 5 pass attempts for 28 yards, which was nice, but still weird.
They weren't the only notable players sticking around in their team's preseason finales far later than expected:
Also interesting that free agent signee Cedric Thornton is also playing tonight. Clearly he has not made the impact the Cowboys had hoped— Clarence Hill (@clarencehilljr) September 2, 2016
Cedric Thornton is making $6 million this year. Terrell McClain is making $1 million. The Cowboys had hopes of Thornton being a starter— Clarence Hill (@clarencehilljr) September 2, 2016
Why is Josh Gordon still in the game for the Browns? Get him out of there ASAP please, decision-makers.— Marc Sessler (@MarcSesslerNFL) September 2, 2016
And those are just a handful of guys that beat writers tweeted about.
Needless to say, things got a bit weird on Thursday night. Here are eight more takeaways from around the league on the final day of the preseason.
1. Kap kneels for anthem, solid for 49ers
The night belonged to Colin Kaepernick, who entered the 49ers' preseason game in San Diego under a microscope. Most tuned in to see what Kaepernick would do during the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner so let's start with that.
As expected, Kaepernick didn't stand. He didn't, however, sit. Instead, he kneeled to protest racial inequality. And he was joined by 49ers safety Eric Reid. In Oakland, Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane remained seated.
Kaepernick's decision to kneel was met with approval from Green Beret Nate Boyer, who met with Kaepernick before the game for a "good talk." Boyer, who had previously written an open letter to Kaepernick and after the anthem on Thursday, texted The Mercury News' Cam Inman that Kaepernick "took a big step by getting up off the bench and taking a knee. He gave a little so I gave a little respect."
As for the actual game itself, Kaepernick started for the 49ers and submitted a solid performance. In all, he completed 11 of 18 passes for 103 yards and added 38 yards with his legs before stepping aside after halftime. Though Kaepernick didn't score a touchdown, he led the 49ers on a 16-play, 85-yard touchdown drive, which included this third-down dart that placed the ball at the 1-yard line. On that drive, he went 6 of 8 for 58 yards and rushed for 30 yards.
Kaepernick probably didn't do enough to wrestle away the starting job from Blaine Gabbert, but he showed composure in a hostile environment. The 49ers could use him on the roster when the season starts, because Gabbert might not last long as the starter.
2. The shape of things to come for Titans?
Derrick Henry does not look like a typical running back. The Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama stands 6 feet 3 and weighs 247 pounds. In post-merger NFL history (i.e. since 1970), only three players that checked in 6-3/240 or larger have recorded at least 100 career carries: Brandon Jacobs, Barty Smith, and Marcel Reece.
If Henry's play this preseason is any indication, we'll be adding a fourth name to that list in short order.
Derrick Henry's preseason: 34 rushes for 216 yards (6.35 YPC) and 3 TDs. It's going to be hard to keep him off the field.— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) September 2, 2016
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has gotten a ton of attention for his huge preseason, but Henry has basically given an equivalent performance at his position, with less fanfare. He's not merely using his size to run defenders over, either. He's got some wiggle in his game:
The Titans are committed to their exotic smashmouth offense, and it's possible (likely?) DeMarco Murray will still be the lead ball-carrier, but Henry has surely earned himself a sizable role with his play.
3. The Giants' King for a day
Back in 2010, an undrafted wide receiver who signed with the New York Giants started off the preseason with a bang, catching six passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns. Victor Cruz eventually became one of the NFL's best receivers, and on Thursday he made his return to game action after more than a year and a half away. While he didn't catch any passes, one of his teammates had a breakout performance.
Tavarres King, who has bounced around the NFL during the past few years, notched four catches (on five targets) for 80 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots, giving him all three of the Giants' air scores during the preseason.
At least one Giants beat reporter thinks Big Blue needs to reward him with a roster spot:
59-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Nassib to Tavarres King, who has been the Giants best WR this preseason. He has to make the team.— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoSNY) September 2, 2016
Odell Beckham is one of the NFL's best weapons, Sterling Shepard is going to be a big part of the New York offense, and Cruz should have a role if he can stay healthy, but maybe King has worked his way into some snaps.
4. Things did not go great for the Rams' top pick
Jared Goff was the No. 1 pick in the draft, and the Rams will presumably give him plenty of time to develop. But he's not going to begin the season as the starter (the first No. 1 overall pick quarterback since JaMarcus Russell for whom that's true) and the preseason did not exactly inspire confidence. Goff went 16 of 33 for 165 yards, a touchdown and an interception through the Rams' first three preseason contests, then stunk it up something good in their preseason finale.
Goff has looked increasingly skittish behind #Rams' 2nd-/3rd-string OL. Just dropped a shotgun snap on third down, lost fumble near own GL.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) September 2, 2016
Next series, Goff throws has another screen pass tipped, then intercepted on a helluva diving grab by 325-pound DT Toby Johnson.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) September 2, 2016
Jared Goff's last 5 third-down plays:— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) September 2, 2016
Bails out on the throw
Muffs shotgun snap inside his 10-yard line
By the time the game hit halftime, Goff was 6 of 16 for 67 yards (a truly ugly 4.2 per attempt), a touchdown (on a pretty nice throw, admittedly) and an interception. The Rams don't have the best weapons to begin with, and this game was played without both Todd Gurley and Tavon Austin, but it would have been nice if Goff showed some signs of life against the Vikings' backups.
5. Hackenberg looks like Hackenberg
Like Goff, Christian Hackenberg did not enjoy his Thursday night.
This is not a typo: Hackenberg threw 31 passes for 54 total yards. To repeat, the Jets let Hackenberg throw the football on 31 different occasions. They were rewarded with 54 passing yards and a pick-six.
Let's check in on Twitter:
Christian Hackenberg is a project. Like a 12-to-14 year project.— Dan Hanzus (@DanHanzus) September 2, 2016
Pretty good battle going on between Hackenberg's attempts and Hackenberg's yards. Yards leading 33-23.— Reuben Frank (@RoobCSN) September 2, 2016
Hackenberg's spike was his best throw of the night.— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) September 2, 2016
Why is James Franklin making Christian Hackenberg play like this? pic.twitter.com/3B25Kc2m1Y— DJ Gallo (@DJGalloEtc) September 2, 2016
Hackenberg, a second-round pick, was never expected to play this season, so he at least has some time to develop into a quarterback that doesn't average 1.7 yards per attempt.
6. Paxton Lynch impresses for Broncos
Finally, a rookie quarterback who doesn't suck. Paxton Lynch didn't win the starting job in Denver, but he looks competent enough to be the backup behind Trevor Siemian until he's ready to replace him.
This touchdown, off play-action, definitely made Gary Kubiak smile.
And this bullet definitely made Peyton Manning jealous.
Paxton Lynch: A developmental, rookie quarterback we can believe in.
7. More reps and confidence for Bears' White
Bears 2015 first-round pick Kevin White missed all of last year with a shin injury, so he's essentially entering his rookie year. Despite his inexperience, he's expected to function as one of Jay Cutler's primary targets alongside Alshon Jeffery. But through three preseason games, White looked nothing like a key contributor, catching three passes for 12 yards.
White started for the Bears in their final preseason game against the Browns and finally showed some flashes. Catching passes from backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, White pieced together the best outing of his career, bringing in all four of his targets for 57 yards.
8. Seahawks' Rawls shakes off the rust
Before Thomas Rawls' season ended last December with a broken ankle, he was enjoying an incredibly successful rookie year with his 5.6 yards per carry. With Marshawn Lynch retired, Rawls will be expected to spearhead the Seahawks' running game.
So, consider it good news then that Rawls returned to the field Thursday night, carrying the ball twice for seven yards. Ignore the stat line, what's important is that Rawls was able to experience live game-action before the regular season begins.
According to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, there's "no question" Rawls will be ready Week 1.