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Philadelphia Eagles fans couldn’t even get to halftime of the preseason opener before the first “We want Wentz!” chant.
You can’t blame them for being excited about quarterback Carson Wentz, the second pick of the NFL draft. He’s the Eagles’ future, and Thursday night was the fans’ first look at him in game action. Wentz gave the fans enough reason for hope, and he gave the coaches enough mistakes to correct.
Wentz got in late in the first half of the Eagles’ 17-9 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and his first completion showed why he was the second pick of the draft.
After an incompletion, Wentz stepped up in the pocket toward his right and delivered a blazing fastball to Zach Ertz for a 19-yard gain. Nobody ever questioned if Wentz’s arm is good enough.
Wentz is also a solid athlete, showing off his athleticism on one third-quarter run when he avoided the rush, got outside and then cut upfield for a nice gain. Wentz also ran a third-down read option, but was upended just before he got the first down.
Wentz had some moments when it was clear why the Eagles gave up so much in a trade to move up and draft him, but he also looked like a rookie. He seemed a bit amped up — he fired a third-down pass over Ertz, throwing his fastball when a changeup would have gotten the completion. He also had a terrible throw in the third quarter. On third-and-10, with a clean pocket and receiver Cayleb Jones running wide open downfield. Wentz didn’t come close, throwing it way over Jones’ head and incomplete.
Wentz had his worst rookie moment in the third quarter. With the Eagles in the red zone, his intended target ran a hesitation route crossing the field. And Wentz, just before he was crushed by defensive tackle A.J. Francis, made a dangerous throw that sailed too high and was picked off. He’ll learn that QBs shouldn’t make throws like that, especially so close to the end zone.
Nobody expected Wentz to look like a polished pro, especially coming from an FCS program at North Dakota State, and he was predictably uneven. Wentz won’t start the regular season for the Eagles unless something unexpected happens to Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel over the next few weeks. So he’ll have plenty of time, over the next three weeks and beyond, to get used to the NFL.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to make a nice jump this season, and the first look at them in the preseason won’t slow down that hype.
Allen Robinson was in midseason form in Jacksonville’s 17-13 loss to the New York Jets, with a few nice catches including an incredible grab for 45 yards. He had 80 yards in the first quarter. Thanks to his No. 1 receiver grabbing everything thrown his way, quarterback Blake Bortles was 6-of-7 for 105 yards.
The run game looked good too. Chris Ivory had 26 yards and a touchdown on six carries. T.J. Yeldon made the most of his four carries, getting 26 yards. The Jaguars’ starters played most of the first quarter, and they led 10-0 at the end of it.
The Jaguars had a great offseason, grabbing a few high-priced veterans and getting Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack in the draft. If the starting offense is as efficient as it was Thursday night, the Jaguars should be fun to watch this season.
The preseason doesn’t count, but New England Patriots running back Tyler Gaffney had a moment in a 34-22 win over the New Orleans Saints that had to feel special.
Gaffney missed each of the past two seasons, and each of the past two preseasons as well, due to injuries. Thursday was the first preseason game of his career, about 27 months after he was a sixth-round pick of the Carolina Panthers. It was his first game since Jan. 1, 2014, when he had 91 yards and a touchdown for Stanford in a 24-20 Rose Bowl loss to Michigan State. And Gaffney showed why the Patriots brought him back this season, even after he couldn’t stay healthy the previous two years.
Gaffney took a handoff to the left, cut back right and ran past the Saints’ defense for a 44-yard touchdown. That’s a great moment for him.
He might not be just a heartwarming preseason story either. Gaffney has had some nice reviews in camp, and it’s not like the Patriots (who claimed Gaffney off waivers in 2014 when the Panthers tried to get him to injured reserve) are loaded at running back. Dion Lewis is still on the physically unable to perform list, LeGarrette Blount looked sluggish on many of his runs (as he did in 2015) and James White is reportedly on the roster bubble.
Gaffney could make the team and have a role, especially if he has more runs like he did against the Saints.
Atlanta Falcons 23, Washington Redskins 17: J.D. McKissic had the kind of play that could stick in the coaches’ minds when they’re evaluating plans for the regular-season roster or practice squad. McKissic took the opening kickoff of the second half and exploded upfield for a 101-yard touchdown. It was very well blocked, but still a good return by McKissic, an undrafted receiver from Arkansas State. McKissic also had a 14-yard punt return.
Baltimore Ravens 22, Carolina Panthers 19: The Ravens gave Terrance West a good look at tailback. Javorius Allen started (Justin Forsett didn’t play), but West got a bulk of the work. The results were mixed. West got only 25 yards on his nine carries, but had two short touchdowns. He dove over the pylon on fourth down for one score, and reversed field and outran the defense to the end zone for the other. He’ll get more looks as he tries to lock up his role in the Ravens’ backfield.
Denver Broncos 22, Chicago Bears 0: Mark Sanchez had a nice pass to Virgil Green on Denver’s first drive, then stood in against the blitz to deliver a 32-yard touchdown to Demaryius Thomas. Then he had an inexcusable mistake. Sanchez seemingly never saw cornerback Bryce Callahan lurking in coverage, and Callahan tipped up a pass that was intercepted by linebacker Jerrell Freeman. That sums up Sanchez: He can make good plays here and there, but mistakes have defined him. Trevor Siemian, who is competing with Sanchez for the starting spot, wasn’t spectacular but he also didn’t turn the ball over. (For more on the Broncos’ quarterback battle, here’s Eric Edholm’s report from Soldier Field on Thursday night.)
• With last week’s Hall of Fame game being canceled, the first kickoff of the NFL preseason happened at about 7:07 p.m. Eastern time in Philadelphia. And Buccaneers returner Kenny Bell took the opening kickoff of the season, the first football we’ve seen since Super Bowl 50 … and he fumbled it away. Hopefully that’s not an omen for this season.
• Carson Wentz wasn’t the only first-round rookie quarterback to make his debut. Paxton Lynch played for the Broncos and completed 6 of 7 passes for 74 yards. He looked comfortable in his first action.
• The competition for touches in the Ravens backfield will be fierce. Terrance West reportedly has a chance to start. Rookie running back Kenneth Dixon made his mark with a nice 19-yard run, putting a great move on Panthers safety Tre Boston in the open field. Dixon had 44 yards on nine carries. And Javorius Allen, who started with Justin Forsett out, had a 19-yard touchdown catch.
• Everyone assumes that with Kelvin Benjamin back, he’ll be the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver. Devin Funchess might have a say in that. Funchess had a great touchdown grab, overpowering cornerback Shareece Wright in the end zone for a 10-yard score. He used his big body to box out Wright and Wright was helpless to break it up. Funchess, a second-round pick last year, finished his rookie season pretty well too. Benjamin, who was out last season with a knee injury, made his return and had one catch for 5 yards.
• There’s a reason the Eagles gave Fletcher Cox a mega-extension this offseason. In the first quarter Thursday, Cox got an upfield push on Buccaneers right guard Ali Marpet and knocked the ball out of the hand of Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston. Cox then recovered the fumble. Cox is moving to defensive tackle in new coordinator Jim Schwartz’s 4-3 scheme and should have a huge year.
• Ryan Mathews is rarely healthy, but the Eagles’ back is very good when he is in the lineup. He had just two carries on Thursday but both were nice. First he had a strong inside run for 10 yards. Then — with the Eagles lining up with three tight ends to the right of the formation — Mathews got in for a 5-yard score.
• Michael Thomas, the Saints’ second-round pick, had a nice first game. He caught four passes for 67 yards, including a reception down the sideline in which he showed great concentration and hands to secure the catch and get both feet in before going out of bounds. He’s a big target and should be a favorite target of Drew Brees from Week 1 on.
• Here’s the downside of having four quarterbacks who might all make the roster: Second-round pick Christian Hackenberg didn’t play in Thursday night’s opener. Ryan Fitzpatrick started, Geno Smith came in second and Bryce Petty played the rest of the game. The reason Jets coach Todd Bowles gave for Hackenberg not playing is he has had only limited practice reps. The Jets’ plans probably don’t include playing Hackenberg at all this regular season, and the lack of action now doesn’t seem ideal for his development.
• For those interested in the Bears’ running back depth chart: Jeremy Langford had 7 yards on four carries, Ka’Deem Carey had 8 yards on three carries and rookie Jordan Howard had 12 yards on five carries. No bueno. However, they were going against a Broncos defense that pitched a shutout and looked like it was ready for the regular season.
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