Falcons receiver Julio Jones looks just fine.
Jones is coming off a foot injury that required season-ending surgery last year. He was on an unbelievable pace last year when he got hurt, and so far this preseason he looks like the exact same guy that was dominating the league.
Jones had a fantastic touchdown in the second quarter against Tennessee. He caught a short pass, then dragged Titans cornerback Coty Sensabaugh for a bit before he fell off. With safety Bernard Pollard bearing down, Jones had a great spin move to his left, leaving Pollard behind. He was in the open field and scored a 52-yard touchdown.
But Jones said he’s still not quite himself yet.
“I didn’t have that extra gear tonight that I wanted,” Jones said during a sideline interview on the Falcons’ broadcast. “To other people it looked like I did a good job, but to me, I have a high standard for myself and I feel like I have a little rust on myself now.”
Now that’s scary.
Jones had 41 catches for 580 yards through five games last year before he got hurt, a pace that would have put him among the greatest single seasons in NFL history. This will be his fourth season and if he really is healthy, he changes the Falcons’ outlook.
Roddy White got healthy late last season and has looked good this preseason. Harry Douglas had a fine season replacing Jones and is as good of a third receiver as there is in the NFL. Even Devin Hester had an exciting touchdown catch on Saturday night. The Falcons lost 24-17 but led 17-10 at the end of the first half, when the starters were playing.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who was 18-of-23 for 224 yards, has to look around and be pleased with his options, especially when he looks wide and sees Jones back on the field.
The Bills’ starting offense went its first 18 drives this preseason without scoring a touchdown. They were booed off the field at home when they were down 24-0 at halftime on Saturday.
If you wanted to make a case that the Bills look like the NFL’s worst team just based on this preseason, there’s an argument for that. And remember this: Because of the trade that netted receiver Sammy Watkins with the draft's fourth overall pick in May, the Bills don’t have their own first-round pick next year. Cleveland does.
Watkins didn’t play against Tampa Bay, and that’s a reason the Bills didn’t play so well. Tampa Bay won 27-14. And it’s just the preseason, no real need to panic yet. But the offense has really struggled, and a lot of that falls on second-year quarterback EJ Manuel.
Manuel threw an interception in the first quarter (although intended target Scott Chandler fell down on the play) and lost a fumble on a sack that was returned for a touchdown. He heated up in the third quarter, going 10-of-10 for 131 yards and the Bills got a couple of touchdowns in the quarter, ending the scoreless skid for the starters at 18 drives. Manuel's best moments came against Tampa Bay’s backups, but it can’t hurt his confidence going forward.
There’s too much talent on the Bills for them to be this bad. C.J. Spiller looks very fast this preseason, and there’s tailback depth with Fred Jackson and Bryce Brown. Watkins, Robert Woods and Mike Williams should be a good group of receivers. Manuel was a first-round pick and had his moments as a rookie last year.
The results haven’t really been there yet. The Bills better hope this doesn’t carry into the regular season or it will hurt, especially come draft day next year.
Take this statement for what it’s worth: Rams receiver Kenny Britt looked really good on Saturday night against the Browns.
If you want to trust that this is the revival year for Britt, go ahead. But be warned. He was unable to stay healthy or stay out of trouble in his short career with the Titans. But there were always moments that made you marvel at the former first-round pick from Rutgers.
And he’s having more of those moments this preseason.
The reports from training camp have been positive for Britt, and he had a couple of very nice catches in St. Louis' 33-14 win against Cleveland. On a third-and-25 he caught a 36-yarder. He added a 32-yarder later. He showed great body control on both catches. On a night in which Sam Bradford was knocked out of the game with a knee injury (for which he'll have tests on Sunday), Britt was a bright spot.
The Rams have been in search of a true No. 1 outside receiver for years. Britt is just on a one-year “prove it” contract, so it’s way too soon to say he’ll be a long-term answer there. But what he has done so far has been intriguing. Whether he can avoid all the issues that have set his career back in the past remains to be seen, but Britt looks like a steal so far.
Miami 25, Dallas 20: Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo took some hard shots against an aggressive Dolphins defense. While each one probably made all of Dallas hold its breath, it was probably not the worst thing (especially considering he came out of the game without injury). Romo is coming off back surgery, and after three sacks and a few other hits at least he knows that he can hold up through a physical game.
Baltimore 23, Washington 17: Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III took some unnecessary criticism for his performance Monday against Cleveland, because he didn't play that bad. Against the Ravens on Saturday, he did play bad. Griffin was 5-of-8 for just 20 yards and an interception. While it's way too early to worry, all eyes are on RG3 this season, and Saturday's performance made it look like he's still getting comfortable with new coach Jay Gruden's offense.
New Orleans 23, Indianapolis 17: Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who had been nursing a strained oblique, played for the first time this preseason. This will shock you, but it didn't seem like he was any worse off for missing the first two preseason games. Brees was 9-of-15 for 128 yards and two touchdowns. He even ran for 10 yards on third-and-8, showing he's healthy. His 2014 MVP season has started.
Houston 18, Denver 17: The Broncos had an important night. Running back Montee Ball, receiver Emmanuel Sanders and outside linebacker Von Miller all made their preseason debuts. Ball was returning from an emergency appendectomy he had on Aug. 4 and had four carries and four catches for 34 total yards. Sanders had a huge night, with two touchdowns including a 67-yarder. The excitement over the returns of those three stars was dampened a bit by receiver Wes Welker taking a big hit and suffering a concussion, but at least the Broncos had some key pieces back.
• If the Titans have a big role in mind for rookie running back Bishop Sankey, they have a funny way of showing it. Sankey didn't play in the first half, and got his first carry after starting quarterback Jake Locker was out of the game. Sankey, the first running back taken in this year's draft, was supposed to help replace Chris Johnson. He scored a touchdown against Atlanta, but that came with the backups. It's hard to imagine the Titans will go from having Sankey play no role with the first-team offense in August to having a big role when the regular season begins in two weeks.
• Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather got penalized for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Ravens receiver Torrey Smith, and he will have a few nervous days to see if the NFL punishes him. Meriweather was suspended two games last season for repeatedly violating the rules on illegal hits, although his suspension was reduced to one game. The NFL will look closely at this hit, although he told the Washington Post's Mike Jones he didn't mean to hit Smith in the head.
Brandon Meriweather said he was trying to go low, but just has to keep working on doing better.
— Mike Jones (@MikeJonesWaPo) August 24, 2014
• The Buccaneers' offense may have turned a corner against Buffalo. Early on they looked like they would struggle again, with quarterback Josh McCown getting sacked and throwing an interception. But he heated up and finished 13-of-16 for 112 yards. Running back Doug Martin also looked very quick, with 38 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries and two catches for 27 yards. The offensive line is still not very good, but the Buccaneers looked a lot better against Buffalo than they did in the first two preseason games.
• Rams offensive lineman Greg Robinson, the second pick of the draft, didn't start the third preseason game. That raises some red flags, but St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Jim Thomas said it wasn't anything to be concerned about.
So Greg Robinson not starting. He's not injured, but no big deal. Saffold isn't expected to play long tonight before giving way to GRob.
— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) August 23, 2014
Rams are not down on G. Robinson in any way. But he's head is spinning after switching continuously from LG to LT.
— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) August 23, 2014
WIth all due respect to Thomas, one of the NFL's best beat writers, there has to be at least a little bit of concern that Robinson didn't start the third preseason game, the typical dress rehearsal game. That's not normal for a starter, which Robinson should be. Robinson might have a starting spot no matter, because guard Rodger Saffold hurt his ankle on Saturday, but his development bears watching.
• Running back Knowshon Moreno wasn't off to a great start in Miami, having been reportedly out of shape this offseason and then needing minor knee surgery. But he ran well in his debut against Dallas. He had 64 yards on 10 carries. Presumed starter Lamar Miller had 34 yards on seven carries, which is good, but the Dolphins have had a quick hook with him before and that might be the case again if they can trust Moreno.
• In an interesting twist, the Bills had Dennis Dixon as their No. 2 quarterback on Saturday. Jeff Tuel and Thad Lewis were considered to be competing for the backup job, and coach Doug Marrone said he wanted to get a longer look at Dixon, but he clearly isn't too happy with his backup quarterback situation. Dixon didn't help that by being loose with the ball, including on a play he fumbled.
"I’m not going to say I’m satisfied because I’m not," Marrone said about his backup quarterback situation, according to the Bills' website.
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