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On a night around the NFL in which Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Carson Wentz, Matthew Stafford, Nick Foles and Matt Ryan did not suit up for their respective teams, the league-wide focus turned on Thursday to the preseason performances of the rookie quarterbacks, many making their NFL game debuts.
The New York Giants’ Daniel Jones made the quickest, most impressive first impression early on. After months of being at the center of media and fan scrutiny this offseason, Jones couldn’t have turned in a better performance in his first game in a Giants uniform, a 31-22 win over the New York Jets.
Are we preparing for a summer exhibition season where Eli Manning fails to impress against defensive starters and Jones eating it up against the reserves? Perhaps.
And if so, how do we weigh these performances properly? The Giants might be entering a slightly awkward period here where their placeholder starter is given a leash — a short one — and is compelled to hold off the inevitable.
It’s still likely that Manning starts Week 1 at the Dallas Cowboys. That’s been the prevailing feeling, even with the Giants taking Jones with the sixth-overall pick this spring and clearly starting the clock on their two-time Super Bowl-winning fixture.
But how long Manning holds off the rookie doesn’t appear to be a story that’s going away if the Giants’ first preseason game of 2019 is any indication.
Here's how Eli Manning did
Manning started the game for the Giants and played a single series. Star running back Saquon Barkley sat this one out, as did WR Sterling Shepard. But most of the rest of the Giants’ key offensive contributors were out there with Manning for the first series of the game.
Manning completed his only pass of the game, a bootleg and 3-yard checkdown in which he appeared to miss a deeper, more open receiver downfield. Two handoffs later, the Giants punted and Manning took off his helmet for the rest of the night. The crowd let out a slew of boos aimed at the quick work by the Giants offense.
And then the vibe changed with 7:59 remaining in the first quarter.
That’s when Jones took the Giants’ second offensive series, followed by the Giants portion of the MetLife Stadium crowd coming to life with a nice ovation. And Jones responded, hitting his first five pass attempts on the opening series. It was impressive — he found his rhythm right away, hitting Golden Tate on an RPO pass for 11 yards, Cody Latimer for 31 yards on the “over” route and Bennie Fowler for the final two passes of the drive.
And this wasn’t some third-string defense, either. The Jets had most of their starting front seven out there, even with a lot of reserves in the secondary.
Jones hit Fowler for a 12-yard score — right in the corner of the end zone — and brought the Giants faithful to an even higher level. The future of the franchise was on full display early. Watching his controversial draft pick fare so well so fast had to be especially pleasing to embattled GM Dave Gettleman, who has stuck his neck out for the Jones pick time and time again since April.
Giants head coach Pat Shurmur said coming into the game that he would not coddle Jones, and the coach lived up to his word. He gave Jones plenty of intermediate, outside-the-numbers throws and had to be impressed with the effort.
The game was delayed about one hour because of severe weather before Jones could take the field for his second series. Officials cleared the stands and field area before fans, players and coaches were allowed back to resume the game.
Jones never returned to the field. The Giants weren’t about to ask him to warm up again and try to better what he did in his one very impressive series.
Kyler Murray had a nice single-series debut for the Arizona Cardinals. Other rookie quarterbacks, such as Washington’s Dwayne Haskins and Carolina’s Will Grier, had some ups and downs on Thursday. But no rookie made a more interesting statement on Thursday than Jones did for the Giants.
The Cleveland Browns enter this season with more hype than they’ve had in more than a decade. Their preseason debut should do nothing to quash that.
Baker Mayfield and the majority of the starting offense — minus WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry — took the field and marched 89 yards on the opening drive for a touchdown. After misfiring on his first pass attempt, Mayfield diced up the Washington Redskins’ first-string defense with six straight completions for 77 yards.
Mayfield hit Rashard Higgins on a pretty dime for a 24-yard touchdown, and that was it for the Browns’ offensive starters.
Cleveland’s defense also came to play. It held the Redskins to a quick possession on their opening drive and later forced two punts and two turnovers. Rookie linebacker Mack Wilson picked off Redskins rookie QB Dwayne Haskins and ran it back 40 yards for a pick-six.
Like most of these games, it was a brief sample of what’s to come.
Jets QB Sam Darnold, shook off a near-interception on his first pass (it went through the hands of new Giants safety Jabrill Peppers, playing his first game for New York after the Odell Beckham Jr. trade) and got hot in his one series with the starters against the Giants.
Darnold completed four of his five pass attempts for 68 yards, including completions of 32 yards to tight end Chris Herndon and 28 yards to Jamison Crowder. Darnold then capped the opening drive of the game by hitting Crowder on a 3-yard scoring pass. That was it for Darnold’s night.
That was all the Jets asked of their second-year QB, but it was a great start. Darnold looked like a seasoned pro in his brief 2019 season debut.
This was also the debut for new Jets head coach Adam Gase, who needed a little extra, ahem, boost before the game. This might not be your garden-variety over-before-it-starts Jets season.
Gase didn’t come out vanilla with the play calling in his debut, either, even with Le’Veon Bell and newly signed center Ryan Kalil sitting this game out. The new head coach (and play caller) threw a number of formations out there, giving Darnold a nice sampling of throws with which to work. The protection looked good, and the receivers responded by getting open and making nice grabs. Even castoff RB Ty Montgomery looked good early taking Bell’s spot for the night.
For a Jets offense that has ranked in the bottom 10 in the league in scoring six of the past seven seasons, it was a sight for sore eyes. Gase even showed off his head-coaching chops by successfully challenging a pass-interference call, which is a notable rule change this offseason. Good night for QB and coach.
The even-keeled Darnold and the oddball Gase might appear to be quite the odd couple. And maybe they are. But the first preseason taste of this tandem was quite palatable.
Tennessee Titans at Philadelphia Eagles: Marcus Mariota started the game for the Titans and did little (2-for-4 passing, 24 yards) before exiting. But backup Ryan Tannehill — whom the team traded for to push Mariota in this all-important season — came in and looked sharp in his Tennessee debut.
Tannehill completed 12-of-16 passes for 130 yards and two scores, leading the Titans to a 14-10 lead just before half. Mariota won’t feel any more footsteps from his current backup than he hasn’t already. But it’s a sign that the Titans might be willing — at some point, anyway — to make a change at QB if things don’t go right offensively this season.
For the Eagles, backup QB Nate Sudfeld started in place of Wentz and looked strong, throwing a 75-yard TD pass and turning in a good first half of work. But then he suffered what appeared to be a very serious injury.
This would be a tough blow for the Eagles, who let Foles walk to the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason. The Eagles’ QB depth chart reads: Wentz, journeyman Cody Kessler and rookie fifth-rounder Clayton Thorson. And we don’t need to remind Eagles fans of Wentz’s injury history.
Carolina Panthers at Chicago Bears: Cam Newton sat this one out, and Mitch Trubisky was done after one series. That allowed the game to boil down to one major storyline, at least as far as Bears fans were concerned.
The kicking game.
In the first game back at Soldier Field since Cody Parkey double-doinked a 43-yard field goal in the playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, one of the Bears’ two new kickers put his best foot forward.
After Eddy Piñiero missed his first field-goal attempt from 48 yards, it was Elliott Fry’s turn. He made an extra-point attempt and lined up for a field-goal try in the waning seconds of the first half.
It was good. From 43 yards. Forty-three — as in the same distance as the kick Parkey missed in the playoffs. The Chicago crowd erupted.
That’s about as exciting as it gets in a preseason game. And Bears fans might have a new kicker they can put in the crosshairs with the preseason one quarter through.
The other major highlight for the Bears was rookie RB David Montgomery. The third-round pick had three carries for 16 yards and a touchdown, along with three catches for 30 yards (including a 23-yard grab).
The TD run featured a beautiful stutter-step at the beginning, which froze the Carolina defense, and it ended with Montgomery powering in at the goal line. The Bears also have Tarik Cohen and Mike Davis (who had a nice 12-yard run in the game), along with others in the backfield.
But it’s going to be awfully hard for Bears head coach Matt Nagy to keep the rookie Montgomery off the field given that he’s had a nice start to training camp prior to his strong preseason debut.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens: The most interesting statistic from Baltimore’s 29-0 victory was Lamar Jackson’s line. The Ravens QB attempted six passes and zero runs.
This likely was by design. If Baltimore is serious about using Jackson extensively as a runner this season a year after he was the best-designed run QB in football for a stretch last season, then the preseason might be the right time to preserve Jackson’s relatively lean frame from unneeded beatings and allow him to work on his passing.
"It's all about hitting my receivers, hitting my targets, moving the ball downfield, trying not be stopped and scoring touchdowns," Jackson said after his brief performance.
The Ravens kept things simple with Jackson on Thursday, as he completed 4-of-6 passes for 55 yards and a 10-yard TD pass to Willie Snead IV. Jackson hit three different receivers — including a nice 30-yarder to Chris Moore — and drew a long pass-interference call. The Jaguars challenged it, thanks to a new NFL rule this season that allowed coaches that right, but it held up after review.
• New Miami Dolphins QB Josh Rosen took some hard hits in his first few series. but he responded with some nice off-schedule plays. One hit came below the knee, which drew a flag. But Rosen shook that off to lead a 71-yard touchdown drive with a few solid throws. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the starter for now, and Rosen’s second series didn’t go as well. He was picked on a pass that Rosen never should have attempted.
Overall, it was a mixed bag of a night, and Rosen will need to show better in his second preseason game in Miami. But he and Preston Williams appeared to find a nice little connection in this game, and there’s a lot of football left before the Dolphins brass needs to press him into action that actually counts.
Rosen was 6-of-12 for 93 yards with a pick in the first half and 13-of-20 for 191 yards for the game. Fitzpatrick was 2-of-5 for 20 yards in his brief Miami debut. The starting job appears to still be in his hands until Rosen takes it away. But he at least appears to be stacking some decent showings together between recent practices and Thursday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons to make that eventual decision tougher for new head coach Brian Flores.
• Detroit Lions fans booed the team after it fell behind 28-0 in the third quarter to the New England Patriots — without Tom Brady — and ended up losing 31-3. Matthew Stafford (and other Lions starters) didn’t play either, mind you, but the Lions turned in a very lackluster effort compared to the sharp performance of the Patriots.
Tom Savage started in place of Stafford and was fine for a brief appearance. But QB3 David Fales struggled badly, missing on eight of his first 10 pass attempts and getting picked once. The Lions offense in general was brutal, racking up a mere 41 yards in the team’s first nine possessions (seven punts, one turnover plus the end of the half).
The Lions’ first score was, well, by a fan. (No, it did not count.)
The Lions finished the game with 93 net yards of offense. They ran 40 plays. Yikes.
This, of course, means little now. But it’s a sign of how Lions fans might handle a slow start to the season, which could put more heat on second-year head coach Matt Patricia.
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