It's not like we haven't seen Jordan Love play a lot in the preseason before. However, this preseason is a lot different.
There's much more pressure on Love to perform, as the 2020 first-round draft pick takes over the Green Bay Packers' starting quarterback job from Aaron Rodgers. The Packers don't normally play starters in the preseason but will this year, mostly to get Love as comfortable as possible before the season opener on Sept. 10 against the Chicago Bears.
The first look at Love as the Packers' preferred starter wasn't perfect, but it was pretty good in a 36-19 Packers win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Love led a short touchdown drive against the Bengals on Friday night, capped by a nice play-action pass to Romeo Doubs in the end zone. Love played two series and took a seat. He finished 7-of-10 for 46 yards and that touchdown to Doubs.
Most of Love's attempts were short, quick throws, but he did well getting the ball to his playmakers. His one deep shot was to Christian Watson, and might have been a tick late as safety Dax Hill drifted over and broke it up.
— NFL (@NFL) August 11, 2023
Love also badly missed wide-open rookie tight end Luke Musgrave on a third-down pass on Green Bay's first possession, and that can't happen in the regular season. It will be a teaching moment.
The rest of Love's outing was positive. He looked in control, making quick decisions on his short passes. The Packers used a lot of play action, and Love looked comfortable on those plays. His touchdown to Doubs had great touch, as he lofted the pass to Doubs against man coverage. You'd like to see more yards per attempt from Love, but overall it was a good first preseason performance.
— NFL (@NFL) August 11, 2023
The reports on Love in training camp and joint practices against the Bengals have been mostly positive. He's mostly an unknown as he takes over the Packers' QB job from a legend. If he plays like he did in his brief outing at Cincinnati, the Packers' transition might not be so bad.
Spotlight team: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers had to be thrilled with how the first-team offense looked to start their preseason opener.
On the first drive for the offense, second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett was sharp. He was 6-of-7 for 70 yards and a touchdown. He looked good rolling left and hitting Diontae Johnson for a first down. He made a nice throw to George Pickens, who broke through the defense and ran the rest of the way on a 33-yard touchdown. That was it for Pickett on Friday. The Steelers went on to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-17.
It’s a big year for Pickett, who mostly struggled as a rookie but also had some very good moments. The Steelers want to see him look more comfortable and be more consistent this season. Having Pickens, a highlight reel receiver, and other top targets should help. The first glimpse of Pickett in the preseason was promising. If that’s a sign of things to come, Pickett might be in for a very nice growth season.
Standout player: Baker Mayfield
Mayfield is battling for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting quarterback job, and while his first preseason game wasn't great, it ended on a very good note.
Mayfield was content keeping mostly everything short and safe early on, sometimes due to pressure from the Pittsburgh Steelers. That worked for a touchdown drive that concluded with a great pass from Mayfield to Trey Palmer in the back of the end zone. Palmer deftly got his feet in bounds for the score, a nice statement for Mayfield in his competition with Kyle Trask.
— NFL (@NFL) August 11, 2023
Mayfield looked downfield a little more after the touchdown pass, perhaps with more confidence after his TD throw. A 19-yard gain to Palmer was brought back due to offensive pass interference. Then Mayfield hit Kaylon Geiger for 20 yards. Mayfield's night ended with him completing 8 of 9 passes for 63 yards. Mayfield probably didn't win the quarterback competition with his performance Friday, but it was a good first step for him.
Washington Commanders 17, Cleveland Browns 15: The start of the game was delayed more than an hour by bad weather. When the game started, Browns QB Deshaun Watson led a drive inside the 10-yard line. He didn't pass it much but did have three runs for 20 yards. That drive was ended on an unsuccessful fourth-down run at the goal line. Overall, it was a decent showing from the Browns' starting offense.
Detroit Lions 21, New York Giants 16: Rookie first-round running back Jahmyr Gibbs made his preseason debut for the Lions. Gibbs had 19 yards on six carries, and also made a nice catch on an 18-yard gain. Overall it was a solid preseason debut for the 12th pick of the draft.
Atlanta Falcons 19, Miami Dolphins 3: The most intriguing player in Friday's game might have been Dolphins rookie running back De'Von Achane, who has been getting a lot of camp buzz. He didn't do anything to move up the depth chart Friday, with 20 yards on eight carries in the first half and a carry that lost a yard on third-and-2 near the goal line. He did have an 11-yard catch. The Dolphins haven't invested much in the running back position and Achane could emerge with a big role, and he has a couple more preseason games to make an impression.
Arizona Cardinals 18, Denver Broncos 17: The Broncos made a surprising move during the offseason, cutting longtime kicker Brandon McManus. That move didn't look good Friday. Brett Maher missed a field goal in the first half. Then Elliott Fry missed a field goal. The Broncos starting offense struggled too through three series, but made up for it with a touchdown on its fourth possession. That leaves more time to worry about the kicking competition this week. Fry did hit a 55-yard field goal late in the first half, which will help him in the competition.
• New Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell was a bit frenetic at times, but he produced results. He was 9 of 12 for 77 yards and a touchdown. Jahan Dotson did most of the work on the touchdown pass, making a nice adjustment and catch downfield, but it was still a good way for the Commanders' starting offense to finish the night.
— NFL (@NFL) August 12, 2023
• The Dolphins didn't play anyone of note in Friday's preseason opener.
The following players are not expected to play in tonight's preseason game against the Falcons. pic.twitter.com/lu1wLA5OfN
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) August 11, 2023
There was a thought that maybe the Dolphins would get some starters a little time in the first preseason game, especially on defense due to a scheme change with new coordinator Vic Fangio, but Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel sat his players like he did in the preseason opener last year.
• The Bengals need some running back depth after Joe Mixon, and Chris Evans had an explosive run against the Packers. Evans broke a 33-yard run in the second quarter. Evans is in his third season and has been mostly used as a pass catcher, but if he can prove himself to be a capable runner, he could have a nice role behind Mixon. Evans finished with 49 yards on seven carries.
• The Packers didn't invest much in the backup quarterback position after Jordan Love. Sean Clifford, a rookie fifth-round draft pick, is the presumed leader for the No. 2 job. Clifford had an up-and-down first half in relief of Love, leading a touchdown drive but then throwing a horrific pick-six to safety Tycen Anderson in the second quarter. Clifford threw another interception, again to Anderson, on a pass thrown slightly behind his receiver over the middle. The Packers might be in trouble if Love misses time, though Clifford rebounded from his second interception to throw a touchdown right before halftime.
• Maybe the Packers found something in undrafted rookie running back Emanuel Wilson. Wilson, who played at Fort Valley State, rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns on six carries. That included an 80-yard touchdown in which he showed a good burst down the sideline. It's just a few plays, but it will lead to a longer look at Wilson the rest of the preseason.
• A couple of Lions rookie defenders looked good. Linebacker Jack Campbell, a first-round pick, had four tackles and a pass defensed in the first half. And second-round safety Brian Branch had a huge hit on a short pass.
— NFL (@NFL) August 11, 2023
• New Browns receiver Elijah Moore, acquired in an offseason trade with the New York Jets, was a bit part of the team's first series. He had a catch and also had a run out of the backfield for 18 yards. That was overshadowed by an injury, he was checked in the medical tent and then was taken back to the locker room with the training staff. The good news is X-rays on Moore's ribs were negative.
• A 95-yard punt return touchdown that included two spin moves? This highlight from Lions receiver Maurice Alexander will get you excited for football being back:
And if that's not enough, Atlanta's Dee Alford returned a punt for a touchdown too.