*Two preseason games took centerstage on Friday night, both featuring inter-conference matchups. Cleveland clobbered Tampa Bay's offensive line, T.J. Hockenson played as advertised and a handful of starters caught the injury bug. Here's what we learned from Friday's Week 3 preseason games: *
- When the starters are getting preseason work, it can very much be an appetizer to the full course that is the NFL regular season. Such was the case on the Buccaneers' first drive of the game -- or better yet the Browns' first defensive drive. It was almost as if Cleveland realized it had just allowed a first down and got a bit angry. Following a third-down conversion catch by former Brown Breshad Perriman, the Browns sent the Buccaneers backward. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson blasted Peyton Barber for a two-yard loss. Olivier Vernon then beat teammate Myles Garrett to Jameis Winston for a five-yard sack. And on third down, Winston was passed around, as Richardson burst through, wrapped Winston and tossed him backward into the arms of Chris Smith who finished the sack and the drive. Three plays of utter Browns defensive dominance for negative-16 yards. Granted, this was likely as much an indictment on the Bucs' offensive line as it was an example of Browns brilliance, but with Garrett, Richardson, Vernon and Co. showcasing their skills, Cleveland gave a glimpse of just how great it can be up front.
- More often than not, Winston was scrambling for his life against the Browns. He was sacked five times in the first half. Certainly his 9-for-19 line for 88 yards and a 60.9 rating isn't stellar, but in the face of near-constant pressure, he scrambled well and didn't make bad decisions or risky throws. He hit receiver Chris Godwin four times for 52 yards and continued to build that chemistry. This is very much a make-or-break season for Winston under Bruce Arians. The bad throws and decisions he doesn't make loom just as large as the good ones he does make. Friday night was an example that Winston is moving in the right direction.
- Baker Mayfield was adamant about wanting to get some playing time on Friday. He got in, but his "A" game didn't follow him. Mayfield missed badly on some throws, including a likely touchdown to Demetrius Harris. In the red zone, many of his throws looked more like jump balls. The second-year quarterback had his issues with the Bucs' pass rush and dealt with a few drops as the offense, as a whole, was very much out of sync through the opening half. He drove the Browns to three first-half Austin Seibert field goals, but overall Mayfield was just off. Way off, really, as he averaged 2.8 yards an attempt. His line saw him complete 10-of-26 passes for 72 yards, an interception and a forgettable 30.6 rating. Everyone has bad days and what better time to have one than in the preseason, but Mayfield will need to up his game when the regular season rolls around.
-- Grant Gordon
- Matthew Stafford saw his first action of the preseason Thursday evening, leading five drives and playing into the second quarter. The Lions signal-caller looked most comfortable when targeting his newest additions: Jesse James, T.J. Hockenson, Danny Amendola and Ty Johnson. Stafford took joy in testing the offseason acquisitions, completing eight passes to the quartet, including three to Hockenson. The first-round tight end's highly touted summer continued Thursday night, as he found openings in Buffalo's defense to rumble for 52 receiving yards and extend Detroit's lone touchdown drive. A breakout back this summer, Johnson was the recipient of Stafford's TD pass, a smooth 11-yard shot out of the backfield. The QB's chemistry with the Detroit newcomers should calm concerns (for an evening) that the Lions are bound for a setback in Matt Patricia's second season in charge. Lookin' at you, Baldy!
- Continuing the trend started on Thursday night, this contest was marred by injuries. Whereas Hockenson thrived and left Ford Field with a clean bill of health, Detroit's first-round picks from the two years prior fell victim to the contagious injury bug. Lions starting linebacker Jarrad Davis left with an ankle injury on his first drive and is bound for the MRI machine. Detroit's first-string center, Frank Ragnow, suffered the same fate in the second frame. Buffalo didn't emerge unscathed either. Bills guard Quinton Spain hit the showers early with an ankle injury and star cornerback Tre'Davious White was ruled out with a quad contusion. Even Frank Gore went down briefly following a late hit out of bounds by Lions safety Tracy Walker, though the everlasting tailback returned to the game shortly after. When we said "break a leg" before the preseason Week 3 dress rehearsal, we didn't mean literally, guys...
- One week after building a mind-meld with Cole Beasley, Josh Allen didn't get into quite the same rhythm in Detroit. In six drives, the second-year gunslinger showcased his best and worst tendencies, completing just three passes on six attempts for 49 yards. One first-quarter play Thursday night was a pure distillation of the J. Allen Experience. On a second-and-short from Buffalo's 25, Allen escaped pressure out to his right, moving with confidence in and out of the pocket per usual. But the QB then inexplicably threw back across his body into the middle of the field when Jalen Reeves-Maybin was waiting. A pick right out of his rookie tape...that is if he wasn't bailed out by a questionable roughing the passer call. The drive resulted in an Isaiah McKenzie jet sweep TD, so all was forgiven in the end, but Allen's sloppy play is indicative of a young QB who is still experiencing growing pains.
*-- Jeremy Bergman *