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What we learned from Thursday's preseason games

*Week 3 of the 2019 preseason, or the Dress Rehearsal, got started Thursday night with six matchups, including one on an 80-yard field in Canada! Here's what we learned from an entertaining, albeit injury-riddled night of football: *

  1. The youth movement in Cincinnati doesn't just extend to its fresh-faced coach. The Bengals' young skill position players were the focus of their first home preseason game. Wideouts Damion Willis and Auden Tate started instead of the injured A.J. Green and John Ross, and Rodney Anderson got an extended amount of run in lieu of Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. Willis was a favorite of all three of Cincy's QBs, catching three balls on six targets for 55 yards and a score. Anderson wasn't much on the ground but the shifty rookie caught four passes for 51 yards out of the backfield. Tate left with a knee injury. Perhaps the Bengals' offensive depth is better off than we thought.
  1. There's not much more to be said about Big Blue's QB battle. Eli Manning (4-for-8, 41 yards) was sharp and professional in leading a 15-play FG drive in his final preseason start. Daniel Jones was equally stellar, completing nine of 11 passes for 141 yards, showing none of the ball-handling woes that set him back last week. Still, New York is not handing the reins to the rookie to start the season, no matter how well he plays. Full stop. At cornerback, though ... Sixth-round rookie Corey Ballentine started across from veteran Janoris Jenkins and led the team with seven tackles and two passes defensed. With fellow rookie Deandre Baker and second-year corner Sam Beal set back by injuries this summer, could Ballentine's recent showings secure him a spot on New York's Week 1 starting lineup?

*-- Jeremy Bergman *

  1. The Redskins didn't mess around on Thursday night. Second-year back Derrius Guice was back and they gave him the ball on their first offensive play from scrimmage. Guice responded with a seven-yard run off left tackle and he looked good in his first action thereafter. Playing in only the second preseason game of his brief career, Guice saw his first run with the Redskins since an ACL tear scrapped all of his rookie season. His first half of work saw 11 carries for 44 yards -- a somewhat surprising load given it was Guice's return. But he held up and showed off the promise that excited so many ahead of a rookie year that never came.
  1. Tevin Coleman has left for San Francisco. Devonta Freeman has returned for the Falcons, but over the last few seasons, when healthy, Freeman and Coleman have provided a game-breaking combination for the Falcons out of the backfield. By all accounts, second-season back Ito Smith is ready to take over for Coleman. On Thursday, he was arguably the most impressive offensive performer for the Falcons, nabbing 23 yards on five carries along with a nine-yard catch in a first half's worth of playing time. Smith's evening included a five-yard first-half touchdown run. On just about every successful NFL team, you need not one but two good running backs and the Falcons had that the last four years with Coleman and Freeman. They should have that again in 2019 with Smith and Freeman.

*-- Grant Gordon *

  1. Tom Brady took the field on Thursday and he looked just fine. Perhaps more than anything considering Cam Newton's foot injury and subsequent removal from the game, Brady emerged unscathed. He got in for a few series and got out and looked good doing it, completing 8-of-12 passes for 75 yards. Brady's backup continued an excellent preseason, too. Jarrett Stidham, who's thrown for 506 yards, two touchdowns and no picks in three games, completed 15-of-19 passes for 134 yards before kneeling out the Pats' 10-3 victory.
  1. While Newton's return and departure were at the forefront for Carolina on Thursday, first-round pick Brian Burns continued to dominate the preseason with his latest and most impressive performance. Blazing to his third and fourth sacks of the preseason, Burns had five tackles, two sacks, one tackle for loss, a forced fumble and two QB hits on the day. The 16th pick of the draft is building excitement in Carolina and continued to do so on a day in which the face of the franchise drew cause for concern. Regardless of how things play out with Newton, Christian McCaffrey and the Panthers offense, the Carolina defense is trending upward and Burns is leading the trend.

-- Grant Gordon

  1. No starting quarterbacks for either club in this one. But that didn't mean this exhibition was void of fireworks under center. Backing up Lamar Jackson, who was kept out along with other offensive starters for what coach John Harbaugh called a number of reasons, was Trace McSorley, the rookie out of Penn State who was working as a punt returner just two months ago. The diminutive McSorley was electric, connecting on 16 of his 24 passes for 203 yards and two TDs in the first half. The two scores were pinpoint perfect balls to Michael Floyd and Jaleel Scott, respectively. Three of McSorley's attempts went to fellow first-year Marquise Brown, who saw his first action of the preseason since returning from foot surgery. Hollywood's three catches went for 17 yards and the WR saw a successful two-point conversion called back by penalty, but Baltimore must be happy that its first-round prospect finally got some productive run with a live wire at QB.
  1. Carson Wentz will go into the regular season without having played a single preseason snap. It's probably best that he didn't play Thursday night alongside the rest of Philly's starters, for safety's sake. After all, the Eagles' backup QB situation needed tending to. Cody Kessler returned from last week's concussion with a fine two drives before giving way to recent retiree and unretiree Josh McCown. The 40-year-old QB impressed in a near-full game's worth of action, hitting on 17 of his 24 passes for 192 yards and two scores and showing little fear escaping the pocket. It's like he never left.

*-- Jeremy Bergman *

  1. Any American football game -- in the United States -- could be viewed as 100 yards to glory. Thursday night's tilt in Canada, could very much be viewed as 80 yards to survival. After having to take out goal posts that are placed in the middle of the end zone for Canadian Football League games at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' IG Field, the preseason contest was played on an 80-yard field due to safety concerns. The Packers' worry was seen in the form of announcing 33 players who would sit prior to the game.

First-round draft pick Rashan Gary was not one of those to sit out and he limped off the field on his own power after suffering an apparent injury, but was then carted off to the locker room. Gary was attended to twice in the game and was likely still in during the second quarter as he's struggled thus far to acclimate himself to the Packers' defense. Over the team's first two games, Gary had no tackles. On Thursday, he got his first. Not long after, his night abruptly ended. His agency later tweeted out that Gary was "fine and doing well."

  1. Starters were hard to find Thursday after the Raiders and Packers made the trek to the Great White North and found an unfamiliar 80-yard field. However, quarterbacks Nathan Peterman and Mike Glennon continued their battle for the backup spot behind Derek Carr. Peterman looked better in Week 1, Glennon looked good in Week 2 and Week 3 belonged to Peterman. Glennon struggled and hit on just 4-of-9 passes for 38 yards and a dismal 56.7 passer rating, while Peterman kept swinging and put together a night in which he went 23-of-37 for 210 yards, two touchdown passes and an 95.6 passer rating. Following the game, Jon Gruden declined to name a backup. But at least in Canada, Peterman was the better No. 2 for the Raiders.

-- Grant Gordon

  1. Is Ryan Fitzpatrick assured the starting job in Miami? Not if Josh Rosen has anything to say about that. After the journeyman veteran led eight Dolphins drives, including one TD march in the second half, Rosen was finally let into the game with 4:56 to go in the third quarter. Sitting at his own 1-yard line, the second-year QB led Miami 99 yards in 13 plays for its second TD of the evening. Rosen displayed the best pocket presence, mobility and patience we've seen from him this preseason on the drive, though it came against Jacksonville backups. Rosen didn't do much on his next two drives and finished 5-of-7 for 59 yards. Maybe not enough to start against the Ravens in Week 1, but enough to put pressure on Fitzpatrick every week thereafter.
  1. Jacksonville blessed us with a first glimpse at its starting lineup after two preseason contests of Gardner Minshew and the like, and it was a welcome first impression. In his first game action, Nick Foles hooked up with likely starting WR Dede Westbrook four times on four drives including a 10-yard TD pass on a play-action out route. Playing alongside Sacksonville's deep starting defensive lineup, rookie edge rusher Josh Allen shined, logging two TFLs and two QB hits. Unfortunately, the Jags did not escape Thursday night unscathed: Potential breakout receiver D.J. Chark exited with a concussion.

*-- Jeremy Bergman *

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