I must admit, there is nothing about pre-season football that I accept as particularly legitimate. The pre-season is, after all, a four-game opportunity for NFL coaches to evaluate personnel.
So when a young quarterback has a great outing, I immediately ask, “Who did he play against?” Usually, it was 11 players on a defensive unit that (a) just got out of college or (b) were brought in as free agents for their team’s No. 1 quarterback to throw against.
So this past weekend was, at best, an exercise in coaching. It was the first of four chances to see who might have a chance to play at the NFL level and who isn’t likely to be successful.
Still, there are occasional things that happen during pre-season games that can give fans a look at what might happen during the regular season. The outcome is meaningless, but the games within the games could – and I say could with many caveats – have an impact on the regular season.
So what did we see this past week that might tell us something we don’t already know? Here are 10 things. Remember, believe what you want to believe. It is only pre-season:
(1) Tim Tebow. There, I wrote it. Friday night, Tim Tebow gave the New York Jets exactly what he gave the Denver Broncos last season – a sort of semi-controlled chaos. He was in the game for five drives in the second and third quarters (one of them was a simple kneel-down at the end of the half). He went four-for-eight for 27 yards and one interception. He carried four times for 37 yards and his offence put up three points. Here is how USA Today covered it: “Tebow’s throwing motion actually looked more efficient, and his accuracy seemed improved, especially on short passes. Yet he also readily bolted from the pocket, seemingly once he’d determined his first read was covered.” The uniform might be different, but what you see is what you get.
(2) Kansas City beat Arizona 27-17 on Friday night as Matt Cassel played one series, completed five-of-six passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. He was clearly the best quarterback on the field on this night. The two guys who are supposed to be the front-runners for the Arizona job, were as marginal as their careers would suggest. John Skelton went three-for-six for 35 yards and an interception while Kevin Kolb went one-for-five for 21 yards and…. Zzzzzzzzz. Oh, on the upside for Arizona, rookie runningback William Powell out of Kansas State carried nine times for 92 yards and a TD. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have announced that Kolb will start the team’s second pre-season game. Sounds like one last chance.
(3) Brandon Weeden, the Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback who took Colt McCoy’s job without McCoy being given an opportunity to fight for it, looked shaky at best. Against Detroit, Weeden went three-for-nine for 62 yards with an interception and a fumble and had a passer rating of 19. McCoy could actually do better than that (and yes, he has). Browns coach Pat Shurmur said, “I thought Brandon did a good job.” Huh? Was he being held hostage by Weeden’s family at the time? Good luck Browns. Oh yeah, the Browns best quarterback on Friday was Thad Lewis and the best play made by a Browns quarterback was made by Seneca Wallace. Weeden might be No. 1 now, but he should remember this: In the past 13 seasons, the Browns have had 16 different starting quarterbacks.
(4) Rookie Robert Griffin III looked solid in his first appearance under centre in an NFL game (yes, even it was a pre-season game). He went four-for-six for 70 yards and one touchdown – in a 7-6 Washington win over Buffalo. He drove the team down the field and looked like a veteran. This guy just might be the answer.
(5) Last year, Jacksonville scored 20 points in a game once. Friday night, Jacksonville beat the New York Giants 32-31. Sure, it was only a pre-season game but it might have been the best game the Jags had played in four seasons.
(6) The Carolina Panthers might be building the most impressive collection of offensive talent in the NFC. With Cam Newton at quarterback, the Panthers signed runningbacks DeAngelo Williams (five years, $43 million) and Mike Tolbert (four years, $24 million). On Saturday, the Panthers signed Jonathan Stewart to a five-year extension worth $36.5 million with $22.5 million guaranteed. Since Stewart joined the Panthers, Carolina has rushed for 9,189 yards, the most in the NFL. Carolina might have put up only 61 rushing yards – Williams carried four times, Tolbert carried once and Stewart didn’t play — on Saturday night in a 26-13 loss to Houston, but remember, it’s only pre-season.
(7) On the bright side, Randy Moss didn’t catch a pass for the Niners, so the Vikings have that going for themselves. Other than that, there wasn’t much good to take away from the 17-6 loss in San Francisco. Well, okay, you can take away the fact that San Francisco led 17-6 at the half and it didn’t get worse. Christian Ponder went four-for-nine for 80 yards for the Vikings and that’s not bad, I guess. But maybe that’s the reason Vikes head coach Leslie Frazier said on Saturday that the team will “discuss” activating Adrian Peterson this week. When you only have one weapon, you’d better use it even if it only has one leg.
(8) Maybe it’s just me, but if anyone won a job in the first week of pre-season, it was Miami Dolphins quarterback, Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill completed 14-of-21 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown while last year’s starter Matt Moore completed seven-of-12 for 79 yards and an interception. David Garrard sat out the game with a sore knee. If the pre-season meant anything at all, Tannehill would be the Dolphins No. 1 quarterback. But it means nothing so the kid is still No. 3.
(9) The Denver Broncos got almost exactly what they wanted from their new quarterback. Peyton Manning played one drive, went four-for-seven for 44 yards and finished it off with an interception, although it was more about a great defensive play than a bad pass.Nfl.com reported it this way: “He got great protection from his offensive line. He was hurried only one time (barely) in eight drop-backs and stepped up nicely in the pocket. His arm looked good.” For fantasy players, with Manning at quarterback, expect wide receiver Eric Decker to have a good year. Denver beat Chicago 31-3 because the Broncos defense is so good and that’s something everyone forgot during Tebow-mania last year.
(10) Out in Seattle, rookie quarterback Russell Wilson came into the game, went 12-for-16 for 124 yards and a touchdown pass. The TD pass came on a sensational catch by veteran Braylon Edwards. Here’s the part that drove me nuts. After Seattle beat Tennessee 27-17, some of the Seahawks took to trash talking the Titans. Huh? It’s a frickin’ pre-season game, what would you say? “Yo, our rookies and third stringers beat your rookies and third stringers. Smack!”