Winners and Losers from Thursday's NFL Preseason Games
After getting a teaser of football from the NFL's Hall of Fame Game on Sunday, the preseason officially went into full swing Thursday evening with six games on the schedule. Despite this only being Week 1 of the preseason with games having little meaning, it is still exciting to see a schedule full of football.
While a win or loss in the first week of the preseason doesn't forecast who'll be playing for the Lombardi Trophy, it does give us insight into players who are moving in the right direction for the regular season.
Today, we'll look at the winners and losers from Thursday's preseason games.
WINNER: The Washington Redskins
Trading three first-round picks and a second-round pick for one player is quite the price to pay for a quarterback. However, after an extremely impressive first game from Robert Griffin III, the Washington Redskins are looking like geniuses for coming away with a franchise QB.
Despite only attempting six passes in his first preseason start, Griffin still had an incredible game; he finished with 70 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown pass, a 20-yard beauty on a screen pass to new weapon Pierre Garcon, showed what earned Griffin such praise as a future NFL quarterback.
The Redskins couldn't have been happier about the performance of their expensive but worthwhile investment.
LOSER: Tyler Thigpen, QB, Buffalo Bills
Tyler Thigpen is battling with Vince Young for the honor to be the backup quarterback to Ryan Fitzpatrick.
After Thursday's game, where Thigpen finished 3-of-8 with an interception and a quarterback rating of 13.5, it looks like he'll be well behind Young for the backup job. Even though Young wasn't very impressive (54.2 quarterback rating), Thigpen's terrible play far outweighed Young's mediocre play.
If he wants any chance at getting back into competition for the No. 2 job in Buffalo, Thigpen will need to be extremely impressive throughout the rest of the preseason.
WINNER: Bryan Kehl, LB, Washington Redskins
While the name Bryan Kehl might not be familiar to the casual fan, after a solid performance on Thursday night, his name might soon become well known.
Kehl has bounced around the league since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL draft. He never had much of an impact with either the New York Giants or St. Louis Rams, but a switch from outside linebacker to inside linebacker might be all he needed to rejuvenate his career.
With the rest of the Washington Redskins' defensive backups, Kehl ended up having a solid game. He finished with six total tackles, a sack and one pass defended.
His ability to play against both the run and the pass could prove to be extremely valuable for the Redskins this year.
LOSER: Washington's Backup Quarterbacks
While Robert Griffin III looked great in his first-ever preseason game, his backups didn't look so hot. Basically, if Griffin gets injured this year, the Washington Redskins might as well throw in the towel.
Both Rex Grossman and Kirk Cousins looked absolutely horrid against the Buffalo Bills. They combined to complete only 11 of 32 passes for 96 yards and an interception.
Simply put, neither of them looked capable of being a valuable backup for the Redskins.
WINNER: Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
There were plenty of people who felt that Julio Jones was in store for a breakout sophomore season, but few could have expected it to start like this.
Against the Baltimore Ravens, one of the better defenses in the league, Jones managed to pull down six receptions for a ridiculous 109 yards and a touchdown. On nearly every play he was a part of, Jones looked way more talented than any other player.
His physical and athletic abilities are some of the best in the league, and now that his understanding of the professional game has caught up with his natural abilities, the rest of the NFL needs to watch out. With Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, the Falcons should have one of the most potent passing attacks in the league.
LOSER: Akeem Dent, LB, Atlanta Falcons
After Lofa Tatupu's season was lost to a pectoral injury, second-year linebacker Akeem Dent was supposed to get his chance at being his replacement.
Unfortunately, Dent went down early in the second quarter with a concussion, meaning he'll miss valuable playing and practice time in the upcoming weeks. With the recent troubles that players have had making timely returns from concussions, this could be terrible news for the Atlanta Falcons.
Hopefully Dent will be able to return and won't miss a beat heading into the regular season, but you just never know with head injuries.
WINNER: Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Whether or not Flacco should be considered an elite quarterback is debatable, but one thing you can't debate is how good Flacco looked during his first preseason game.
With Ray Rice only receiving three carries and gaining four yards, the bulk of the offense from the Baltimore Ravens in the first half came from Flacco. He finished the game with nine completions to only three incomplete passes, 88 passing yards and a touchdown pass to tight end Ed Dickson.
While it is unlikely that the Ravens will expect their quarterback to lead the offense like this during the regular season, he at least proved that he is capable of doing so.
WINNER: Phillip Hunt, DE, Philadelphia Eagles
Phillip Hunt was an undrafted free agent who played in Canada before signing with the Philadelphia Eagles last year. In nine games last year, Hunt only managed eight tackles and two sacks.
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, however, Hunt was able to match last year's sack total in a single game. He was constantly harassing the Steelers quarterbacks and forcing them out of the pocket.
A performance like this is just what Hunt's career needed, and if he can keep it up throughout the preseason, he should get plenty of opportunities to play during the regular season.
LOSER: Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
You just can't trust Michael Vick to stay healthy.
All it took was one quarter in the preseason for Vick to get injured; this time around, the injury bug bit his hand.
While the injury didn't look overly serious, it still isn't a good sign that your franchise quarterback can't stay healthy for even a half of preseason football. It has been Vick's M.O. to struggle with injuries, and it appears as if the 2012 season won't be any different.
If the Philadelphia Eagles want to improve from their letdown season of last year, they need Vick to be on the field every offensive possession. So far, it doesn't look like that has a high probability of happening.
WINNER: The Pittsburgh Steelers
Despite the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers lost their first preseason game, they still end up winners. The reason they are winners after Thursday's game is because of their offense.
With the team still not making any progress with wide receiver Mike Wallace, no one was really sure how good the offense would look without its top receiver on the field. However, even without Wallace, the Steelers looked like they had plenty of weapons to replace him if they needed to.
For starters, receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders looked very good. They ran crisp routes and ended the game with a combined four receptions, 40 yards and a touchdown.
It didn't stop there for Pittsburgh. Running back Jonathan Dwyer looked extremely impressive in limited time, as did youngster Chris Rainey. If the Steelers can continue to be this good on offense without Wallace, they may decide that Wallace isn't worth the headache and look to trade him to improve their roster.
LOSER: Steelers' Young Offensive Line
The Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive line was a major issue last year, and it doesn't look like it'll be much better this season. Despite spending their first two picks on offensive linemen, the Steelers still struggled at protecting their quarterback.
They gave up five sacks in the first half alone and seven throughout the entire game, and Steelers quarterbacks were constantly under pressure. With the amount of talent in the AFC North on the defensive side of the football, the Steelers need to get this issue fixed right away.
If they don't, it could be a very long and painful season for Ben Roethlisberger.
WINNER: Shane Vereen, RB, New England Patriots
Second-year running back Shane Vereen had a phenomenal performance with 64 rushing yards on 11 carries and two receptions for another 17 receiving yards. He hit holes with power and speed, proving capable of becoming an every-down back in the NFL.
If Vereen can consistently play with this type of production for New England, its offense will become an unstoppable force of nature.
LOSER: Chase Daniel, QB, New Orleans Saints
After having an up-and-down performance against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, Chase Daniel once again failed to prove that he has the abilities to be a starting quarterback in this league.
Sure, he'll be a solid backup quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, but any hopes of him eventually replacing Drew Brees need to be thrown out the window. Daniel did complete 67 percent of his passes for 62 yards, but he also threw an interception.
His decision-making needs to improve before he'll ever get a chance to start for an NFL team.
WINNER: Marquis Johnson, CB, New Orleans Saints
With the loss of Tracy Porter in the offseason, the New Orleans Saints are looking for a new starting cornerback. Heading into the second preseason game, no one thought that Marquis Johnson would have a chance to win that job.
However, after five tackles and an interception against the New England Patriots in limited time, Johnson might have a chance to steal that job away. He looked like the best defensive player on the field for the entire game, and even if he doesn't start this year, he at least earned a chance for valuable playing time.
LOSER: High-Powered Offenses
I know that Drew Brees and Tom Brady only played a portion of Thursday's game, but 13 combined points between two of the best offenses in the league is simply unacceptable.
They combined for over 550 total yards, but the lack of scoring was a real disappointment.
WINNER: Green Bay's Potential Starting Cornerbacks
With the possibility of Charles Woodson moving to safety this year, the Green Bay Packers need to find his replacement at cornerback. Throughout training camp, Jarrett Bush, Sam Shields and Davon House have all played well, but none had separated himself as a clear starter.
However, against the San Diego Chargers, House and Tramon Williams looked extremely good when on the field together. Williams intercepted a first-quarter pass from Philip Rivers, and House played solid defense against the pass and made some big plays against the run.
While it is way too early to say that Green Bay's other cornerbacks have improved enough for Woodson to move to safety, Williams and House played well enough for it to still be a possibility heading into Week 2 of the preseason.
LOSER: Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers
Ryan Mathews played one play in his first preseason game. The result was a shoulder injury.
For a player who has suffered through injuries in his first two years, this certainly wasn't a good sign.
WINNER: Vincent Brown, WR, San Diego Chargers
With the departure of Vincent Jackson in the offseason, the San Diego Chargers needed a receiver to step up in his absence.
That receiver appears to be Vincent Brown, who is entering his second season in the league. Brown led all receivers with 81 yards and added a touchdown late in the second quarter. While he may not be ready to take on the full load of Jackson's production, his first preseason game as a potential key contributor was a good sign for the future.
With Brown, Malcom Floyd and Robert Meachem, the Chargers should feel confident that their offense won't miss Jackson too much.
LOSER: Herb Taylor, OT, Green Bay Packers
Herb Taylor was thrown into a difficult position due to Marshall Newhouse's injury, but his play against the San Diego Chargers showed just how fragile the Green Bay Packers offensive line is.
Taylor was constantly beat off the edge, mostly by rookie Melvin Ingram. He looked slow and struggled to win at the point of attack against more athletic opponents.
While Taylor is unlikely to see much playing time this year once Newhouse and Derek Sherrod return from injury, it would have been nice to see a little more deep talent on the offensive line in Green Bay. I'm sure Aaron Rodgers is praying that his starters come back healthy and stay healthy for the entire season.
WINNER: John Elway, Denver Broncos
John Elway might have been the biggest winner of Thursday's games simply because Peyton Manning was on the field in Week 1 of the preseason.
Even though Manning didn't have the greatest start to the preseason, the fact that he was on the field after missing the entire 2011 season makes Elway an absolute winner.
LOSER: Caleb Hanie, QB, Denver Broncos
While Caleb Hanie eventually settled down after replacing Peyton Manning, it wasn't enough to change his horrid performance when he first entered the game.
Hanie finished the game against the Chicago Bears completing only 50 percent of his passes for 79 yards. However, the biggest issue with Hanie's performance was the fact that he took three sacks in limited playing time.
He looked hesitant throughout the first half, and he opened the door for either Brock Osweiler or Adam Weber to replace him as the No. 2 quarterback on the roster.
WINNER: Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears
It was by no means a dominant performance for Alshon Jeffery in his first preseason game, but his solid play helped put to rest any doubts about what he'll bring to the NFL.
Jeffery led all Chicago Bears receivers with four receptions and 35 yards. He was able to make difficult receptions and create separation, which was one of the biggest question marks surrounding his game.
As long as Jeffery can stay focused and continue to produce, he should be one of the steals of the NFL draft.
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