Week 3 of the preseason is the closest to real game action most NFL veterans will get until Week 1 of the regular season. Coaches will put together game plans, will work through substitutions and work on halftime adjustments (unless of course your name is Greg Schiano). Veterans are expected to play as if the game matters.
Big-time players like Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees played Week 3 like true professionals and looked at midseason form. Other players used their limited repetitions to make a name for themselves and either gain a starting position, a roster spot or get their name in the discussion to be on their teams’ 53-man roster.
Just like in NFL locker rooms after any game, select players on the winning team get game balls. Losers do not, so here are the preseason Week 3 game-ball winners.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers
By far the best player on the field in Week 3, Rodgers used his poise and athletic ability to rush for two touchdowns. Rodgers was 12-for-22 passing but was without his top two tight ends.
As the Packers defense continues to be a work in progress, Rodgers will need to have big games like this all season for the Packers. But head coach Mike McCarthy does not want his superstar running as much as Rodgers was in Week 3, especially with the lack of quarterback depth behind Rodgers.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco
Flacco gets a lot of abuse by the media and fans for some of the statements he has made about being a top-flight quarterback in the NFL. If Flacco plays like he did versus the Jaguars in Week 3, no one can deny Flacco a spot in the top five quarterbacks currently in the NFL.
Flacco was 27-for-36 for 266 yards passing. He also threw for two touchdowns and helped new favorite target wide receiver Torrey Smith catch passes for 103 total yards. Flacco may not have statistics like this every week due to the fact running back Ray Rice hardly played in Week 3, but Flacco is the key to Baltimore competing for a Super Bowl.
Tennessee Titans middle linebacker Colin McCarthy
For a linebacker to get two interceptions on a season is solid. To get two in one game is incredible. Now top that off with by taking one of those interceptions to the end zone for the score, and McCarthy had a dream game for the Titans.
McCarthy is emerging as the leader of the Titans defense. The former Miami Hurricane also led the Titans in tackles versus the Cardinals. McCarthy probably took both those interception footballs home to put in his trophy room. Here’s a Bleacher Report game ball as well.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Damaris Johnson
Johnson has been the talk of Eagles training camp and looks to be a lock to make the 53-man roster as a college free agent. The amazing part of this game ball is that Johnson did not even play college football last year.
Johnson led the Eagles with 58 yards receiving versus the Browns and made a circus-like catch falling to his back. Johnson made a near-spectacular grab in the end zone but could only get one foot inbounds. Johnson may not get a lot of repetitions on offense come the regular season, but for this one shining moment, Johnson was the Eagles' brightest star.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Dominique Davis
With every snap Davis takes at the NFL level, he seems to gain confidence. With another strong showing in Week 3, Davis took hold of the third quarterback spot for the Falcons, sending former No. 3 quarterback John Parker Wilson to the waiver wire.
Davis was 2-for-3 in leading the Falcons offense but led the team to a scoring drive. Davis is a rookie free agent out of East Carolina who is seriously giving current backup quarterback Chris Redman a run for his money. If Davis can continue to improve off his game-ball winning showing in Week 3, the former Pirate will be the Falcons primary backup in 2012.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin
Martin, a rookie from Boise State, continues his impressive freshman campaign by being awarded a Bleacher Report game ball for Week 3. Martin rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. The stout runner also had three receptions for 12 yards.
Martin has snatched the starting running back position in Tampa and is a serious contender for offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Martin should only get better, and if Week 3 of the preseason is any indication, the running back will be picking up many game balls this year.
Seattle Seahawks running back Robert Turbin
The rookie running back from Utah State gives Seattle a solid option behind starter Marshawn Lynch. Turbin put together a solid game versus the Chiefs, rushing for 93 yards and a score.
Turbin’s 6.6 average yards a carry is a sight for sore eyes for Seahawk fans that have been waiting for a player who can produce on the lines of Lynch. Turbin must continue to work as a receiving threat out of the backfield, but as the fourth rounder proved in Week 3, he can carry the offense in relief of Lynch when called upon.
San Diego Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding
Call getting the game ball in Week 3 one of vindication of sorts for Nate Kaeding. The kicker blew out his left knee in the Chargers game versus the Vikings last season. The injury cost the former Pro Bowl kicker his 2011 season.
In his return this year, Kaeding is not only trying to show he is healthy, but the former Iowa Hawkeye is trying to hold off incumbent kicker Nick Novak. Kaeding showed he has his power and accuracy back versus the Vikings. Kaeding was two-for-two on field goal attempts with a game long of 54 yards.
Marshall showed in Week 3 why Bears general manager Phil Emery gave up two third-round draft picks to obtain the former Dolphin. Marshall caught five passes for 51 yards and a score. Marshall seems to have found his old dominant self since he has been reunited with his former teammate in Denver, quarterback Jay Cutler.
Marshall gives the Bears a viable big target receiver who is Pro Bowl caliber and gives offensive coordinator Mike Tice yet another weapon to work with. This is not the first, nor will this be the last game ball Marshall will receive in his NFL career.
Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris
Every year, head coach Mike Shanahan seems to turn some non-hyped running back into a star. Morris may be next on the list. The former Florida Atlantic running back rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown versus the Colts.
Morris is a sixth-round rookie, who due to injuries at the Redskins’ running back position, has taken advantage of his opportunities. Morris showed decisive cut-back ability versus Indianapolis and runs under his pads very well. Shanahan has a track record with running backs that will allow Morris even more opportunities if the stout runner keeps producing.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown
Brown, who just recently signed a huge contract extension, looked to be in midseason form in Week 3 versus the Bills. Brown scored two touchdowns on seven receptions. His yardage total on those catches was 108 yards.
Brown, especially with the absence of Mike Wallace, becomes the Steelers No. 1 receiving target. If Brown can continue having huge games like he had in Week 3, Jim Irsay may get the "veteran" player the Colts are seeking to trade for. As speculated by Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, Wallace fits the profile of the player that Irsay has been vaguely describing since Thursday night.
Oakland Raiders wide receiver Juron Criner
The rookie fifth-round selection out of Arizona State had a career game in Week 3. Though Criner only caught a total of two passes, both receptions went for long touchdowns. Criner’s total number of reception yards was 115.
Criner has a chance to play a significant role for the Raiders this season. If the rookie can continue to impress like he did versus the Lions, Criner will be in the mix for Rookie of the Year awards as well as many game balls.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dwayne Harris
The Cowboys' sixth-round pick in 2011 had been a disappointment up until his game-ball winning performance in Week 3. Harris, who is battling to be the third receiver for the Tony Romo led offense, caught three passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns.
The Cowboys are going to need Harris to improve on his weakness for dropping passes. But Harris gives the Cowboys a legitimate deep threat and a physical player who has good run after the catch ability.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees
Brees makes a case as the best player in the game every time he steps on the field. Week 3 versus the Texans was no exception. Brees was a very efficient 17-of-25 for 179 yards and two touchdown passes in limited time.
Brees will need to have games like Week 3 if the Saints hope to have a successful season. The loss of head coach Sean Payton as the primary play-caller is a huge loss for the Saints, and with interim head coach Joe Vitt gone for the first six games, Brees is the de facto play-caller.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick
The best player on the field for the game was Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. But Manning’s team came up short, so the 49ers backup quarterback gets the game ball. Kaepernick showed a national audience and 49er fans alike that he is more than capable of filling in for starter Alex Smith if need be.
Kaepernick has a strong arm, good field vision and can make plays with his feet. Kaepernick showed excellent accuracy versus the Broncos, going four-for-four with 80 passing yards. Kaepernick is the future at quarterback for the 49ers, but in Week 3, the former Nevada star was the now.
Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly
In what was not a very good game by either team, Kuechly proved why he was a first-round selection in the 2012 draft. Kuechly is a very solid coverage linebacker and is also active versus the run game.
Kuechly will never be a stout, at-the-point run defender, but the former Boston College star makes up for his lack of size with hustle and toughness. Kuechly finished the game with 10 total tackles but was around the football all night. The Panthers have a dynamic star on offense in quarterback Cam Newton. Kuechly gives them one on defense.