While there were only two preseason games on Thursday night's schedule, there was much to be gleaned from the results.
We saw two of the NFC's 2012 bottom feeders down two of the AFC's elite. There was an absolute stunner in Motown, as the Detroit Lions rolled over the New England Patriots in impressive fashion, 40-9, while the Carolina Panthers surprised the defending champion Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore, winning 34-27.
Here are the main takeaways from Thursday night's action.
Through the first two preseason games, the Patriots first-team offense looked like an absolute juggernaut. Quarterback Tom Brady was surgical, only misfiring on two passes, and the offensive line was excellent in both run and pass-blocking.
Well, the preseason rose has lost its bloom, as New England's first-team offense was uncharacteristically sloppy and stagnant in the team's 40-9 loss at Detroit.
The Patriots turned the ball over four times in the first half and the Lions' vaunted defensive line abused their opposition. Brady was often under duress, was brought down twice for sacks, and threw an interception. The run game failed to get going as well, as starting back Stevan Ridley carried the ball eight times for just eight yards. This was not the performance the Patriots were looking for.
Now, there were some positives, namely the play of undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins, who continued to turn heads with eight receptions for 116 yards. But, on the whole, this was a very disappointing night for New England's offense.
While the third preseason game generally serves as the dress rehearsal for Week 1, don't be shocked to see coach Bill Belichick play his starters longer than usual when they host the Giants next week. He surely can't be happy with this latest showing.
It's been a rough week for quarterback Timothy Richard Tebow.
First, last Friday, he was godawful against Tampa Bay, completing one of seven passes for minus-one yard and an interception, evoking feels and memories of Ron Burgundy in Anchorman after his dog, Baxter, eats the wheel of cheese: "I'm not even mad, that's amazing!"
And, finally, Tebow failed to log any game action in the Patriots' blowout loss to Detroit.
Let's face facts: The Patriots would be wasting a roster spot on Tebow. He's a quarterback who can't play quarterback and clearly doesn't have the confidence of his coaches. At this point, it'd be an upset if Tebow made the team's 53-man roster.
The Lions had little offensive balance in 2012, greatly contributing to the team's 4-12 record. Quarterback Matthew Stafford attempted an astounding 727 passes, and there's simply no way that a team can win in the NFL if they're throwing the ball that much.
Running back Reggie Bush was signed this offseason to provide a complement to fellow back Mikel LeShoure, and while Bush didn't get it going on the ground versus the Pats (six carries for one yard), he was majestic in the passing game, hauling in five catches for 103 yards.
With wide receiver Calvin Johnson sidelined for the second consecutive preseason game with a bruised knee, Bush was the clear focal point of Detroit's passing attack. And he looked like the Bush of old, shaking defenders and displaying dazzling speed.
It's not outside the realm of possibility to think that Bush could catch anywhere from 80-100 balls in Detroit's pass-happy offense. That kind of effort could potentially mask the team's deficiencies in the run game.
If the Lions are going to restore the roar in 2013, they will need their defensive line to play up to its potential. The unit failed to record a sack through its first two games of preseason.
But, Thursday night, they showed up in a big way, recording two sacks (both by defensive end Jason Jones) and harassing Tom Brady throughout his time in the game.
Defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley were both active, and rookie end Ziggy Ansah looks ready to contribute.
If the Lions D-line can carry this play into the regular season, Detroit is capable of making some noise in the NFC.
The heat is on Cam Newton this season. Despite his undeniable talents and statistical dominance, Newton is 13-19 as the team's starter—something that must improve in 2013 if coach Ron Rivera is to keep his job.
Newton didn't exactly sparkle in Carolina's 34-27 win over Baltimore, continuing a disturbing preseason trend of average play from the Panthers' franchise quarterback. While the blocking in front of him wasn't great (he was sacked three times), Newton was inconsistent throwing the ball, completing just 10 of 19 passes for 99 yards.
Newton is now 21-of-42 passing this preseason. That just won't get it done.
While the Panthers offense is adjusting to a new scheme under new coordinator Mike Shula, these efforts can't inspire confidence in the team or their fans. Newton must pick up his play, or the organization will find itself in a state of major flux once again.
It would be difficult for any middle linebacker in the NFL to play a better half of football than the Panthers' Luke Kuechly did Thursday night in Baltimore.
The second-year man out of Boston College was absolutely dominant, delivering bone-rattling hits, forcing a fumble that was returned for a touchdown, recording two pass deflections and intercepting a pass. Don't be surprised if Kuechly emerges as a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year contender.
Another positive sign for the Carolina defense was the play of rookie defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. Lotulelei was also disruptive in the run game and both players recorded sacks of quarterback Joe Flacco.
While the Panthers certainly have issues, particularly in the secondary, the front seven could surprise many in 2013.
The Baltimore Ravens passing attack looks markedly different than the one that helped the team to triumph in Super Bowl XLVII.
Gone is Flacco's security blanket, receiver Anquan Boldin, traded to San Francisco. Stellar tight end Dennis Pitta likely out for the entire season with a hip injury, and fellow tight end Ed Dickson is on the mend from a hamstring injury.
Flacco didn't have his best game in the loss to Carolina, tossing two interceptions and locking onto receivers far too often.
And, it's probably not a good thing that the newly signed Brandon Stokley already looks like Flacco's go-to-guy on third downs.
The Ravens passing attack is clearly a work in progress, and while the rest of the team is likely good enough to carry the aerial assault (or lack thereof) while it rounds into form, this was a disconcerting effort for the unit.