With Thursday's slate of games complete, the preseason is finally behind us. The regular season is now less than a week away, a fact which warms the soul.
But there was much to learn from Week 4. We saw quarterback issues around the league come into focus, unheralded players step up, and there were unfortunate injuries which will impact the regular campaign.
Let's examine what we learned from Week 4 of the preseason:
For most NFL teams, the goal for the fourth preseason game is to exit the contest injury-free.
Ever the contrarian franchise, the Oakland Raiders hoped to find a starting quarterback in theirs.
Unfortunately for the team, quarterback Terrelle Pryor failed to make a convincing argument to claim the starting job, completing only three of eight passes for 31 yards and tossing a grotesque interception in the team's 22-6 loss at Seattle.
While Pryor did make plays with his legs, rushing three times for 48 yards, he didn't do enough to outright win the job, and as a result, it's unclear as to which direction the Raiders will go with their starting signal-caller. Quarterback Matt Flynn was held out of the game with a fatigued throwing arm, and chances are, if Pryor had dazzled, the job would have been his.
Still, the recent quotes from offensive coordinator Greg Olson, where he called Pryor a "playmaker," would seem to indicate the team is leaning in his direction. The Raiders offensive line is atrocious, and Pryor is far more mobile than Flynn—a major plus when you're running for your life multiple times per game.
Regardless of who starts at quarterback in Oakland, one thing is certain: The team is going to be bad. Very bad.
The Redskins ended their preseason slate with a 30-12 win over the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay, but the truly important news didn't come out until after the game ended.
Speaking with reporters postgame, Washington head coach Mike Shanahan announced that quarterback Robert Griffin III was cleared to play by noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews, meaning the Redskins' franchise signal-caller should be on the field in Week 1 when the team hosts Philadelphia on Monday Night Football.
This news ends the offseason-long drama concerning the rehabilitation of Griffin's surgically repaired right ACL, and while it wasn't unexpected, it should certainly provide a boon to both Redskins fans and the organization as the team seeks to defend its NFC East crown.
All offseason long, the New York Giants have trumpeted a running-back-by-committee approach, with backs David Wilson and Andre Brown set to split the load.
Those plans took a major hit in Thursday night's 28-20 loss in New England, as Brown fractured his left leg—the same leg he broke last season.
It's unclear how much time Brown will miss, and while he downplayed the injury after the game, the smart money is on Wilson's workload increasing as a result.
While Wilson sparkled throughout the preseason, averaging over seven yards per carry, he has yet to prove he can shoulder the load of being an every-down back, so Brown's injury is a major concern for Big Blue.
Running backs Ryan Torain and Da'Rel Scott are next up on the Giants depth chart.
With final cuts looming and a wretched body of work thus far in the preseason, Patriots quarterback Tim Tebow needed a strong effort in the finale against the Giants to ensure a spot on the team's 53-man roster and possibly salvage his NFL career.
While Tebow's final numbers look decent, as he completed six of 11 passes for 91 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, it was the kind of uneven performance that has defined his career. He took four sacks and was lustily booed by the home crowd following both the interception and a hideously overthrown ball intended for receiver Aaron Dobson.
Yes, he did throw the two touchdown passes, both to receiver Quentin Sims, but whether it was enough to keep him a Patriot is still to be determined.
It's worth noting that in three of the past four years, the Patriots have only kept two quarterbacks on the active roster, and there's no way the team would choose Tebow over fellow quarterback Ryan Mallett, with Tom Brady the obvious starter.
If this was indeed the death knell for both Tebow's time as a Patriot and his NFL career, he can say that he went out leading one last fourth-quarter comeback. Perhaps for the last time, Thursday night was Tebow Time.
We'll find out on Saturday if his NFL clock will continue to tick.
The Buffalo Bills quarterback situation, with injuries to EJ Manuel and Kevin Kolb, has degenerated into an unmitigated disaster, as Matt Leinart and Thaddeus Lewis—neither man a member of the team for more than a week—were the two signal-callers in the team's 35-13 loss to Detroit.
Leinart, who started the game, was predictably poor, completing three of 10 passes for 11 yards and two interceptions. Presumed Week 1 starter, undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel, was held out of the game.
The good news for Buffalo is that before the game, Manuel was on the field throwing passes. And while that doesn't mean he'll be under center in Week 1 when the Bills host New England, it's certainly a positive sign in his rehabilitation from knee surgery.
With Kolb's season (and career) in jeopardy following the concussion he suffered last week, Buffalo needs a healthy Manuel if it's to compete in 2013. It cannot expect to win with Tuel or Leinart.
Unbelievably, it seems as if no NFL position battle throughout training camp and the preseason has been more heavily scrutinized than the placekicking competition in Green Bay. Over the past few weeks, the practice play-by-play of each kicker's daily performance has become nothing short of a Twitter staple.
It appears as if incumbent Mason Crosby now has a stranglehold on the job. The team released both kickers who had been competing with Crosby, Giorgio Tavecchio and Zach Ramirez, and earlier on Thursday, Crosby took a pay cut, making it increasingly likely that he'll be the Week 1 kicker for Green Bay.
Then, in the team's 30-8 loss in Kansas City, Crosby converted on both of his field-goal attempts, drilling kicks of 45 and 48 yards.
While Crosby had a horrendous 2012 campaign, connecting on only 21 of 33 field-goal attempts (a hideous 64-percent clip, worst in the NFL), it looks like Packers coach Mike McCarthy will roll with him in 2013.
That sound you just heard was Packers fans everywhere pouring themselves a drink.
The Houston Texans have their franchise quarterback in Matt Schaub. What they haven't determined is who his primary backup will be in 2013.
The competition for the spot has been fierce, with both Case Keenum and T.J. Yates having performed very well throughout the preseason. That trend continued in the team's 24-6 win in Dallas. Keenum completed nine of 13 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown, while Yates completed eight of 11 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown.
While Yates is the more experienced player, having stepped in two seasons ago for an injured Schaub and guiding Houston to the divisional round of the postseason, the rise of Keenum, an undrafted free agent signed in 2012, has been nothing short of meteoric.
Regardless of who locks down the backup job, Texans fans should be confident that if injury befalls Schaub, the team would be in capable hands with either Keenum or Yates.
If the Detroit Lions are to restore the roar in 2013, they'll need a big season from quarterback Matthew Stafford. Thus, Stafford's uneven play throughout the preseason has to be disconcerting for the team.
The trend continued in Thursday's 35-13 win in Buffalo, as Stafford completed only one of six passes for 12 yards to go along with an interception.
It's noteworthy that, with the vast majority of teams opting to play their starting signal-callers for either one series or not at all, Lions coach Jim Schwartz opted to keep Stafford in the game for two series. He likely wanted to see Stafford garner some positive momentum heading into the season opener against Minnesota. That didn't happen.
While it's more than likely that Stafford won't be wretched in the regular season, the team definitely wanted to see more from him throughout the preseason. His play is something to keep an eye on in the early part of the campaign.
The San Francisco 49ers have to be pleased with the recent emergence of wide receiver Quinton Patton, who has caught a touchdown pass from starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick in each of the team's last two preseason contests.
Patton, a fourth-round pick in April's draft, caught the first pass of the game from Kaepernick in Thursday's 41-6 win in San Diego and scampered 43 yards for a touchdown.
With injuries to receivers Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham, the 49ers desperately need a receiver to step up alongside Anquan Boldin, and it appears as if Patton could be that guy. He's someone to keep an eye out for when San Francisco hosts Green Bay in Week 1.
While Jets signal-caller Matt Simms played pretty well in the team's 27-20 victory over the Eagles on Thursday night, the big news surrounding the team's quarterback situation came before the contest.
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network is reporting that rookie quarterback Geno Smith will likely start in Week 1 against Tampa Bay, with Mark Sanchez recovering from the shoulder injury he suffered last weekend against the Giants.
Jets coach Rex Ryan has been rightly vilified for his asinine decision to insert Sanchez into the fourth quarter of a meaningless preseason game, and it appears that Smith will now have to start in Week 1 as a result.
With Sanchez coming off back-to-back terrible seasons in which he's turned the ball over a staggering 52 times, it's fair to think that as long as Smith doesn't completely spit the bit against Tampa Bay, he'll retain the starting job.
Of course, Smith could have won the job outright last weekend against the Giants, but he completely spit the bit in THAT game, throwing three first-half interceptions and running out of the end zone for a safety. This is obviously still a situation to watch closely.