NFL Preseason Week 4 Roundup: Mahomes' Days as Backup May Be Numbered
Much like Conor McGregor's career as an undefeated boxer, the 2017 NFL preseason is over.
One concluded much quicker than the other.
Thirty of the NFL's 32 teams were in action on the last day of August. The only reason the whole league wasn't playing is the game between the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans originally scheduled to be held in Houston and then moved to Dallas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey was cancelled altogether so the Texans could be with their families.
For the rest of the league, there was one more contest. One more chance for young players and veterans alike to prove they belong in the NFL and stake their claim to a roster spot ahead of this weekend's cutdown from 90 players to 53.
The NFL's biggest names were all watching from the sidelines Thursday evening, but that doesn't mean there was nothing to be gleaned from what happened from the final night of games that don't count.
Here are the biggest takeaways, beginning with the culmination of an outstanding preseason from the newest quarterback in Kansas City.
Mahomes Balls Out (Again) for Chiefs vs. Titans
There were two types of players of import in action Thursday night: reserve quarterbacks who could be pressed into action in Week 1, and rookie signal-callers looking to make one last big impression before the regular season begins.
In the latter regard, Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs got the job done and then some against the Tennessee Titans.
The 10th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft had easily his best game of the exhibition season, hitting on nine of his 16 pass attempts for 183 yards, including a 28-yard scoring pass to Demarcus Robinson.
It hasn't come against first-string defenses for the most part, but the night capped a nice preseason for Mahomes, who finished 34-of-52 yards for 390 yards and four touchdowns and no interceptions.
In other words, a so-so Saturday for Mahomes in the Air Raid at Texas Tech.
Thursday's showing was just the icing on that cake.
There's no quarterback controversy in Kansas City. Veteran Alex Smith is the starter.
But given that when last we saw Smith he was stinking up the Chiefs' dress rehearsal, the 33-year-old ought to be hearing footsteps.
Or maybe an air raid siren.
Controversy Brewing in Buffalo?
It's been a tumultuous offseason for the Buffalo Bills. A new head coach in Sean McDermott. A new general manager in Brandon Beane. Tons of personnel turnover as those men remake the Bills roster in their image.
The biggest change may still be yet to come.
Even if Tyrod Taylor hadn't been sidelined by a concussion, he probably wouldn't have played against the Detroit Lions.
If rookie Nathan Peterman draws the Week 1 start and continues playing like he has, the question may become whether Taylor will get a chance to start again.
As Nick Filipowski reported for WIVB-TV, after completing exactly half of his preseason passes over the first three weeks for 372 yards and a touchdown (including substantial snaps with the starters), Peterman drew the praise of McDermott for his poise in the pocket.
"He is poised, he's intelligent. I like his command and how he displayed himself the other night running with the 1's," McDermott said. "All the information I'm getting from the huddle was that he wasn't flinching," he continued. "To me, that's the first step. It's one thing to go out there, it's another thing to go out there and carry yourself with that type of poise and composure to where the team is drawn to you and you can move the offense."
Peterman, a fifth-round pick from Pitt, peeled off his best effort of the preseason Thursday, missing on just two of his 11 passes and leading the Bills on a pair of scoring drives.
It's a performance that came against reserve defenders, to be fair. But it won't do anything to quell the belief in some circles that Peterman, one of the more NFL-ready passers in this class after playing in a pro-style system at Pitt, is ready, well, now.
Scott Tolzien Is Still Terrible
From good showings under center to, um...yeah.
However, head coach Chuck Pagano allowed that the team still has no idea when its star signal-caller might be ready to go.
"We're not going to know until we get him out here," Pagano said. "When the doctors say he's ready and he's 100 percent and he can start practicing, then we'll have that answer."
Pagano might want to reconsider that math...
Because 27 percent of Luck is better than 127 percent of Scott Tolzien.
Just as he has all preseason, Tolzien looked awful in the finale against the Cincinnati Bengals.
At first glance, Tolzien's numbers (4-of-5, 24 yards) don't look that bad. But the Colts were gift-wrapped a short field to open the game after a Bengals turnover and came away with nothing after Tolzien misfired on a fourth-down pass from inside the 5-yard line.
That's been the theme of the exhibition campaign for Tolzien. With the seventh-year veteran running the show, the Colts offense has been offensive. Of his 34 pass attempts, Tolzien completed a grand total of none for touchdowns. In three of the four games Tolzien averaged five yards an attempt or less.
That sound you hear is T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief's weeping.
The Colts open the season with three straight games against teams that had a losing record last year.
And if Tolzien's the quarterback, it's entirely possible (likely, even) they will lose all of them.
Ryan Mallett Is Also Very Bad
The Indianapolis Colts aren't the only AFC team sweating their quarterback's health.
Nor are they the only team in the AFC sweating their quarterback's health in large part because their backup has looked horrible in the preseason.
The story wasn't any different for Ryan Mallett of the Baltimore Ravens in their exhibition finale against the New Orleans Saints. There was a bright spot, in that Mallett threw his second touchdown pass of the preseason. But that was the only bright spot in a performance in which Mallett completed fewer than half his passes for all of 19 yards.
For the preseason, Mallett completed 31 of 58 attempts for 248 yards, two scores and a pair of interceptions.
That's 4.3 yards an attempt, for those of you who don't have an abacus handy. Mallett's passer rating for the preseason was a miasmic 60.2.
There may be nothing to worry about. According to the team (via Conor Orr of NFL.com), head coach John Harbaugh stated that starter Joe Flacco has resumed throwing and should be ready for the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I will say he has started to throw. He's started to move around, do football stuff in the last two days," Harbaugh said, per Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun (via Orr). "He's moving toward practice."
That's a badly needed bit of good news for the Baltimore offense.
Because if Flacco's balky back keeps him sidelined, Mallett's noodle arm isn't taking the team anywhere.
Josh McCown Almost Gets Hurt, Probably Wishes He Had
OK, just in case you haven't been riveted by the developing train wreck that is the 2017 New York Jets, here's a quick synopsis of the "competition" at quarterback.
Despite not having played at all the past two games, veteran Josh McCown has been named the Jets' Week 1 starter in a move that surprised absolutely no one—largely because youngsters Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty did play in the past two games.
So, in a move that's so very Jets, the team decided to risk the health of its oft-injured starter in a game that didn't count against the Philadelphia Eagles' JV team.
And they very nearly paid for it.
In the first quarter of the game McCown took a wicked-looking shot to the ribs from Eagles linebacker Joe Walker, and McCown couldn't make it to the sideline without dropping to one knee in obvious discomfort.
In related news, "Obvious Discomfort" is the working title of the Jets' "highlight" video in 2017.
Luckily for the Jets (or unluckily for McCown, depending on how you look at it), the 38-year-old missed just one play before returning.
That an entire fanbase held its collective breath when an aging journeyman quarterback who has won twice in his last 24 starts went down tells you all you need to know about the situation at quarterback for Gang Green.
It's just that.
Megadeal for DeAndre Hopkins
It's been a good week to be a star in the National Football League.
Just a few days after the Detroit Lions made Matthew Stafford the highest-paid player in the history of the National Football League, a wide receiver is set for a similarly historic (albeit smaller) payday.
As ESPN's Adam Schefter reported, Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins will ink a five-year contract extension with the team that includes the most guaranteed money ever paid to a player at the position.
The particulars, per ESPN's Sarah Barshop, are five years and $81 million, with $49 million guaranteed.
The 25-year-old Hopkins struggled a bit last year, failing to hit the 1,000-yard mark one season after a gonzo 2015 in which he caught 111 passes for 1,521 yards with 11 scores.
But over the last three seasons Hopkins has averaged a stat line of 88/1,228/7, and his struggles in 2016 had a lot more to do with woeful play at quarterback than anything the young wideout did.
Earlier this month Hopkins told ESPN's Dan Graziano he was hopeful he'd be able to get a new deal done and continue his career in Houston past 2017.
"I'm not a selfish player, but I know what I'm worth, to put it in that aspect," Hopkins said. "I'm pretty sure there's a lot of teams in the NFL that would love to have me, but the Houston Texans is my home and the team that I want to play for forever."
Wish...granted. And then some.
Hopkins' deal wasn't even the first lulu of a contract Houston agreed to Thursday. Per Schefter, earlier in the day the Texans also re-upped tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz on a three-year, $21.5 million pact.
Now if they can just get improved play under center so the pass-catchers can start earning all that cheese.
T.J. Ward on His Way out in Denver?
Hopkins wasn't the only starter for a playoff contender that was in the news Thursday.
Unfortunately for Denver Broncos safety T.J. Ward, he was in the headlines for essentially the opposite reason.
Per Mike Klis of KUSA, the Broncos are letting the 30-year-old safety go before Saturday's roster-cut deadline one way or another. If the team's ongoing efforts to trade Ward don't come to fruition, it will release him outright.
Cutting Ward, who missed the preseason with an injured hamstring, would save the Broncos about $4.5 million against the salary cap. But as Troy Renck of Denver 7 News reported, all-everything linebacker Von Miller made it clear that severing ties with a defensive leader like that would not sit especially well with him.
"I thought it was fake news. It's serious like that? It can't be that serious. T.J. has been a great player for us. ... You always get blindsided by stuff. But T.J.'s been great for us," Miller said. "I don't see any reason to—you know, Mr. Elway and the guys upstairs, they push this organization in a great direction and they're going to continue to make championship moves for us. But it's gotta be fake news."
At first glance , it might seem a puzzling move to break up Denver's vaunted "No Fly Zone" defense.
But puzzling or not, with young safety Justin Simmons reportedly showing well in camp, per Klis, that appears to be exactly what the Broncos will do.