Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we run down the winners and losers in Week 3 of the NFL preseason. The games don't count, but the perceptions sure do....
WINNER: Seattle's quarterback depth -- We just found out Pete Carroll will ride the hot hand of rookie Russell Wilson, rather than go with the slightly more experienced free-agent signee Matt Flynn, but that's the two best choices the Seahawks have had at quarterback in quite some time. No offense to Charlie Whitehurst, Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Hasselbeck and Seneca Wallace, but no offense pretty much summed up the state of things in Seattle before this preseason. Wilson, the "short'' quarterback who some said wouldn't even get drafted, is the clear-cut story of the 2012 preseason. Score yet another one for the science that is NFL draft scouting.
LOSER: That juggernaut of a Jets offense -- Twelve quarters into the preseason, New York is still looking for its first touchdown. In the Jets' dress rehearsal game Sunday night against the Panthers, a 17-12 Carolina win, New York repeatedly shot itself in the foot whenever the red zone was breached. Interceptions. Dropped passes. Key penalties. Whatever it took to keep Rex's guys out of the end zone, that's what they did. I suppose it's a fool-proof way to avoid the whole quarterback controversy dilemma, having both Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow look not ready to open the season as the starter.
WINNER: Nick Foles, Eagles quarterback -- Hate to list Foles as a winner every week, but is anyone else here starting to think Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe, circa 2001? Sounds implausible, I know, but so did the idea of a sixth-round pick supplanting the franchise in New England not quite 11 years ago. Foles has looked poised and promising in his three chunks of preseason action for Philadelphia, and starter Michael Vick can't seem to stay healthy enough to see a third drive in any game he plays. And hey, at least Foles was taken in the draft's third round. So it's not like he went 199th overall and we'll be hearing about all the other quarterbacks ("The Foles Six?'') who were taken ahead of him.
LOSER: Terrell Owens' fleeting dreams of further NFL stardom -- No great surprise to see T.O. back on the street after a three-week stay in Seattle. The end for Jerry Rice came at the close of Broncos camp in 2005. Owens wasn't beating out Braylon Edwards for a Seahawks roster spot, and no team's locker room could handle both of those potential problems. I'm pretty sure T.O. saw his release coming. Why else would he have ended his thank-you tweet to Seattle on Sunday with "My FAITH is intact & will NOT waiver''? I think he meant waver. After all, he's a vested veteran and not subject to waivers.
WINNER: The Cowboys' "Dez Rules'' -- I think Dallas' helpful set of personal behavior reminders has a real chance to catch on in the NFL. To summarize, the Cowboys have asked their talented but troubled receiver to abstain from alcohol, strip clubs, night clubs and get in by midnight. Oh, and travel at all times with a Cowboys "minder,'' who we assume has to abide by the same set of rules. Pacman and Plaxico can only wish they would have thought of these back in the day.
LOSER: Brandon Weeden's grasp of things -- The Browns rookie quarterback needs to get a grip -- literally. He's had three fumbles in five quarters of action this preseason, losing the ball on three of the four sacks he has absorbed, including twice in the homefield loss to the Eagles Friday night. That's not a ratio that's regular-season ready, and for a guy who came to the league with the reputation of needing a clean pocket to do his best work, Weeden had better tighten things up or be prepared to face defenders every week who are focused like a laser on separating him from the football.
WINNER: Baltimore's kicking game -- When I visited Ravens camp this summer, you could already tell veteran kicker Billy Cundiff was in roster trouble. The ball just booms off the leg of rookie kicker Justin Tucker, and Cundiff still carried with him the stench of failure dating from his shank job of that potential game-tying 32-yard field goal in the final minute of the AFC title game in New England. Good for the Ravens that they turned the page and released Cundiff this weekend, rolling the dice on youth with Tucker. I doubt they'll be sorry. Baltimore fans were not going to forget Cundiff's devastating miss any time soon, and why subject him to the abuse every time he missed a kick?
LOSER: The Patriots offense -- All those playmakers in New England, but so far, nothing much to get excited about for the defending AFC champs. The offensive line is still very much a work in progress, Tom Brady is getting hit too much, and the execution has been ragged and sporadic. No team can make what happens in the preseason look more meaningless than New England, but this time we think Bill Belichick has good reason to sound so grumpy.
WINNER: The Don't Panic About Peyton crowd -- Denver's new quarterback looked like his old smooth self on Sunday against San Francisco, gunning two touchdowns to his new BFF, Eric Decker, and completing 10 of 12 passes for a cool 122 yards. Week by week, Manning is working the kinks out, and by that we mean his game, not his neck. I didn't think John Elway could smile any wider than he always does, but he is these days.
LOSER: Tampa Bay's protection plans -- Keeping Josh Freeman cleaner in the pocket was a pivotal facet of how the Bucs foresaw a bounce-back season for their fourth-year quarterback. But with the season-ending loss of two-time Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph to a torn patellar tendon over the weekend, the right side of Tampa Bay's offensive line is suddenly an iffy proposition with reserve-turned-starter Ted Larsen at guard and the inconsistent Jeremy Trueblood at tackle. The Bucs still have time to address the right guard spot before the season opener, but few blows are tougher for a young team to take than losing a Pro Bowl talent in Week 3 of the preseason.
WINNER: Day games in the preseason -- I don't remember as many day games in August in past years, but this year they're working for me. Andrew Luck had his monster debut game against the Rams in the daytime a couple weeks back in Indy. Then last weekend, Peyton Manning was boffo in his afternoon playing time against San Francisco, and Luck and Robert Griffin III put on a pretty good show in their well-publicized showdown in Landover, Md. Nothing wrong with a little matinee action to get ready for the regular season.
LOSER: Miami's talent level -- Not that the Dolphins didn't get a pretty fair return in the Vontae Davis deal with the Colts, but will the last quality player to leave Miami please hit the lights? Brandon Marshall and Davis were thought to be two of the more valuable Dolphins at the beginning of the offseason. And Chad Johnson was at least good enough to hang around on the AFC champion Patriots all last season. (Barely). I know new Miami head coach Joe Philbin has a plan here with his house-cleaning project, but he does know his Dolphins have to play 16 games this season, right?
WINNER: Cedric Benson is a Packer -- Can't decide who's luckier, Benson for finding the ultra-loaded Packers waiting on him, or running back-needy Green Bay for finding the proven Benson there for the taking this far into August? Either way, it looks like a perfect match of need meeting opportunity, with both sides poised to gain from the relationship. Even if it winds up being one of those short-term flings.
LOSER: FieldTurf -- We're in no position to judge whether or not the popular artificial surface is better than a grass field, but we do know that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is not a fan of the fake stuff. After Pittsburgh first-round rookie guard David DeCastro went down with a serious knee injury (torn MCL, dislocated knee cap, damage to his patellar tendon) Saturday night in a win at Buffalo, Roethlisberger went on the NFL Network and said FieldTurf was "just killing guys because they can't get their feet out of the ground, and it's just another reason we should get rid of FieldTurf.'' Alrighty then. How much advertising will the folks at FieldTurf have to crank out to counter Big Ben's testimonial?