Week 1 of the preseason is nearly in the books with just two games left on the docket. In the early game Saturday, Vikings and their new franchise quarterback, Kirk Cousins, face the Broncos, whose new franchise quarterback, Case Keenum, led Minnesota to the NFC Conference Championship Game last January.
In the late game, the Cardinals host the Chargers. Arizona also has a new franchise quarterback — it’ll either be off-season acquisition Sam Bradford or rookie first-round pick Josh Rosen — while Los Angeles still has Philip Rivers, who remains one of the league’s best passers as he begins his 15th season.
The quarterback position has been a recurring theme during this week’s games, starting last Thursday when first-overall pick Baker Mayfield had an impressive debut for the Browns, first-rounder Lamar Jackson showed glimpses of his special talents, Patrick Mahomes had a steady-as-she-goes outing as the Chiefs‘ unquestioned starter, and Deshaun Watson returned to the lineup after missing the second half of last season with an ACL injury.
On Friday, No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold and veteran Teddy Bridgewater were both sharp for the Jets and Derek Carr’s backup in Oakland, Connor Cook, had a solid outing in Jon Gruden’s return to the sidelines after a nine-year hiatus.
Scores and schedule
Panthers 28, Bills 23 (box score)
Bengals 30, Bears 27 (box score)
Buccaneers 26, Dolphins 24 (box score)
Browns 20, Giants 10 (box score)
Steelers 31, Eagles 14 (box score)
Saints 24, Jaguars 20 (box score)
Patriots 26, Redskins 17 (box score)
Ravens 33, Rams 7 (box score)
Packers 31, Titans 17 (box score)
Texans 17, Chiefs 10 (box score)
49ers 24, Cowboys 21 (box score)
Colts 19, Seahawks 17 (box score)
Kirk Cousins looks comfortable in this offense
The Vikings decided to let Case Keenum walk in the offseason after he helped the team to the NFC Championship Game in January. They replaced him with Kirk Cousins, who signed a fully guaranteed, three-year, $84 million deal in March looked every bit the franchise quarterback in his very first series.
Cousins went 4 of 4 for 42 yards on the eight-play, 75-yard drive that ended in what could become a familiar sight in 2018: Stefon Diggs celebrating in the end zone.
Diggs, who just signed a five-year extension, set up the touchdown with a nifty 28-yard gain earlier in the drive.
But there’s more!
Running back Latavius Murray had back-to-back 21-yard runs early in the drive as the Vikings’ offensive line, which featured three backups, dominated a Broncos starting defense that was without Von Miller but included first-round pick Bradley Chubb.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer apparently saw enough of Cousins, whose night ended after one series. He was replaced by the man who started 10 games for the Broncos last year: Trevor Siemian.
Broncos no-show in first quarter before Freeman shines
There is no question: Case Keenum is an upgrade over the quarterbacks the Broncos trotted out the last two seasons. You just wouldn’t have known it to watch him in his debut. To be fair, he played just two series, completed one pass in four attempts for five yards, and didn’t register a first down.
Then again, Paxton Lynch, the 2016 first-round pick who has four career starts, didn’t fare much better. Lynch threw an interception on his first attempt, overthrew his tight end on third down a series later and took a sack on third down the series after that. The Broncos punted on their first four drives and didn’t sniff a first down in the first quarter.
But things finally came together on drive No. 4, thanks to a short field that came courtesy of Siemian finally throwing a pass to a Broncos player (that’s a joke!).
On third-and-3, rookie running back Royce Freeman not only got the Broncos’ first first down of the evening, he kept running all the way to the end zone.
That highlight was short-lived; a few plays later, Roc Thomas took a screen pass 77 yards to give the Vikings a 17-point lead late in the first half.
Not to be outdone, Isaiah McKenzie did this a short time later:
To recap: McKenzie’s punt return went for 78 yards. Denver’s offense to that point in the game had mustered 56 total yards.
Broncos may have found a backup quarterback
Paxton Lynch might be a former first-round pick, but he’s had an unimpressive career to date, and his performance on Saturday night did little to change the perception that he hasn’t lived up to expectations. But 2017 seventh-rounder Chad Kelly, who replaced Lynch in the third quarter, had an impressive evening.
Kelly, nephew of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, didn’t play in the preseason as a rookie because he was injured, but against the Vikings’ third- and fourth-teamers he tossed two touchdowns. The first was a blown coverage:
On the second score, Kelly stood tall in the pocket, waited for his receiver to come open, and delivered a strike right before taking a shot to the chin.
Yes, we shouldn’t put too much stock into one half of football against a bunch of guys who will be looking for work in a few weeks, but it’s also hard to ignore how much better Kelly was than Lynch. We don’t think Broncos executive vice president John Elway would cut Lynch two years after trading up to get him, but there’s a reason Denver’s offense was a disaster last season: They didn’t have a competent quarterback anywhere on the roster.
Chargers’ Russell Okung raises fist during national anthem
Players continue to protest social injustice during the national anthem and Chargers tackle Russell Okung was the latest to do so on Saturday.
Of the dozen Week 1 preseason games that were played on Thursday, four games included some form of player protest during the national anthem. In Philadelphia, Malcolm Jenkins and De’Vante Bausby raised their first before their game against the Steelers; the Jaguars‘ Telvin Smith, Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon waited in the tunnel before facing the Saints; the Seahawks‘ Quinton Jefferson, Branden Jackson and Duane Brown did the same before kickoff against the Colts. The Dolphins‘ Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson were the only players to kneel during the anthem, while teammate Robert Quinn raised his fist before facing the Buccaneers.
On Friday, police officers in South Florida were encouraged by their unions to not buy Dolphins tickets after Stills and Wilson took a knee during the anthem. Stills expects to protest during the regular season, and it would take “a lot” for him to stop.