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Final Observations From Week 4 of the NFL Preseason

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Finally, mercifully, the 2016 NFL preseason is over and the next National Football League game, to be played next Thursday in Denver, will count for real.

The preseason slate wrapped up on Thursday night with a whopping 15 games featuring 30 teams, and while most of those contests featured reserves playing out the string and teams sorting out the back of their depth chart before final cuts, there were still some important developments across the league.

LAST GLIMPSE OF BRADY

In case you hadn’t heard, Tom Brady is suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season for his role in “Deflategate” so Jimmy Garoppolo will be the New England Patriots starter. With that in mind, Brady saw some rare action in the final preseason game, playing the entire first half for the Patriots.

Over that span, Brady looked like himself. He completed 16 of 26 passes for 166 yards with a touchdown. He did make one mistake, just a few minutes into the game when the threw an ill-advised screen pass into coverage and saw it bobbled and picked off.

However, he made up for the miscue later when he led the Pats on a nine-play, 67-yard scoring drive, which included completions to four different receivers and a run by Brady for 10 yards. He finished it off with a screen pass touchdown to Keshawn Martin. Brady continued to run the New England offense all the way through until halftime, even heading out to take a knee on the final play of the first half.

Some questioned the rationale of playing Brady so deep into the game, with many reserves around him and the risk for injury at high, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick essentially told those critics to shove it.

“You can’t take insurance out on players,” he said. “You play football. I don’t know how you get better playing football without playing football. You can stand around and talk about it all day, but I don’t think that really makes you a better player. At some point you have to get out there and play.”

It’s the last we’ll see of Brady, who is not allowed to have contact with the Patriots or utilize team facilities starting on Saturday, playing football until Week 5. But there’s no reason to believe he won’t be just as great, if not greater, when he returns.

KAEPERNICK STANDS UP

For a guy who has been embroiled in controversy over the last week, Colin Kaepernick sure didn’t seem like somebody who was distracted by all the attention.

Kaepernick received national attention this week after exercising his right to sit during the National Anthem for the third preseason game last week, and afterward claiming his decision was a protest of a country that “oppresses black people and people of color.” Kaepernick kneeled during the National Anthem this Thursday night, continuing his protest in a slightly different way. But once he got on the field, the sixth-year pro appeared to be focused in a way we haven’t seen from him in quite some time, playing not only his best game of the preseason, but perhaps his best game of any sort in years.

He got the start for San Francisco and though it may have been too little too late to lay claim to the 49ers starting quarterback job, which appears to belong to Blaine Gabbert for Week 1, Kaepernick did so definitive progress in new coach Chip Kelly’s system. He completed 11-of-18 passes for 103 yards and ran the ball four times totaling 38 yards.

His most impressive drive was his first, a 16-play, 85-yard trip that soaked up nearly eight minutes of possession. The drive featured six completions by Kaepernick to four different receivers and two first down runs by the 28-year-old, of 10 and 20 yards. Late in the first half, Kaepernick led another long 49ers drive that got them into the red zone, but San Francisco couldn’t quite punch it in, instead settling for a field goal right before halftime. Still, this was as good as the 49ers offense has looked in quite a while and a lot of that had to do with Kaepernick appearing to really click in Kelly’s offense.

Sure, the game was played against mostly reserves and guys who are going to get cut by the Chargers in the coming days, but progress is progress and it’s not something we’ve seen much of from the 49ers lately, so any signs of it here are going to stand out. At the least, Kaepernick’s performance should extend his stay of execution, because although Christian Ponder also looked solid on Thursday night after relieving Kaepernick, the latter offers a significantly higher ceiling based on past performance.

It would be a shock at this point to see Kaepernick cut by the 49ers and after Thursday’s performance, such a move would create serious doubts as to whether the motive had anything to do with Kaepernick’s protest. What would be less shocking is after sticking on the roster, if at some point during the first four weeks of the season, Kaepernick relieves Gabbert and takes his job back. The pressure and attention he’s put on himself and his cause during this protest may have been just what he needed to get going again.

ROOKIE WATCH

While many veterans get the final week of the preseason off, there’s little rest to be had for the 2016 rookie class as most of the recent draft picks are still working to earn their place on the roster and depth chart. Thursday night’s game saw varying degrees of that at play.

In Minnesota, 2016 No. 1 overall draft pick Jared Goff got his final extended look of the preseason and continued to look completely overmatched, a bad sign for the Rams and their quarterback of the future.

Goff’s night got off to a decent enough start thanks to some big plays from his supporting cast, with two short pass plays on the opening drive going for over 20 yards thanks to the efforts of the receivers. The drive then ended with a one-yard touchdown pass from Goff to Kenny Britt. But that drive was the highlight of the rookie’s night and he looked lost from there on out. After completing 3-of-4 passes on that drive, he completed just 3-of-12 the rest of the way, none for more than eight yards.

He ended up being outplayed by Rams 2015 third round pick Sean Mannion and after the game Rams coach Jeff Fisher declared that Goff is currently third on the depth chart at quarterback behind Mannion and incumbent starter Case Keenum. All the pieces were in place for Goff to seize the starting job from Keenum this preseason and become Los Angeles’ quarterback of the now as well as the future, but he’s nothing to prove he deserves it, and almost seems to have taken step back in the last few weeks. It stands to reason that at some point during this season, once it slips away from the Rams, they’ll have to give Goff a chance to play in real games, but his ugly preseason does nothing to encourage that.

Alternatively in Arizona, Denver Broncos rookie first round pick Paxton Lynch continued to show that the team is being silly by delaying his rise up the depth chart at quarterback.

Lynch, who the Broncos traded up to draft, has been Denver’s best quarterback this preseason and Thursday night was no different. Of course, he was also Denver’s only quarterback to play on Thursday. Still, he looked the part of a starter through and through, completing 13-of-22 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns. He did make a big mistake late in the game when he threw a pass on a slant into tight coverage and saw it intercepted and taken the other way for six, but that was a blip on the radar in an otherwise outstanding performance.

Over the course of the evening, Lynch completed passes both long and short, showed strong pocket presence, did a little work with his legs but didn’t appear eager to take off an run at the first sign of trouble, and was able to pick apart the Arizona defense a little bit, with very few mistakes.

It begs the question once again what Denver is so afraid of that they won’t let Lynch start the season as the quarterback and what they could’ve possibly seen in Trevor Siemian to make him more worthy of the nod. The only logical explanation is familiarity with the system, given that Siemian has been in Denver a year longer. But at some point talent trumps that and Lynch has the talent. The Broncos are playing with fire here. Starting the season with Siemian could blow up in their face if they get off to a rough start and then have to insert Lynch. As still just a rookie, Lynch is almost certain to go through growing pains and if he doesn’t take over the job until a few weeks in and they’re already behind in the standings, by the time he overcomes them, Denver’s playoff chances may have dwindled completely.

Finally in Miami, Titans rookie running back Derrick Henry continued to show that he’s set to be a force in the Tennessee backfield going forward. The second round pick got just seven carries, but turned them into 62 yards, including an early touchdown plunge, and later had back-to-back runs of 26 and 22 yards to set the tone for a scoring drive.

It will be interesting to see how the Titans utilize Henry early in the season. They’ve invested in DeMarco Murray to be the lead back, but this appears ripe to be a timeshare situation between the two. It’s not a good look for Fantasy owners, but it’s a solid sign for the Titans, who saw their leading rusher go for just 520 yards all of last season. With Murray and Henry, they have two that should easily eclipse that mark and they’re building a nice offense to be led by Marcus Mariota. It’s certainly a group worth watching this coming season.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys