NFL preseason Week 2 winners, losers: Hard hits for Justin Fields, Ja'Marr Chase
The second round of the NFL's preseason – call it hump week now that the league has reduced its exhibition slate to three games – is nearly done, the Jacksonville Jaguars and New Orleans Saints set to tee it up in the the Caesars Superdome for the 2021 debut of "Monday Night Football."
But the 15 games played over the four preceding days continued to shed new light on teams with commencement of the regular season less than three weeks away.
Your winners and losers ... from the latest round of games that don't count in the standings yet count so much for so many:
Ben Roethlisberger: He threw two TD passes and posted a perfect 158.3 QB rating (8-for-10, 137 yards) in his first game action while operating new coordinator Matt Canada's offense. Expectations for Big Ben, 39, who's entering the final year of his contract, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have been generally muted following last year's late-season struggles and wild-card ouster. But Saturday's performance – even though it came against the Detroit Lions – provided reason to revisit the reigning AFC North champions' outlook.
Indianapolis Colts: They won their first two preseason games, the focus on QBs Jacob Eason and Sam Ehlinger as they battle for the backup job. All good and well, but nothing compared to the news that O-line stalwarts Quenton Nelson (foot surgery) and Ryan Kelly (elbow) are expected to practice this week ... along with new QB Carson Wentz, who's evidently making a beautiful rebound from his own foot surgery. Apparently plenty of good luck in the Horseshoe right now.
Mitchell Trubisky: Did the Buffalo Bills' backup quarterback make the Chicago Bears rue their decision to let the No. 2 pick of the 2017 draft walk in free agency? (Um, no.) But he turned in one of his most memorable performances at Soldier Field on Saturday – which kinda explains why he no longer calls it home – leading his new team to a 34-6 halftime lead against his former one, passing for 221 yards and a score. It remains to be seen if Trubisky, who's still popular with former teammates, gets another chance to lead an NFL team, but adding this highlight reel to his résumé certainly won't hurt. "It felt good to do it against these guys, but I'm also rooting for a lot of those guys on the other side and they're still like family to me," said Trubisky, who engineered four consecutive touchdown drives.
Baltimore Ravens: They beat the Carolina Panthers 20-3, matching the heights of meaninglessness. Baltimore has won 19 consecutive preseason games, matching a mark established by Vince Lombardi's Packers from from 1959 to 1962.
Teddy Bridgewater: Taking advantage of his first start of this preseason, he led the Broncos to touchdowns on both of his series, one coming on a 2-yard pass to KJ Hamler, in Denver's 30-3 pasting of the Seahawks. The typically efficient showing (9-for-11, 105 yards) might give Bridgewater a leg up in his battle with Drew Lock for the starting gig, though neither player has yet faced a first-team defense in a game setting this month.
Bill Belichick: Whether or not the Patriots mastermind is overseeing a QB battle – veteran Cam Newton said last week that Belichick hasn't told him he'll be the Week 1 starter – it appears two very good options are available with the 2015 league MVP and first-round pick Mac Jones. Newton looked exceptional Thursday in Philadelphia (8-for-9, 103 yards, TD, his only incompletion a drop) while displaying arm strength he rarely flashed for New England last year in the aftermath of multiple shoulder surgeries while with the Panthers. Jones' second NFL appearance was also solid (13-of-19 for 146 yards with the backups), though it doesn't seem like his impressive offseason is going to translate to a starting role right now. But if he winds up having to play soon, Belichick and Co. seem to have little reason to believe that Jones couldn't help this team recapture the playoff form that evaded it in 2020 following Tom Brady's departure. Jones has an opportunity to show more this week with unvaccinated Newton sidelined by a misunderstanding of COVID-19 protocols.
Sam Eguavoen: The Miami Dolphins linebacker, who played in the CFL for three years, collected four sacks Saturday against the Falcons, matching his career total with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Making the feat even more impressive, Eguavoen spent three days on the reserve/COVID-19 list last week.
Jaret Patterson: The undrafted Washington running back, a childhood friend of WFT DE Chase Young, continues to make a case he should be retained as a backup to Antonio Gibson. Patterson, who once rushed for eight TDs at Buffalo (tying a Football Bowl Subdivision single-game record), racked up 133 all-purpose yards against Cincinnati, including a 37-yard kickoff return and the game-winning touchdown run in the fourth quarter. "We gave him some opportunities with the first bunch, and he did a nice job with that, and then when the second bunch was in there, he really showed his ability," said Washington coach Ron Rivera.
TE fantasy pool: PSA if you haven't participated in a fantasy football draft yet – the tight end position looks pretty thin beyond the Chiefs' Travis Kelce, Raiders' Darren Waller and 49ers' George Kittle. But if you're not lucky enough to get one of those guys, Saturday's action should've awakened you to a pair of potential sleepers. Veteran Tyler Kroft of the Jets and rookie Pat Freiermuth of the Steelers both caught a pair of TDs while working with their teams' respective starting quarterbacks. File their names away.
Matt Gay: He kicked a field goal and an extra point while punting four times (42-yard average) in the Rams' 17-16 loss to the Raiders. A kicker by trade, Gay performed double duty Saturday after LA put punters Johnny Hekker and Corey Bojorquez on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Rhamondre Stevenson: It's hardly uncommon for preseason heroes to turn into regular-season zeroes. But the Patriots' fourth-rounder out of Oklahoma leads the league – this month anyway – in both rushing yards (193) and touchdowns (4). Nice early impression, especially given Belichick's penchant for divvying up his handoffs among multiple backs.
Landon Dickerson: Your rookie is a beauty, Eagles fans. The second-rounder will also likely be a pretty good lineman once he's ready to play following last season's ACL tear while with Alabama.
Zach Wilson: The New York Jets' savior du jour, the No. 2 pick of this year's draft looked the part Saturday – throwing his first two professional TD passes while leading the J-E-T-S to 17 points in four series and generally appearing to have excellent command of the offense (128 yards passing while completing nine of 11 passes) ... albeit against Green Bay Packers reserves.
Angelenos: Deprived of an NFL franchise for more than two decades, the people of LA suddenly can't get enough football. The Rams and Chargers both hosted games at SoFi Stadium over the weekend after meeting there in the preseason opener. The stunning venue couldn't host fans after opening in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but is quickly making up for lost time while housing two of the league's more entertaining clubs.
Angelenos: Though flush with NFL action there in, well, Inglewood, California, these poor folks are forced to watch the Rams and Chargers ... who refuse to play their starters prior to September.
Zach Wilson's supporting cast: Tough week otherwise for the Jets, who lost emerging pass rusher Carl Lawson to a season-ending Achilles injury last week during a joint practice with the Pack. Another of New York's free agent pickups, LB Jarrad Davis, suffered an ankle injury Saturday and was carted off, as was backup OL Conor McDermott (knee).
Ja'Marr Chase: Three targets, three drops – all on third down – for the No. 5 pick of the draft. On two of those plays, the Bengals rookie appeared to pull up short as he was being sized up by Washington S Landon Collins. The 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner at LSU while playing with Joe Burrow, Chase opted out of the 2020 season and might be knocking off rust, not to mention the fact he's far more used to Burrow's ball than Cincinnati backup Brandon Allen's. Still, the Bengals and their fans don't have inexhaustible patience, particularly given the players bypassed to select Chase. “We expect our receivers to catch the ball … it’s as simple as that,” coach Zac Taylor said. “The ball is coming at you, catch it.” Taylor later noted, "By no means are we down on Ja'Marr."
Justin Fields: A week after his sensational preseason debut, when the Bears' first-round pick said the NFL "was actually kind of slow to me," he took some vicious shots from the Bills defense while being sacked twice in a much less impressive performance (9-for-19, 80 yards plus a game-high 46 rushing yards). Fields has shown exciting flashes on the practice field and in exhibition play during his first NFL training camp but also enough reminders that he's a rookie and that there's little reason for coach Matt Nagy to feed him to Aaron Donald and Co. in the regular-season opener ... especially when poor Andy Dalton can be thrown to the wolves, er Rams.
Joint practices: Though the Titans visited the Buccaneers and Rams hosted the Raiders, those games exemplify a recent trend of teams practicing together prior to a preseason contest – with fisticuffs often occurring – and then sitting their starters for the game. Sorry, fans.
AJ McCarron: The longtime backup quarterback, now a member of the Falcons, tore an ACL on Saturday and is out for the season. Expect Atlanta to explore options behind Matt Ryan with undrafted rookie Feleipe Franks the only other passer currently on the roster.
Kyler Murray: He admittedly doesn't care for preseason, saying last week, "This doesn’t count. I’m not very fond of it." Maybe that's why the Arizona Cardinals star quarterback led the offense to minus-1 yard in three drives Friday, his first game action this month.
N'Keal Harry: The 2019 first-rounder has been a disappointment so far with the Patriots and asked to be dealt during the offseason. Harry had looked good in camp for a team seeking more production from its wideouts, but a shoulder injury suffered Thursday will keep him out for a few weeks, per NFL Network. Suboptimal way to secure a starting role ... or bolster one's trade value.
Ben DiNucci: The "Hard Knocks" chess master might have played his way off the Dallas Cowboys' roster – whether during this week's cutdown or the final one on Aug. 31 – after throwing three INTs on Saturday against Houston. DiNucci, a seventh-round pick in 2020 who started once as a rookie, is looking up at injured starter Dak Prescott while Garrett Gilbert and Cooper Rush vie for the QB2 job.
Crimson Eagles: Disappointing Thursday night in Philadelphia with presumed starting QB Jalen Hurts a late scratch with a stomach ailment that required a brief hospitalization. Hurts' former Alabama teammate, 2020 Heisman Trophy winner and first-round pick DeVonta Smith, made his pro debut after missing a few weeks with a knee injury and looked rusty with a pair of drops. Smith finished with two catches for 19 yards in a 35-0 defeat to the Patriots. Not an ideal beginning for two players who need reps and time to rekindle their college chemistry.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.