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NFL preseason Week 3 winners, losers: Tom Brady, Jameis Winston look sharp in preseason debuts

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The 2022 NFL preseason is a wrap, all 32 teams completing their three-game exhibition slate over the weekend and now moving on to more important matters – Tuesday’s cutdown to 53-man rosters and two weeks of prep heading into regular-season openers.

As has historically been the case, the third game was a mini dress rehearsal for several squads, though it’s rare to see starters play much more than a quarter nowadays. For many veterans, the rust seemed apparent. For quite a few others – Denver Broncos QB Russell Wilson and Los Angeles Rams QB Matthew Stafford among them – the shrink wrap remained in place, so even harder to know what to expect when the real games begin.

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Such mysteries serve to further fuel the Week 1 drama, but there was still a bit to be had as August’s “action” concluded:

WINNERS

Tom Brady: The seven-time Super Bowl champion was surgical in his 2022 preseason debut – on the heels of an 11-day training camp hiatus – and a bit biting afterward while declining to elaborate on the particulars of his planned absence. “You know, everyone’s got different situations they’re dealing with. We all have really unique challenges to our life,” offered TB12, who completed six of eight passes for 44 yards – including a 20-yard connection with new WR Julio Jones – while leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers starters to a field goal in his only drive. “I’m 45 years old. There’s a lot of (expletive) going on,” Brady said as he busted out a “University of Brady” sweatshirt for a press conference he certainly knew would garner its share of eyeballs while reminding everyone: “I’ve played football for a long time. I’m pretty good at it. Doesn’t take long for me to remember how to play it.”

P.S.: Brady was honored Sunday night as the league’s best in NFL Network’s annual player-based survey counting down the 100 best performers. It’s the fourth time that TB12 has been voted first overall since the “NFL Top 100” series first aired ahead of the 2011 season.

Amazon: Prime Video is the new home of the league’s Thursday night package, and the final dress rehearsal went pretty well. The announcing team of Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit is basically a known commodity, even if the duo is newly paired. But a pregame crew that includes former players Tony Gonzalez, Richard Sherman, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Andrew Whitworth seemed especially promising. Gonzalez and Sherman offered pointed criticism of the San Francisco 49ers’ handling of veteran Jimmy Garoppolo, who remains in limbo. Fitzpatrick seems like the wild card who might say anything to his own broadcast team or about the game at hand while delivering with a humorous edge. (One note to the tech giant: better functionality on the rewind and fast forward features would be nice for those of us not able to always watch games live …)

Tyreek Hill: The three-time All-Pro receiver’s first game action since being acquired by the Miami Dolphins during the offseason produced two catches for 64 yards, including a 51-yard hookup with QB Tua Tagovailoa. Good start for the duo given how much Hill has been talking up Tagovailoa in the aftermath of his divorce from Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes.

Baltimore Ravens: Their preseason winning streak now stands at seven years – 23 consecutive games – after Saturday’s 17-15 defeat of the Washington Commanders in a battle of backups. “I promise you it’s significant for those guys that played in the game and found a way to win,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who relishes the streak, insignificant as it might seem to many.

Jameis Winston: The New Orleans Saints starting quarterback looked sharp in his first preseason action since suffering a torn ACL last October, completing all four of his passes for 59 yards. If the efficiency gains Winston realized in 2021 carry over to 2022, this team will be very dangerous.

Dameon Pierce: The rookie fourth-rounder continued to justify his preseason hype, rushing for 37 yards and a TD on six opening-drive carries during the Houston Texans’ win over the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday. Looks like Pierce might indeed have locked up a starting job.

Rookie quarterbacks: The top three passers taken in the 2022 draft – Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Atlanta’s Desmond Ridder and Tennessee’s Malik Willis – continued to impress, each instrumental to winning efforts while concluding their inaugural preseason. Of the trio, only Pickett didn’t start, but it appears each showed enough over the past month to secure his respective team’s QB2 job. It would hardly be a surprise if each is starting by December. Fifth-rounder Sam Howell also crafted a solid showing for the Commanders, completing 24 of 35 attempts for 280 yards and a TD while playing the entire game for Washington. He likely won’t unseat Taylor Heinicke as Carson Wentz’ primary backup, but Washington would probably be wise to keep Howell on the 53-man roster … or risk losing him if he’s relegated to the practice squad.

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Rams and Bengals: No fights, no injuries in the Super Bowl 56 “rematch” despite an ugly brawl during a joint practice leading up to the game that included LA superstar Aaron Donald wildly swinging a Cincinnati helmet.

Len Dawson tribute: Playing for the first time since the death of their 87-year-old Hall of Fame quarterback, who was also Super Bowl 4’s MVP, Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs opened Thursday night’s game by mimicking Dawson’s signature “choir huddle.” Mahomes didn’t actually play against the Green Bay Packers but did suit up in order to be on the field for the honorary callback, taking a delay-of-game penalty before jogging off prior to K.C.’s first snap. “We wanted to do something, a little token to show our appreciation,” said Mahomes. RIP, Lenny.

Jason Jenkins’ legacy: The Miami Dolphins announced the unexpected death of Jenkins, 47, their senior vice president of communications, during Saturday’s game. “There’s just no words to describe,” coach Mike McDaniel said in an emotional press conference following his team’s defeat of Philadelphia. “It’s tough. It’s a tough one to swallow. He will be missed. He will not be forgotten, I can tell you that much.” Jenkins was a highly respected member of his profession and dedicated ample time to South Florida endeavors, serving as a board member of the Anti-Defamation League Florida, Dolphins Challenge Cancer, Women of Tomorrow and YWCA Miami, among others. “I am heartbroken,” owner Stephen Ross said in a statement. “Jason Jenkins was an icon in the Miami community, and above all a kind and incredible family man.”

Trailblazer. Champion. Kind.

We are heartbroken to share that Dolphins SVP of Communications and Community Affairs Jason Jenkins has passed away. pic.twitter.com/YzKGnC8S0U

— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) August 28, 2022

LOSERS

Buffalo Bills: They couldn’t have handled the Matt Araiza situation much worse, from dragging their feet prior to Saturday’s release of the ballyhooed rookie punter accused of gang rape, to forcing veteran backup QB Matt Barkley to punt in his stead Friday, to dumping former P Matt Haack last week even though the team was aware of the allegations against Araiza at that point. (Haack has since signed with the Colts.) A significant and stunning black eye to an organization widely picked to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 57, and one that constantly preaches the virtues of cultivating an upstanding culture.

JARRETT BELL: If Bills really took rape allegations against Araiza seriously, where was the urgency?

Drew Lock: If he hadn’t already lost the battle to be the Seattle Seahawks’ starting quarterback – he missed a starting opportunity last week due to COVID – then serving up three interceptions in the preseason finale against the Dallas Cowboys was the final nail in the coffin. “As a competitor, you’re always disappointed, and I was disappointed,” Lock said after the game when coach Pete Carroll officially tabbed Geno Smith as Seattle’s starter.

Trevor Penning: The Saints’ first-round pick and presumed successor to departed Pro Bowl LT Terron Armstead tore a ligament in his foot, per NFL Network, and will need surgery. Obviously suboptimal for a team that’s long relied on a strong blocking quintet – and especially at a time when Winston needs first-rate pass protection on his blind side as his recovery continues.

Trey Lance: The Niners’ newly installed QB1 didn’t lead the offense to any points on three listless drives Thursday, which isn’t going to make anyone forget about Garoppolo. “It was pretty rough, we didn’t play clean at all,” said coach Kyle Shanahan.

Patriots offense: New England has been doing its cloak and dagger thing all offseason as it relates to replacing former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, whose Las Vegas Raiders thumped the Patriots 23-6 to conclude the franchise’s first-ever undefeated preseason (for what that’s worth). QB Mac Jones and New England’s starting offense managed three points Friday in four drives, two of the three-and-out variety and another punctuated by an interception. “We didn’t have a real good night tonight in any phase of the game, that’s obvious,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. 

Sam Darnold: He was passed over for the Carolina Panthers’ starting quarterback job, then suffered a high ankle sprain while playing deep into the third quarter Friday night. The No. 3 pick of the 2018 draft, who will probably be shelved into October, continues to pile up bad breaks with his career almost certainly headed for a journeyman phase … at best.

QB fill-ins: The Cleveland Browns’ Jacoby Brissett and New York Jets’ Joe Flacco are both expected to be temporary starters this season until their clubs’ primary passers return. In Brissett’s case, that will likely be a while – Deshaun Watson is suspended for first 11 games – though he didn’t necessarily have the kind of performance Saturday (13-for-23, 109 yards, INT), his Browns debut, that will shut down speculation that Cleveland should trade for, say, Garoppolo. Flacco looked awfully shaky while taking his first in-game snaps of August – mostly against Giants backups – his final throw Sunday coming in the second quarter and resulting in an ugly pick-six while he took a shot. The Jets scored three points with the Super Bowl 47 MVP at the helm. On the brighter side (presumably?), Flacco and/or QB3 Mike White won’t likely be needed long as sophomore Zach Wilson is expected back from his knee injury in the near term.

‘Hard Knocks’: Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell, intentionally or not, has made HBO’s annual training camp docuseries compelling enough … even if his players haven’t chipped in much. But “Hard Knocks” seems to be a minor casualty of the current three-game preseason format – unless NFL Films pulls out a few needed surprises to sustain two more weeks of what might be low-grade drama. At best.

Poe: The Ravens mascot appears to be out for an indefinite period after suffering some kind of injury during a halftime game against his ilk. Carted off the field Saturday night, Poe was “resting comfortably” Sunday. If injured reserve is in his future, one wonders if the San Diego Chicken is available.

Thanks for all your concerned tweets 💜

Poe took some damage to his drumstick and ruffled some feathers last night during his Mascot Classic.

We’ll continue to share updates on Poe’s status, but he’s resting comfortably in his perch awaiting further test results. pic.twitter.com/WFAHn3n4W2

— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) August 28, 2022

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

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