At the end of a dour Super Bowl in Atlanta only a mother could love, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise that Bill Belichick was the one standing triumphant.
Last year, Tom Brady produced what was arguably the greatest single performance in Super Bowl history, only for Belichick’s defense to get run over by Eagles backup Nick Foles. On Sunday, with Brady struggling en route to his worst passing performance in a title game, Belichick’s defense saved the day. The Patriots delivered Belichick’s masterpiece in their 13-3 win over the Rams.
What we saw from the Patriots on Sunday night was the best defensive performance we have ever seen in a Super Bowl.
I don’t say that as hyperbole. To start, the only other time a team has allowed just three points in the Super Bowl was when the Cowboys defeated the Dolphins 24-3 in 1971. Those Dolphins scored 22.5 points per game during the regular season, while Sean McVay’s Rams were up at 32.9 points per contest. The Pats allowed the Rams just 9.1 percent of their scoring average, the best mark in Super Bowl history:
You might argue that we’re rewarding the Patriots for not allowing a late garbage-time score, as was the case when the 1985 Pats scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter to shorten Chicago’s lead to 44-10 in Super Bowl XX. That’s true. The other side of the coin, though, is that the Patriots’ defense couldn’t simply pin its ears back and rush the quarterback all game. They weren’t up against Steve Grogan.
They had to come up with stops drive after drive to win against the Rams, who were the second-best offense in the second-highest scoring season in NFL history. Scoring 13 points against the Rams, as the Patriots did Sunday, would have earned a team a 1-17 record against the Rams in the 2018 season. The only time Los Angeles failed to hit 13 points was when the Bears held them to six in Week 14, but Chicago was the much-celebrated best defense in football. The Patriots ranked 16th in defensive DVOA and had just allowed 31 points in the second half to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.
McVay, who admitted after the game that he “simply got outcoached,” never found a solution. His offense slowly suffocated throughout the game. The same Rams team that bragged about its physicality after running all over the Cowboys in the divisional round produced just two first downs on 18 rushing attempts. Jared Goff and the Los Angeles passing attack averaged just 4.7 yards per dropback, with an unsung Patriots pass rush sacking Goff four times and knocking him down on 12 occasions. An offense that made it to the red zone a league-high 80 times during the regular season failed to make it inside the Patriots’ 20-yard line even once Sunday.
To me, it topped the two most famous Belichick game plans of all time. The 2001 Greatest Show on Turf Rams managed to score 17 points and rack up 26 first downs on the Patriots, who won Super Bowl XXXVI thanks to big plays. Ty Law took an errant Kurt Warner throw to the house for a pick-six. The Pats recovered a Ricky Proehl fumble at midfield and scored their lone offensive touchdown before halftime. Jeff Wilkins missed a 52-yard field goal in the first half, and the Rams had five drives that went to or past the 50-yard line that resulted in zero points. This defensive performance was more consistently dominant.
Belichick’s game plan as the Giants’ defensive coordinator against the Bills in Super Bowl XXV resides in the Hall of Fame, but again, this showing should join it. Belichick sacrificed his run defense to stifle Jim Kelly, and Thurman Thomas subsequently ran for 135 yards and a touchdown. The Bills still managed to get into position for a 47-yard field goal that would have won the game, only for Scott Norwood to push his kick wide in a 20-19 nailbiter.
Those performances were legendary, but the win in Super Bowl LIII surpasses them in the pantheon of brilliant defensive game plans from Belichick, with credit also going to defensive coordinator and future Dolphins coach Brian Flores. So, how did the Patriots pull it off?
How Belichick, Flores and Patricia stopped the Rams
You might note that one of the coaches in that subhead isn’t on the Patriots’ payroll anymore. “We had to put together something that would neutralize the running game and their big play-action passes on early downs,” Bill Belichick said to ESPN’s Steve Young after the game. “We felt like if we could make them drive it and earn it, similar to what the Lions did to them,” he added, “… we would have a chance to get them off the field on third down.”
What Belichick said shouldn’t be a surprise. If you read my preview on the game, I suggested that the Patriots were going to focus on stopping the outside zone and taking away play-action, just as Lions head coach (and former Patriots defensive coordinator) Matt Patricia emphasized in Week 13 against the Rams. Goff finished 5-of-9 for 68 yards on play-action passes, with Belichick forcing him to try to win the Super Bowl as a conventional dropback passer.
Where I was surprised, though, was with how the Patriots built their coverages. The Lions played more zone against the Rams than they had in their prior games, particularly by using more quarters (or Cover 4) shells. I figured that the Patriots, who have much better cornerbacks than Detroit, would still rely heavily on man coverage to try to stop the Rams and their endless series of stacks and bunches.
I was wrong. As McVay noted after the game, the Patriots played plenty of zone coverage throughout the game, including quarters looks on early downs. Quarters helped the Patriots keep the intentions and depths of their safeties disguised before the snaps, while simultaneously allowing New England to flood the box with defenders to stop the run. The Pats used what amounted to a 5-1 over front with Patrick Chung as a strongside linebacker to try to penetrate into the backfield against outside zone.
Things got more complicated when Chung went down with an arm injury in the third quarter, which cost the Patriots both a veteran communicator and a versatile starting safety. Duron Harmon took Chung’s place, and the Patriots subsequently were forced to play more conservative coverage concepts. When they did play man, the Pats again surprised by generally sticking Stephon Gilmore one-on-one against Brandin Cooks, with Robert Woods doubled by Jonathan Jones and a safety.
On third down, the Patriots tormented Goff and McVay with stunts and twists to throw off their pass blocking while preventing Goff, McVay and center John Sullivan from diagnosing where pressure was going to come from before the snap. Teams that load up on twists often struggle to keep contain or leave an obvious running lane open for the opposing quarterback, but the Patriots did an excellent job of getting pressure against the interior of the Rams’ line (particularly guard Austin Blythe) while simultaneously closing down Goff when he bootlegged out of the pocket. Goff was 2-of-3 passing for 2 yards and two sacks when he waggled to the sidelines.
Overall, the Patriots were wildly productive when they threw extra defensive backs on the field. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, the Pats posted a 45 percent success rate on defense with four or five defensive backs on the field. Their dime package, though, had a dominant game. On 20 snaps, the Pats racked up three sacks and held Goff to a dismal line: 6-of-16 for 60 yards and an interception. Fifteen of those 20 snaps were regarded as successful plays for the Patriots’ defense in terms of keeping the Rams from getting on schedule, good for a 75 percent success rate.
McVay took the blame after the loss for not adapting or adjusting his playcalling, and you can certainly wonder whether the Rams should have tried different things. It seems like they could have used late motion before the snap to try to take advantage of a static Patriots defense and thrown bubble screens to try to gain a numbers advantage and/or force the Pats out of quarters. The Falcons, who shared some similarities under Kyle Shanahan to these Rams in terms of their outside zone emphasis, had success running the crack toss against the Patriots in the Super Bowl, and the Rams could have used that to set up screens.
At some point, the Rams might have been better off force-feeding Todd Gurley II; they ran the ball just once on 20 snaps against the Pats’ dime personnel grouping, which New England was comfortable running on first-and-10 and third-and-2. The Rams went with 11 personnel on more than 78 percent of their dropbacks, but for the second week in a row, they were more effective getting a second tight end on the field with 12 personnel. The Rams posted a 40 percent success rate with their traditional three-wideout set, but that jumped to 54 percent with Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee on the field.
The Rams eventually got some offense going in the third quarter. Goff made two great throws, including a picture-perfect 18-yard pass to Woods on third-and-7, to get into field goal range. The Rams got their one big chance of the game when the Patriots badly blew a coverage and left Cooks wide open running up the seam on a Yankee concept, only for Goff to belatedly recognize his good fortune and give Jason McCourty, who played every snap on Sunday, enough time to find work and knock away the pass.
A beautiful Pats pass rush subsequently limited the Rams to a field goal when Hightower got inside Blythe for a sack. It was a critical play, given that Goff wasn’t able to find a wide-open C.J. Anderson for a checkdown that would have moved the chains:
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) February 4, 2019
The Rams had to punt on their next drive after a questionable holding call on Sullivan wiped out a 13-yard Gurley run, but after the Patriots scored a touchdown, the Rams drove down the field with a screen to Cooks and a pick play that freed up Reynolds to convert third-and-9 over the middle. On the next play, Goff dropped a perfect ball over Gilmore for what could have been a touchdown pass to Cooks, only for Harmon to jar the ball loose with a hit.
On the next play, Flores dared Goff to do it again by sending a six-man blitz against six Rams blockers with Hightower as an underneath robber and the four defensive backs in quarters behind. A panicked Goff rushed his dropback and made another throw toward Cooks, but while Goff’s pass needed to be deep and toward the sideline to give Cooks a chance, his throw was badly short and amounted to a fair catch for Gilmore.
— NFL (@NFL) February 4, 2019
It’s worth noting that Belichick and Flores didn’t pull this off with a bunch of superstars in their prime outside of Gilmore, who had an inconsistent game before his interception. Hightower, Trey Flowers and Devin McCourty are homegrown talents, but Belichick the executive has also found useful talent on the cheap. Jason McCourty was acquired for a swap of sixth- and seventh-round picks when the Browns were about to cut him. Kyle Van Noy, who had a monster game with a sack and three knockdowns, was the product of a nearly identical swap with the Lions. Jones and J.C. Jackson were undrafted free agents. There was no Lawrence Taylor or Ty Law on the field for the Pats. No matter. This was the signature defensive performance from the greatest defensive coach in the history of football.
Of course, the guy on the opposite sideline nearly had his own signature performance. Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips dialed up a brilliant game plan, as Aaron Donald & Co. flummoxed Brady for most of the game. The nonexistent folks who supposedly were counting out Brady throughout the season nearly got to raise their straw hands in the air and celebrate their victory, only for the Rams’ pass rush to finally tire just as Josh McDaniels found a way to unlock the defense.
As Tony Romo described on the CBS broadcast, Phillips did an excellent job of building his coverages to show man coverage to Brady before the snap before playing like zone afterward, or vice versa. It’s difficult to confuse Brady at age 41, but he was absolutely flummoxed on a number of snaps. One trick came on the interception that ended the opening drive, when Brady read man coverage before the snap, then found out just as he threw that the Rams were in zone and playing a form of trap coverage, with Aqib Talib over the top and Nickell Robey-Coleman underneath. The slot corner broke outside on the throw to Chris Hogan and tipped away the ball, with Cory Littleton catching the tip for an interception.
During the first half, Brady simply didn’t look comfortable with the pressure or looks he saw, especially on third downs. The Pats ran the ball on third-and-8 to set up Stephen Gostkowski‘s missed field goal. Brady threw away a third-and-5 pass under pressure from Donald. Early checkdowns to Gronkowski and James White didn’t give those receivers much of a chance of turning upfield for a first down. Cordarrelle Patterson came up a yard short of the sticks on third-and-10, and when the Pats went for it on fourth-and-1, excellent coverage from the Rams forced Brady to try to hit an impossible window to a diving Gronk.
The one thing the Patriots did have working in the first half was Julian Edelman. My preview identified covering the slot as the biggest point of weakness for the Rams before the game, and for much of this contest, it ended up as their only point of weakness. The Rams surprisingly started the game with Talib traveling across the formation and into the slot to cover Edelman, but Edelman eventually just went over to Talib’s side of the field and tortured him out of a reduced split. In the first half, Brady was 7-of-8 for 93 yards on throws to Edelman (with the one incompletion essentially an uncatchable throwaway) and 8-of-17 for 67 yards throwing to everyone else.
The Rams eventually started moving Marcus Peters around the formation to try to cover Edelman, and while he got away with a couple of holding or illegal contact calls, it was a better solution than Talib. The Pats tried to target Peters’ propensity for jumping routes with fades and his struggles tackling by isolating him in space, but the former Chiefs star generally held his own on deeper throws. With Donald & Co. getting steady pressure on Brady, the Patriots had six drives in the first half break into Los Angeles’ side of the field with only three points to show for it.
The play that won the Super Bowl … three times in a row
The eventual breakthrough for the Patriots came with another concept I wrote about extensively in my preview: using James Develin to dictate mismatches in the slot against Los Angeles’ base defense. The Pats came out in their 21 personnel (2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 TE) with Edelman in the slot on the first play of the game and got a 13-yard run out of Sony Michel for a first down, but the run defense that swallowed up the Cowboys and Saints showed up and bullied the Patriots at the line of scrimmage for most of this one.
The game-winning drive, though, required McDaniels to get even heavier. He dialed up a creative play-action look to start the drive out of 21 personnel, with Gronkowski blocking for a moment before turning upfield on a wheel route past a leveraged Samson Ebukam for a first down.
The Pats then brought in Dwayne Allen and ran three consecutive plays out of 22 personnel, with two backs and two tight ends on the field. On each of the plays, they split out wide Develin and a halfback (either Michel or Rex Burkhead), where they were covered by Peters and Talib, L.A.’s two best cover corners. That left Gronkowski, Allen and Edelman matched up on the interior against linebackers and safeties and allowed the Patriots to run one of their favorite plays.
Hoss Y-Juke has been a staple of the Patriots going back through the early days of this dynasty, so it’s not exactly a secret that Phillips wouldn’t have been prepared to see. You can see a breakdown of Hoss Y-Juke here, but it’s remarkably simple. The “Hoss” call means you’re getting hitch routes from the outside receivers, while the slot receivers run seam routes. Y-Juke calls for the third receiver from the outside, who is almost always Edelman, to run an option route against an overmatched linebacker.
The Patriots ran Hoss Y-Juke three times in a row. The Rams stayed in their base defense all three times, and the Patriots ripped them apart. On the first of the three plays, with Edelman matched up in the slot against Littleton, he ran the juke route for 13 yards and a first down.
Brady to Edelman, 13 yards pic.twitter.com/cdO6Fw1KGA
— SIXtriots (@ftbeard_17) February 4, 2019
The Patriots came back to the line and motioned out Burkhead before throwing him a hitch against Peters for 7 yards. On the third snap, the Rams must have known what was coming, but it didn’t matter. They tried to disguise where their five-man pressure was coming from by sending Littleton toward Gronk in coverage at the snap, but Brady lofted in a perfect pass for a 29-yard catch. One play later, Michel plunged in for the only touchdown of the game.
It takes a unique set of circumstances for Hoss Y-Juke to thrive, but it’s the perfect play for the Patriots. You need running backs who are viable threats to catch the ball. You need tight ends with the athleticism to stretch the field vertically and make plays out of the slot. You also need a quarterback capable of making a smart decision quickly out of an empty backfield.
I’m surprised the Patriots didn’t motion Develin out wide more frequently. One first-half snap with him split out yielded a rep for Edelman in the slot against Ebukam and an easy completion, although two other short throws were quickly closed down or dropped. The Patriots did rack up 67 yards on 15 rushing attempts out of 21 personnel before the fourth quarter, so the running game with Develin in had been competent. It’s possible that the Patriots didn’t think Brady would have enough time to make his reads and get the ball out in an empty set before the Rams’ pass rush tired, and indeed, Donald & Co. didn’t deter the Pats from running Hoss Y-Juke three times in a row.
After the Gilmore interception, the Pats took over with 4:17 left and a chance to seal the game. The Rams had a reputation during the season for indiscipline within their run defense in an attempt to make plays, and while they were structurally sound for the vast majority of the Super Bowl, they finally cracked.
On the second play, Ndamukong Suh fired across the face of a guard to make a play but ran himself out of the action. The Pats briefly doubled Donald, moved him off the ball, and ran right into his gap, with a pulling Joe Thuney kicking out Mark Barron. Marcus Cannon essentially helped block three Rams, as he chipped Donald, blocked Littleton at the second level, and shielded an overly aggressive John Johnson in the process. Michel rode this beautiful blocking for a 26-yard gain.
Three plays later, it was Develin’s turn. The Pats brought in Burkhead and ran directly at Dante Fowler Jr., who tried to stunt inside and was subsequently helped into the trash by Trent Brown. Lamarcus Joyner came down from safety and got into a three-point stance before blitzing into the backfield at the snap, but a motioning Gronkowski dispatched him with ease. The Rams scraped Barron over the top to try to seal the edge, but Develin laid him out at the point of attack. Talib was the unblocked defender, but Burkhead’s cutback and the aftermath of Develin’s ferocious block took the cornerback totally out of the play. The former Bengals backup cut upfield and outran Robey-Coleman before Peters made a touchdown-saving tackle. The 26-yard run put the Patriots in field goal range, and while they failed to convert a subsequent third-and-1, Gostkowski hit a 41-yarder to start the celebrations for a sixth time in New England.
NFL preseason Week 3 takeaways
The third NFL preseason game is often looked upon as a dress rehearsal for the regular season. If so, the Tennessee Titans have to cram to get their lines memorized, as Marcus Mariota completed zero passes and was sacked for a safety while the defense gave up two first-quarter touchdowns in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In previous action, the Houston Texans lost starting running back Lamar Miller to what is feared to be a torn ACL in Saturday’s Week 3 game at Dallas and the Indianapolis Colts endured a postgame surprise as their franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck, announced his retirement.
We have all of that and more in the biggest takeaways and fantasy football nuggets of the preseason’s third week from NFL Nation:
Mason Rudolph heaves one down the field and connects with his former Oklahoma State teammate James Washington for the 41-yard touchdown.
The Steelers weren’t about to get Ben Roethlisberger touched in the preseason. The ball was out of Roethlisberger’s hands quickly on his 13 dropbacks against Tennessee, completing eight passes for 63 yards and one touchdown. The offensive line protection was excellent, and despite a few mistimed throws with receivers, Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster showed their strong connection with four catches. Mason Rudolph has all but secured the No. 2 quarterback job. He entered the game in the fourth series and threw a 41-yard touchdown strike to James Washington — the offense’s emerging X Factor after a big-play August — on his first passing attempt. Joshua Dobbs has shown the ability to make plays under duress but struggles too often with accuracy on short passes. The star of the night was the Steelers’ defensive front, which recorded seven sacks from Cameron Heyward, Bud Dupree and Co. — Jeremy Fowler
The Titans offense turned in a less-than-stellar performance in what was supposed to be the final dress rehearsal before the regular season. The interior offensive line misplayed a stunt, leading to Marcus Mariota being sacked in their end zone for a safety. Protecting Mariota is a priority this season, but the first team gave up two sacks in the first half. The passing game was sloppy, as shown by a dropped pass by Adam Humphries and zero completions by Mariota. Perhaps the only good news for the Titans offense was kicker Ryan Succop going 2-for-2 in his first preseason action since being activated off of the PUP list. — Turron Davenport
Texans coach Bill O’Brien laments the loss of Lamar Miller but says the team will overcome it.
The Texans fear running back Lamar Miller tore his ACL, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Miller was carted off the field in the first quarter after he was hit just above the knee when he was tackled by Cowboys defensive tackle Maliek Collins. Losing Miller for the season would be a big blow to the Texans’ offense. According to Pro Football Focus, since 2016, Miller has accounted for 51.2% of Houston’s rushing yardage. The Texans might add another running back, but right now, new addition Duke Johnson Jr. is the lead back. Behind Miller and Johnson on the depth chart are Damarea Crockett, Buddy Howell, Taiwan Jones, Josh Ferguson and Karan Higdon. — Sarah Barshop
The Cowboys will need to have Dak Prescott at his best to truly succeed in 2019. The quarterback shrugged off a defender to throw a touchdown pass to Michael Gallup in the first quarter Saturday against Houston, but it was the work of backup Cooper Rush that answered some questions. Playing with the first team for a drive, Rush directed the Cowboys to a field goal after a touchdown pass was wiped out by a dubious penalty. He was not perfect, but he finished the first half completing 15 of 25 passes for 173 yards. While the Cowboys hope not to experience life without Prescott in the regular season, Rush has clearly outplayed Mike White to be the No. 2 quarterback. — Todd Archer
Dak Prescott uses his feet to create space then finds Michael Gallup in the end zone for a score on the QB’s only drive.
The Seahawks have enough trust in quarterback Russell Wilson to avoid hits and not get hurt that they allowed him to run three times (for 31 yards) in a preseason game. That stood out on a night in which Andrew Luck stunned the NFL by announcing his retirement at age 29, citing how numerous injuries have taken an emotional toll. Wilson has never missed a regular season or playoff game since he and Luck were drafted together in 2012, and his 112 consecutive starts is the fourth-longest active streak among quarterbacks. The only two practices he has missed (offseason, training camp or during the season) were to attend funerals. The surprising end of Luck’s career is a reminder that Wilson’s durability shouldn’t be taken for granted. As much intrigue as there is in the Seahawks’ backup QB battle between Geno Smith and Paxton Lynch, there’s a good chance the winner might not see a meaningful snap in 2019 — Brady Henderson
The Chargers had four headline defensive players watching from the sideline in Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa, Brandon Mebane and Thomas Davis. Not to mention All-Pro safety Derwin James won’t be back anytime soon after having foot surgery this week. Still, coordinator Gus Bradley had to be scratching his head over the way the Russell Wilson-led Seahawks offense ran roughshod over his defense. The Los Angeles D allowed 185 rushing yards. If the Chargers truly want to reach their potential and develop into one of the best units in the league, they have to get more physical against the run. — Eric D. Williams
Four games into their five-game marathon of a preseason and two things are clear on offense for the Broncos — they have been choppy at best with just four touchdowns in four games (none against the Los Angeles Rams), and they will almost certainly be scouring the list of players who have been cut league-wide a week from now for a potential backup quarterback. The fact Kevin Hogan, who coach Vic Fangio had said would get the majority of the playing time against the Rams Saturday night, was removed from the lineup before halftime shows he has not made the most of his opportunity. And Brett Rypien, who had a fairly good showing in a two-minute drill before halftime, showed in extended work he is a rookie with some potential, but also with plenty of developmental work to do. It all means this team will have to lean on its defense plenty in the early season and that Drew Lock‘s right thumb injury will have a significant ripple effect on how the roster looks in Week 1. And the team’s backup quarterback and, after another shaky special-teams outing, punt returner, might not be on the roster yet. — Jeff Legwold
Brandon Allen connects with Mike Thomas with a deep pass along the sideline for a 51-yard reception against the Broncos.
Rams coach Sean McVay took his most conservative preseason approach yet against the Broncos, as he kept backup quarterback Blake Bortles, various starters and key reserves on the sideline for Saturday’s game. However, receiver Mike Thomas, who was sidelined last season after suffering a groin injury in Week 1, continued his comeback bid. Thomas caught three passes for 76 yards, including a 51-yard reception on the second play of the game. His performance should solidify him as the fifth receiver in a group that includes Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds. — Lindsey Thiry
Drew Brees finds Michael Thomas for a 19-yard touchdown throw on the first drive of the game.
You can’t ask for much better in a first (and final) dress rehearsal for the complete starting offense. Drew Brees played just one series this entire preseason, and it ended with a 19-yard TD pass to well-covered WR Michael Thomas. Brees completed two passes to Thomas for 39 yards and two to Alvin Kamara for 29 yards before they and Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead called it an early night. As long as that quartet stays healthy, the Saints will be among the NFL’s top Super Bowl contenders. New Orleans’ starting defense was also strong, led by cornerback Marshon Lattimore‘s forced fumble. And undrafted rookie punt returner Deonte Harris made his strongest case yet for a roster spot with a 78-yard TD in the fourth quarter. — Mike Triplett
It was a spotty night for the Sam Darnold-led offense, which managed only seven points in five possessions — and the Jets’ touchdown came against the Saints’ backups. Darnold made a couple of big-time throws to cap a sharp preseason (he won’t play next week), but that doesn’t mean everything is A-OK with the offense. They have line issues. Center Ryan Kalil, who was expected to make his Jets debut, was a late scratch. Not ready, they said. This means their three interior starters will go into the season having played a combined total of 14 snaps — Brian Winters (seven), Kelechi Osemele (seven) and Kalil (zero). They haven’t even practiced together. — Rich Cimini
Don’t rule out Deon Bush starting at safety opposite Eddie Jackson sometime in the distant future. Bush’s 91-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Colts capped off a terrific preseason for the 2016 fourth-round pick out of Miami. Veteran Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is essentially a one-year rental. The Bears are pleased with Clinton-Dix’s attitude and performance thus far, but Bush, whose original rookie contract expires after the season, is a strong candidate to be re-signed next offseason. Without question, Bush has played the best football of his young career over the summer. The Bears have taken notice. — Jeff Dickerson
Andrew Luck calls his retirement from the NFL the hardest decision of his life, but also the right decision for him.
Saturday night’s preseason game was overshadowed by the news that Colts franchise quarterback Andrew Luck is retiring from the NFL. Read more. — Mike Wells
Jimmy Garoppolo lofts a pass into the end zone for Matt Breida, who lays out to make the pretty 20-yard touchdown grab.
Less than a week after throwing for 0 yards and posting a 0.0 passer rating against the Broncos, Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo bounced back with a strong performance, finishing 14-of-20 for 188 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions for a passer rating of 116.2. Just as perspective was needed after that poor outing in Denver, it’s important to keep it here as well. The numbers don’t matter as much as the chance for Garoppolo to get much-needed reps and find a rhythm as he returns from a torn left ACL. He and the first-team offense did that Saturday night, playing 37 snaps and the entire first half. — Nick Wagoner
It might be time to worry about the Chiefs’ defense. All starters played most of the first half, but the defense had a tough time against Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers’ previously struggling quarterback. Rookie safety Juan Thornhill, who had been a bright spot in training camp and the first two games, had problems in coverage and showed why the Chiefs have been reluctant to give him a starting spot. The Chiefs changed their defensive coaching staff, their base system and brought in many new players during the offseason and have been racing the clock to get their defense ready for the regular season. Based on what they showed against the 49ers, it looks like they won’t have things the way they want when the regular season begins. — Adam Teicher
Kyler Murray turns in a decent performance vs. the Vikings as he goes 14-of-21 with 137 yards passing with no interceptions.
The longer Kyler Murray plays, the better he is, apparently. The 2019 No. 1 overall pick had his best showing of the preseason on Saturday, when he played nearly the entire first half, a span of 35 plays over five possessions. He had more bright spots than bad plays against the Minnesota Vikings, showing off his arm strength and accuracy on a variety of nicely-placed passes. But Murray overthrew two end zone plays by a few yards and had two passes knocked down, one of which he threw right into the defender’s arms. But Murray showed he can move the Cardinals down the field and command an NFL offense a couple of weeks before the games start counting. — Josh Weinfuss
The Vikings’ kicking situation is more cloudy than ever. Kaare Vedvik, who did all the place-kicking in Minnesota’s win on Saturday, had multiple chances to solidify his role on the 53-man roster. Instead, Vedvik missed his two field goal attempts from 43 and 54 yards, which sailed wide left and wide right, respectively. The most realistic role for Vedvik, after he was traded to Minnesota from Baltimore in exchange for a fifth-round pick, appeared to be as the specialist who handled kickoffs, punting and long field goals. Putting all kicking and punting duties on someone who is essentially still a rookie felt like a stretch to begin with. Now, Minnesota faces more questions at the position after Matt Wile handled all six punts (averaged 47.3 yards per punt, put two inside the 20). The fourth preseason game could decide this competition for good. While kicker Dan Bailey remained on the sideline throughout the third preseason game, coach Mike Zimmer opted to go for two after a fourth-quarter Mike Boone touchdown made the game, 13-9. It’s possible Zimmer was trying to be strategic with the score, although it still would have been a one-possession game even with a made 2-point conversion. Zimmer also might have been sending Vedvik a message by not letting him attempt the extra point. — Courtney Cronin
Despite a team that features Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland coach Freddie Kitchens maintains that the strength of his squad is actually along the defensive line. That was on full display in Tampa, as the Browns starting front sacked Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston five times while pitching a shutout in the first half before giving way to the reserves. With Mayfield and OBJ, among others, Cleveland figures to have the offensive firepower to score with anyone in the league. If its defensive front dominates the way it did Friday, too, look out. — Jake Trotter
The Bucs had protection issues in Week 2, but this was a nightmare, with the first-team offensive line surrendering five sacks of Jameis Winston in the first half. Last week’s issues were more a function of busted protections and failing to account for extra rushers, but this week, the group was physically overpowered. “They got their asses kicked, one-on-one. Simple,” coach Bruce Arians said. “We haven’t been like that all year, so hopefully it’s correctable.” This was one of the worst games in recent memory for both starting tackles Demar Dotson and Donovan Smith, and Alex Cappa did not live up to the praise the coaching staff and front office bestowed on him in camp. Last week, it looked as if the issue was depth. Now it’s clear this whole group, with the exception of Ali Marpet, is struggling. Granted, they might not face a front seven as good as this one in the regular season, but it’s becoming more and more clear this will be their Achilles’ heel. — Jenna Laine
Let’s start with the positives. The Bills gave LeSean McCoy (six carries, 37 yards) and Frank Gore (eight carries, 57 yards) plenty of run in the first preseason game in which both backs were active. Isaiah McKenzie and Duke Williams each scored and have separated themselves as the final two receivers worth 53-man roster consideration. But you can’t ignore the negatives. Tre’Davious White and Quinton Spain both left the game because of quad and ankle injuries, respectively, the Bills’ defense allowed the first starting quarterback it has faced this season to complete 12 of 19 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown, and Josh Allen turned in his worst game of the preseason — highlighted by an across-his-body interception graciously negated by a defensive penalty. The final roster is all but set, with difficult decisions coming at offensive line, linebacker, defensive end and wide receiver. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Matthew Stafford looked sharp in what probably will be his lone appearance this preseason (12-19-0-137, 1 TD), but any relief over how he played is overshadowed by what the Lions might have lost. Middle linebacker Jarrad Davis was carted off the field with what appeared to be a right foot/ankle injury and will have an MRI on Saturday, according to a source. Center Frank Ragnow appeared to injure his right knee and went straight to the locker room. The pair of former first-round picks were the anchors of the team’s linebacking corps and offensive line — two of the shakier groups Detroit has. If either one misses significant time, it could cause problems for the entire unit because of their individual roles. Detroit will have to adjust — and fast — if either injury ends up being one that keep the players out to start the regular season. — Michael Rothstein
Daniel Jones keeps checking boxes. The rookie showed physical toughness and moxie in his first road preseason game. He lost a fumble on a sack, but followed it up by making some tough throws on a touchdown drive. The rookie took over the offense after one Eli Manning series. Manning went 4-of-8 passing for 41 yards, which resulted in a field goal. Jones one-upped him. He was 9-of-11 passing for 141 yards. He has completed an impressive 25 of 30 passes for 369 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions through three preseason games. — Dianna Russini
It was a strong night for a few notable members of the Bengals’ draft class. Quarterback Ryan Finley (fourth round) completed 14 of 20 passes for 155 yards. Rodney Anderson (sixth round) starred in his Bengals debut. He caught all four of his targets for 51 yards. And Michael Jordan (fourth round) started at left guard and appears to be the front-runner to hold that spot when the regular season starts. Even though first-round pick Jonah Williams will likely be out for the season because of a shoulder injury, Thursday showed reasons to be optimistic about this year’s draft class. — Ben Baby
The Redskins’ offense received a boost from second-year back Derrius Guice and the defense looked strong again. But the first three preseason games have not engendered a lot of confidence in the quarterback position. The Redskins just don’t feel rookie Dwayne Haskins is close; he looks sharp on some throws — and the long-range potential is obvious — but they want him to master more of the offense and the nuances of the position. That’s fine. The problem is, Case Keenum hasn’t looked sharp. At times he moves the offense, but he sometimes forces plays that lead to mistakes. If Colt McCoy returns to full health, he’d likely get the job. But nobody knows when that will happen. Keenum needs to prove he’s a worthy starter. — John Keim
The Falcons appear to have a kicking problem. Giorgio Tavecchio, whom the team turned the kicking duties over to after saying goodbye to reliable Matt Bryant, missed a 39-yarder on his first attempt against the Redskins on Thursday night. It might not have been a concern had Tavecchio not missed two from 52 yards against the New York Jets last week, one of which was blocked and the other which sailed wide left. Tavecchio, who also missed a 54-yarder short in the Hall of Fame game against Denver, took ownership for the misses against the Jets and vowed to correct the problem. It’s fair to wonder if it’s worth bringing the 44-year-old Bryant back for one last run after he made 20 of 21 field goals last season, including a season-long 57-yarder. Tavecchio is due to make $645,000 this season. Bryant made $3.5 million total last season with a base salary of $1.1 million. Folks around the league expect Bryant to be on some team’s roster after Week 1, since the veteran’s salary in Week 1 would be fully guaranteed. Maybe the Falcons will revisit after the season opener at Minnesota, if it’s not addressed now. Update: The Falcons signed one-time Pro Bowl kicker Blair Walsh on Saturday and didn’t immediately release Tavecchio. — Vaughn McClure
This starts and ends with quarterback Cam Newton‘s left foot. Yes, a lot went wrong for the Panthers in Thursday’s loss to New England. The line gave up three first-half sacks, generated two first downs and 29 yards in the first half and 63 yards after three quarters. Rookie tackle Greg Little left in the fourth quarter to be evaluated for a concussion. Some things went right too, namely first-round pick Brian Burns picking up his third and fourth sacks of the exhibition season. But Newton leaving after a sack at the end of the first quarter of his preseason debut with a foot injury is the headline. Backup quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Will Grier are inexperienced. The success of the Panthers depends on Newton, only now add a foot injury to the concern over whether his surgically repaired right shoulder will hold up. The injury didn’t appear serious, but the 2015 NFL MVP didn’t return to the field after leaving under his own power. He has a history with his left ankle, which he had surgically repaired in 2014. Is Newton becoming fragile at 30? Are the 1,221 hits he has taken since 2011, more than any quarterback during that span, starting to take their toll? Coach Ron Rivera said earlier in the week he’d be holding his breath if Newton got hit. He has to be holding his breath hoping that Newton is all right. — David Newton
Tom Brady made his preseason debut, and though he finished 8-of-12 for 75 yards in three series of work, the highlight actually came with his legs. Brady joked this offseason about his slow speed rating in Madden and how he was faster than he has been in the past, then showed it (kind of) by lumbering to convert a third-and-3 with a 3-yard rush to move the sticks. That was a big play to extend what turned into a 15-play touchdown drive, culminating in fullback James Develin‘s 1-yard TD dive. Brady wasn’t throwing to his full arsenal of receivers, as Julian Edelman, Demaryius Thomas and Josh Gordon (non-football injury list) didn’t play, but he was efficient, as usual, leading the attack. The next time Brady takes the field will likely be the regular-season opener Sept. 8 against the visiting Steelers. — Mike Reiss
Thursday night made it clear — the Ravens will rely on rookie receivers this season. First-round pick Marquise “Hollywood” Brown caught three passes for 17 yards, but this performance went beyond the numbers. Brown, who was making his debut after being brought back slowly from offseason foot surgery, showed the ability to get consistently open and great quickness in getting in and out of cuts. Miles Boykin, a third-round selection, continued a strong summer with a 44-yard catch. He used his size to break a tackle and his speed to burst up the sideline for extra yards. Starting quarterback Lamar Jackson was held out the third preseason game, but he got an up-close look at his playmaking targets. The Ravens’ top three wide receivers on the roster are Boykin, Brown and Willie Snead. — Jamison Hensley
Five days out of retirement, 40-year-old quarterback Josh McCown got the bulk of the snaps against Baltimore in a weather-shortened game and lit it up. He finished 17-of-24 for 192 yards with two touchdowns, including a beauty of a pass down the right sideline for rookie JJ Arcega-Whiteside that resulted in a 20-yard score. Injuries to Nate Sudfeld and Cody Kessler this preseason prompted the Eagles to lure McCown out of retirement to, at least temporarily, back up Carson Wentz. Thursday’s performance suggests he’s up to the task.— Tim McManus
First-year coach Matt LaFleur called an audible and yanked his starters over field conditions in Winnipeg, where the game was played on an adjusted 80-yard field because of bad spots in the end zones where the CFL goalposts are normally anchored. So any hope of seeing Aaron Rodgers in action went by the wayside. There’s a good chance Rodgers will go into the Sept. 5 regular-season opener without any preseason action. On the plus side, he should be healthy as long as the back tightness that kept him out of last week’s game doesn’t flare up. The star of the night was WR/KR Trevor Davis, who made his preseason debut and did it all with five catches for 78 yards and a touchdown, an 18-yard run on an end-around and a 17-yard punt return. Also, Tim Boyle made a solid bid for the No. 2 quarterback job with a pair of touchdown passes. — Rob Demovsky
Good luck to Jon Gruden, Mike Mayock & Co. in getting something useful out of this tape. Besides leaving 24 players back in Oakland, the Raiders who did play did so on a short field. Yeah, divots in the middle of each end zone, where the CFL goalposts are positioned, made the field unsafe. The playing surface was limited to 80 yards, with each 10-yard line serving as the reconfigured goal lines. Maybe it’s good tape for the Arena League, but the Raiders have some hard decisions to make with their final cuts. At least Keith Smith, who missed most of camp recovering from a torn meniscus in his knee, scored a touchdown on a 15-yard catch and run, serving notice to undrafted rookie Alec Ingold to slow his roll. And for what it’s worth, Nathan Peterman got the majority of work at quarterback after Mike Glennon started and played the first quarter. — Paul Gutierrez
Rookie defensive end Josh Allen overshadowed QB Nick Foles‘ first game snaps in a Jaguars uniform with a dominating performance. He led the Jaguars with four tackles (two for loss) and also had two QB hits. During the first half he pressured Dolphins QB Ryan Fitzpatrick into a bad throw, beat veteran tight end Dwayne Allen for a tackle for loss, hammered Fitzpatrick as he threw the ball to force an incompletion, forced Fitzpatrick out of the pocket into a sack by Dawuane Smoot and dropped into coverage in the flat and tackled running back Kalen Ballage for a loss. He was the main reason the Dolphins’ offense managed less than 50 yards in the first half. Though Allen played at the same time as defensive ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue early in the game, he didn’t have those guys on the field with him in the second quarter and still made plays. If he’s able to play close to this level in the regular season the Jaguars’ defensive front could be as good or better than it was in 2017, when Campbell, Ngakoue, Malik Jackson and Dante Fowler Jr. combined for 26.5 sacks. — Mike DiRocco
Ryan Fitzpatrick has been the leader in the clubhouse for the Dolphins’ quarterback battle all offseason, but Josh Rosen gave fans some reason for hope. He piloted a 99-yard touchdown drive in the second half in which he showed off his pocket presence, mobility, arm talent and decision-making. The biggest thing for Rosen is he’s continuing to improve. Fitzpatrick had some struggles early but led a touchdown drive of his own. Fitzpatrick might end up the Week 1 starter, but Rosen looks like he will be ready sooner than later. That’s good news for Dolphins fans. — Cameron Wolfe
Cowboys LB March-Lillard will revert to March
The sixth-year pro wrote about the change on Twitter on Sunday, saying that March is his legal name and that of his wife and children.
I wore “March-Lillard” on my jersey. to honor my father who Fought through 3 different cancers and multiple heart surgeries in his life. Beating the first 2 and passing from Pancreatic Cancer in 2016. He never missed a game. Even when he was going through chemo. pic.twitter.com/O6E1oRq4Ts
— Jay March (@Bubba_March) August 25, 2019
And now I am back to wearing my legal name, my children and wife’s last name “March”. It is time I lead for my family as my father did for his. This was a hard decision to make but the look I get from my son reminds me of how I looked at my father. Like the Greatest Super Hero.💙 pic.twitter.com/h1pPkPVY7t
— Jay March (@Bubba_March) August 25, 2019
March wore jerseys with both “March” and “March-Lillard” on the back while in college at Akron. And after initially wearing “March” in the first weeks of his NFL career with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2015, he switched to “March-Lillard” in 2016.
Steelers vs. Titans – Game Summary – August 25, 2019
(8:52) (Shotgun) J.Samuels left guard to PIT 41 for 1 yard (L.Sims).
Marcus Mariota Sacked by Stephon Tuitt For 4 Yrd Loss for Safety
2 plays, -4 yards, 0:12
JuJu Smith-Schuster Pass From Ben Roethlisberger for 17 Yrds, Two-Point Conversion Pass Attempt Fail.
9 plays, 58 yards, 4:41
James Washington Pass From Mason Rudolph for 41 Yrds, C.Boswell extra point is GOOD, Center-K.Canaday, Holder-J.Berry.
2 plays, 52 yards, 0:45
Ryan Succop Made 24 Yrd Field Goal
7 plays, 43 yards, 3:25
Data is currently unavailable.
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