Some NFL players put their best feet forward in the final preseason dress rehearsal for Week 1, as we highlighted earlier. Others failed to do so.
One exhibition game is not going to make or break most players who are already established, but it’s clear that some lost quality opportunities to succeed.
Here were the worst performances that mattered from Week 3 of the preseason — typically the exhibition game that matters most on the eve of the regular season.
Buffalo Bills QBs
Tyrod Taylor had been having a pretty underwhelming preseason prior to Saturday’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens, and Bills head coach Sean McDermott had only given him a tepid backing as the team’s would-be starter to that point. Then Taylor was knocked out of the Ravens game with an apparent concussion, and he remains in the protocol — suddenly his availability for Week 1 might be in doubt.
In came fifth-rounder Nathan Peterman, and he struggled in a 11-for-23 passing performance for 93 yards, with much of his time coming with first-teamers. Third QB T.J. Yates got beat up behind the third-team offensive line and also reportedly suffered a concussion. All in all, it was a pretty terrible night for the Bills at the position a little less than two weeks before the Week 1 opener against the New York Jets.
Peterman is the only one cleared for duty for Thursday’s exhibition finale against the Detroit Lions, but can they afford to play him much? After all, there’s a chance he’ll start the opener, evoking shades of the Bills almost needing to start undrafted Jeff Tuel in Week 1 of the 2013 season when injuries struck them hard.
Peterman hasn’t shown much in completing 50 percent of his passes this preseason, struggling to do much other than dump off short and intermediate passes. Taylor could be back soon if he clears concussion testing, but he too has not looked great. The rebuilding Bills have a lot going on right now, as they appear to be thinking as much about tomorrow as they are about today.
Christian Hackenberg, QB, New York Jets
Given the chance to change the narrative about the Jets’ starting quarterback position, Hackenberg again was bad. In 18 preseason drives, he has led the team to one score (a field goal) and thrown two pick-sixes and taken a safety. That’s a net of minus-13 points … on offense alone!
Hackenberg’s accuracy, like it has been all along, was scattershot against the Giants. The Jets had no choice but to name Josh McCown the starter for the opener against the Bills. It’s going to take a tremendous improvement for Hackenberg to step in and show anything promising that could prevent the Jets from selecting a QB high in next year’s draft. It seems crazy to think that far ahead with such certainty, but it feels almost like a foregone conclusion … before most of the top prospects at the position have even taken their first snaps of the college season.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans
You could make the argument that Watson has been the worst during the preseason of the four quarterbacks selected in the first two rounds of the draft in April. Aside from some flash plays here and there — mostly with his legs — Watson has looked unsure and discomposed too often.
Although he finished a reasonable 11 of 21 for 116 yards against the New Orleans Saints, most egregious was Watson forcing passes into thick coverage, especially in first-and-10 situations. Watson threw one pick in the game and had another potential interception dropped. Pressure seemed to rattle him. He also took a pair of sacks.
The team made the right call in naming Tom Savage the starter for now. He has been efficient this preseason, completing 27 of 36 passes for 246 yards in a total of nine series of work. Savage seemed to separate himself in the second exhibition game against the New England Patriots, when the decision was becoming clear he would be the best option.
But the hope was that Watson could build on some uneven performances and put up some good tape last weekend. It just didn’t happen. Expect him to get ample reps on Thursday in the preseason finale, but that might be — barring injury — the last time we see Watson for some time.
Donovan Smith, LT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers are shaping into one of the more intriguing offenses in the NFL, and yet there are still issues to be worked out. Jamies Winston is in line for his best season yet, and there are multiple big-play weapons at receiver. But will the offensive line come together?
Smith has All-Pro upside but has yet to develop into a top-level blocker, and his struggles with Cleveland Browns rookie pass rusher Myles Garrett in this last game were undeniable. Garrett was darting around Smith, and even dipping underneath him, in what looked like a pass-rush clinic. No shame in being beaten by a player of Garrett’s ability, but Smith never really adjusted. He allowed Garrett to hit Winston once, pressure him several times and absolutely eat him up with his speed and array of moves.
The Bucs let backup QB Mike Glennon walk in free agency and can’t afford to let Winston go down. They already are without running back Doug Martin the first three weeks of the season, so we expect a bit more emphasis on the passing game. Even with some quality blocking tight ends who can help (along with the healthy return of center Ali Marpet helping the entire group), Smith must show a level of consistency that he hasn’t to this point to make the Buccaneers feel completely secure with their left tackle.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Lacy doesn’t look like the same runner who was a monster his first few seasons. Yes, he earned the start and burst out of the gates with an 11-yard run in the preseason win over the Kansas City Chiefs on a well-blocked play. But he gained only 10 yards on his next three carries and was stopped short of the goal line on two of those despite having leverage and, er, more mass than the Chiefs defensive back who stopped him, Ron Parker.
With presumed starter Thomas Rawls and “secret weapon” C.J. Prosise out for the game, this would have been a great shot for Lacy to regain a role. But the Seahawks keep taking long looks at impressive seventh-rounder Chris Carson, who is nearing folk-hero status in the Pacific Northwest with his strong play in the exhibition season. Carson — not Lacy — looks to be the more physical and violent runner right now heading into the opener at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers.
Rawls could be back by then, and Prosise since has returned to practice. We fully expect Carson to make the team and have a role, if not right away then before long. So where does that leave Lacy, who is on a one-year deal? Not on the strongest of footing, we’d assume.
— Eric Edholm is an NFL writer for Pro Football Weekly.
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