The fourth preseason game, more than anything else, is about avoiding injuries – starters spend most of the time on the bench, most of the game is played by the 20 or so players who will find themselves looking for work come Saturday’s cut-down day, and the networks refuse to broadcast any of it nationally.
That’s not to say there weren’t some important roster battles coming down to the wire. Here’s some quick thoughts based on Thursday night’s action:
- The Raiders quarterback situation remains a mess. Terrelle Pryor amazed in week three, but in his final chance to win the job against Seattle, he ended the night 3-for-8 for 31 yards and an interception. He did make some plays with his legs, picking up 48 yards on the ground, but all-in-all, he failed to impress. He was doing the dreaded jump-pass a lot, almost Tebow-esque. He is dangerous outside the pocket, but he’s not going to beat anyone with his arm. At least he’s been more entertaining than Matt Flynn, who didn’t play with a sore arm. Pryor has most likely won the job at this point, and I suppose it’s better to be entertainingly bad than run-of-the-mill bad, but it’s going to be a lost season in Oakland – your 2014 starting quarterback is more likely to be Teddy Bridgewater than either Pryor or Flynn.
- Speaking of Tebow, after throwing for a grand total of -1 yards in his last two games, Tim Tebow got one final chance to impress in a Patriots uniform, and he showed a little of the late game magic that made him a national sensation during his run in Denver. He was only 6-for-11 passing for 91 yards, but that included two touchdowns, including one with only ten seconds left on the clock to lead the Patriots to a 28-20 victory. Is this his last hurrah? Last year, they kept only two quarterbacks on the roster – Brian Hoyer was released after not playing in the third preseason game. Is that Tebow’s fate? I’d wager on him getting cut, and the team going with two quarterbacks to start the year, but crazier things have happened.
- The 49ers entered preseason nervous about their wide receiving corps, and, while there’s still an alarming lack of experience, the performance of their young corps has to sooth some anguished nerves. Next to Anquan Boldin, ex-Dolphins receiver Marlon Moore has provided solid, if unspectacular, production in limited reps, and third-round rookie Quinton Patton has greatly impressed, catching six passes for 89 yards and two touchdowns, including a 43-yard dash against the Chargers on Thursday night. Patton, who was unable to even participate in the first two preseason games due to a broken finger, has quickly become a favorite target of Colin Kaepernick. “He’s a great player,” Kaepernick said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do for us.” With Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham out for at least half the season, Patton will have every opportunity to contribute early and earn a significant role with the offense.
- In Denver, the running back situation was in full focus. For the Broncos, both Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball got the night off, resting them for week one. The third of the three-man competition, Ronnie Hillman, got the start, which raises questions – why was he playing in the meaningless finale, when so many starters were sitting out? He had struggled in the previous games with fumbles, so perhaps it was an attempt to get his confidence back to high levels – or perhaps those fumbles have relegated him to a third-down role, at best. With Hillman and Ball both getting starting reps in practice, this competition seems destined to continue into the regular season.
- Across the field, Ryan Williams was on the bubble, after near countless injuries have seen him spend more time on the trainer’s table than the playing field. This preseason, he had missed the first two games with yet another knee injury. With only 25 yards on nine attempts on Thursday night, he didn’t exactly sparkle on the stat-sheet, but that’s slightly misleading – a one-yard touchdown plunge deflates his yards per carry, and a six-yard loss on a series of blown blocks further lowered it. He showed no ill-effects from the knee injuries, and his performance prompted Cardinals coach Bruce Arians to announce, in the post-game press conference, that they tentatively plan to keep Williams on the final 53-man roster.
- The Giants were unable to avoid injury in their final performance – Andre Brown fractured his left leg; the same leg he fractured last season. Even if it is a “tiny crack”, as Brown claimed, that’s still a major chunk of the season lost yet again. He’s anticipating avoiding surgery, which could imply a return in six weeks or so, but that’s obviously very preliminary at this point, and a trip to the IR/designated for return list seems probable. That eliminates any real threat to David Wilson, who has racked up 7.46 yards per carry this preseason without fumbling – what really torpedoed his value last season. He has every opportunity to break out in a big way in 2013.
Enough of the preseason, however. The countdown has begun to Thursday’s opener between Denver and Baltimore. Finally, we are ready for some football.