What we learned from the first big night of football
Those who follow college football already knew De’Anthony Thomas (No. 1) is lightning fast. Now the Bengals know, too. The speedy all-purpose back from Oregon is expected to fill the void left by the departure of speedy all-purpose back Dexter McCluster in Kansas City. Will this 80-yard punt return for a TD and a 35-yard return on his only kickoff return in a 41-39 win do the trick? Preseason is for young guys making a name, old guys fighting for survival, and positional battles being won — or lost (yeah you, Ryan Mallett). The NFL is back, and here is what we learned on Thursday night.
Jamie SquireJamie Squire
This new Ravens offense looks sharp
Let’s face it — coming off a Super Bowl win the season before, the Ravens’ offense looked broken in 2013. Enter new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak (pictured with QB Joe Flacco) and his run-first, play-action scheme with its heralded zone blocking this offseason. On Thursday night, we watched a more efficient offense — and more efficient Flacco in his one series. Flacco hit tight ends, found fullback Kyle Juszczyk 17 yards down the seam and led Baltimore on an 80-yard drive that was capped by a Bernard Piece 2-yard TD run in a 23-3 home win over the 49ers. If this is any sign of things to come, the Ravens offense should bounce back in 2014. — Dan Schneier
Rob CarrRob Carr
49ers’ running game looks like it may be just fine
After opening camp loaded at running back, the 49ers quickly went into scramble mode after injuries to Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James. San Francisco now needs rookie Carlos Hyde to get off to a fast start, and on Thursday night the second-round pick out of Ohio State obliged in Baltimore. Playing with the starters in the league’s most run-heavy attack, Hyde rushed for 39 yards on five carries — including a 19-yard dart off tackle. Perhaps more importantly, Hyde showed well in pass protection a few plays later when he handled a blitzer headed straight for QB Colin Kaepernick. If Hyde continues to impress as a runner and in pass protection, he could be ticketed for a big-time role in his rookie season. — Dan Schneier
Rob CarrRob Carr
Wait … the Cowboys’ passing game looks like it may be just fine, too?
The QB news in Dallas this offseason has been more about guys who can’t play than those who can. Tony Romo is still recovering from back surgery and reportedly taking only about 70 percent of the first-team snaps. Kyle Orton couldn’t decide on retirement and was ultimately released. So Thursday night in San Diego, the Cowboys turned to a guy who couldn’t make it in Cleveland. But playing without the team’s three best skill-position players on offense beside Romo (Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray and Jason Witten), Brandon Weeden finished 13 of 17 for 107 yards and a touchdown — a 4-yarder to James Hanna to cap an 80-yard drive for the first score in a 27-7 loss to the Chargers. — Dan Schneier
Stephen DunnStephen Dunn
Ryan Mallett’s loss is Jimmy Garoppolo’s gain
When the Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the second-round of the NFL Draft, most assumed a trade of incumbent backup Ryan Mallett was looming, if not yet already in place. Well, both are still in New England and with Tom Brady getting Thursday night off, Mallett got the start — local media speculating perhaps to showcase Mallett for a trade. Well, at least the Pats should feel pretty certain about who will be their No. 2 QB. Mallett (pictured) fell flat on his face, struggling mightily and finishing the night 5 of 12 for 55 yards and no TDs, bouncing several passes on the ground and showing lackluster pocket presence in the 23-6 loss. Then Garoppolo played the entire second half and finished 9 of 13 for 157 yards and a TD pass. Decision: Garoppolo. — Dan Schneier
Rafael SuanesRafael Suanes
There certainly is a new sheriff in town in the nation’s capital
It has been an exciting offseason in Washington as the Redskins added talent across the roster, particularly on offense. And according to several of the team’s leaders, new head coach Jay Gruden is getting his message across exponentially clearer than former head coach Mike Shanahan ever did. Case in point: Thursday night. Robert Griffin III no longer has his knee brace from 2013, but without RG3’s two best wide receivers in Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson — they missed the game with minor injuries — Gruden (pictured with Griffin) took no chances and played his QB only one series. RG3 completed 2 of 4 passes for only 9 yards, but also just missed a TD pass when a receiver failed to land in bounds on a nicely thrown fade into the end zone and, even more importantly, the QB bounced right back up after taking a huge hit. — Dan Schneier
Geoff BurkeGeoff Burke
What was that about Michael Vick happy being a backup?
No matter how much anyone insists Geno Smith is entrenched as the Jets’ starting QB, as long as Michael Vick still has those legs and that rocket arm, you have to believe he’ll be breathing down the second-year Smith’s neck. Or if we see more of what we saw Thursday night, he may be starting by Week 1. Vick threw for only 17 yards on 3-of-6 passing, but he also ripped off a 15-yard run on third down. Most importantly, he led the Jets to their only TD drive — a 1-yard scoring run by fellow Jets newbie Chris Johnson — in a 13-10 win over the Colts. Smith got the start and went 4 of 6 for 33 yards and ran once for 10 yards … albeit against the Colts starters.
Adam HungerAdam Hunger
Maybe the Broncos learned a few things from that Super Bowl beat-down
Sure, it’s only the first week of preseason. And no, beating the Seahawks in the preseason opener doesn’t constitute ‘vengeance’ for February’s 43-8 drubbing for the Broncos. But that doesn’t mean Peyton Manning & Co. didn’t learn a few things from that game they can carry into this season for another run at the Lombardi Trophy. After a record-setting season of quick-strike scores, Denver opened the game with a 9-minute, 9-second drive — two minutes longer than Denver’s longest drive all last season. And it ended with … gasp! … a touchdown run (by Ronnie Hillman, pictured with Manning). Ball-control Broncos? With the NFL, you never know.