The third, and final, week of the 2023 NFL preseason rolled on Friday with three games.
6 Takeaways from Friday’s Games
Brock Purdy Shows He Is Ready
Well, the 49ers open the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 10, and there no longer is any doubt about Purdy’s readiness or effectiveness.
He and the rest of the 49ers’ first-team offense played the first two drives — 19 total snaps — in Friday night’s 23-12 preseason loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. They gained 137 yards on those two possessions. Purdy completed 5 of 9 passes for 73 yards and ran for a touchdown.
Two-and-a-half years ago, the 49ers traded three first-round picks for the chance to move up and select Lance with the third pick in the 2021 draft. But that was then, and this is now.
That was before Purdy, the last pick in the 2022 draft, saved the ’22 season after Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo suffered injuries. That was before Sam Darnold beat out Lance for the backup quarterback job this summer and before Purdy proved to everyone that his surgically repaired elbow is as good as new.
Purdy led the 49ers on a game-opening 10-play, 74-yard drive that would have resulted in a touchdown but for Jordan Mason’s fumble at the goal line. On the next drive, he took it in himself for a 5-yard score.
Purdy was 9 for 14 for 138 yards in the preseason.
Strong Preseason Finish For Bryce Young
Young, the Panthers’ first-round rookie quarterback, engineered back-to-back scoring drives on the first two possessions, including his first touchdown pass of the preseason.
Young completed 7 of 12 passes for 73 yards and rushed for 21 yards on three carries, including a 13-yard run on a third-and-9 that set up a 16-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Adam Thielen. He ran for another first down on a third-and-2 play on the Panthers’ first scoring drive.
Young and the Panthers’ first-team offense scored just three points on five drives during the first two preseason games. The offensive line did a poor job of protecting Young in those games. He averaged just 4.7 yards per attempt with a 70.1 pass rating.
But Friday night was a different story, allowing Young and the first-team offense to finish the preseason on a high note. A game-opening, 14-play drive stalled at the Detroit 23 and Carolina had to settle for a 41-yard field goal by Eddie Piniero. But the Panthers drove 57 yards on seven plays for a touchdown on their next possession.
Three plays after his 13-yard, third-and-9 run, Young hit Thielen with a perfect strike at the goal line.
Young and the Panthers will open the season on Sept. 10 on the road against the Atlanta Falcons.
Lions’ Antoine Green Makes Case For Roster Spot
Jameson Williams’ six-game gambling suspension has created an interesting battle for the fifth wide receiver spot on the Detroit Lions roster behind Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, Marvin Jones and Khalif Raymond.
Four players — seventh-round pick Antoine Green, undrafted free agents Dylan Drummond and Chase Cota and practice-squad player Maurice Alexander — have been in a fierce competition for what likely will be the last wide receiver spot on the Lions’ season-opening roster.
Green may have moved to the front of the line in the Lions’ final preseason game, a 26-17 win over the Carolina Panthers. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound rookie out of North Carolina had three catches for 97 yards against the Panthers, including an impressive 70-yard touchdown catch-and-run from backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the second quarter.
Cota, a 6-3, 209-pounder who played at Oregon last year after spending four seasons at UCLA, had been the Lions’ leading receiver after the first two preseason games, catching six passes for 69 yards and a touchdown. But he dropped a catchable touchdown pass from Bridgewater in the second quarter Friday on a third-down play. Cota was targeted eight times against the Panthers but had just three catches for 42 yards.
Drummond, who was signed by the Lions after a tryout at their rookie minicamp this spring, had five catches for 46 yards against the Panthers. Alexander had two catches for 11 yards.
Cota, whose father Chad played in the league for 10 years, has been used on coverage teams in the preseason. He, Alexander and Drummond also have seen action as returners. So, that could factor into the final roster decision on that fifth wide receiver spot.
Another Impressive Preseason For Chestnut
Unless he trips on a bar of soap in the shower between now and Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, Julius Chestnut has made the Tennessee Titans’ season-opening roster for the second year in a row. And this time, he’s not going to have to worry about spending the season bouncing back and forth between the 53-man roster and the practice squad.
Chestnut finished the preseason as the Titans’ leading rusher. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry, rushing for 174 yards on 29 carries. In Tennessee’s second preseason game against the Vikings, he rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown. He scored a second touchdown on a 1-yard reception.
In Friday’s final preseason game, he had 30 yards on nine carries, including an early 23-yard run.
Chestnut is just the second player from Sacred Heart, an FCS school, to make an NFL roster. An undrafted free agent, he was one of four running backs the Titans kept on their season-opening roster last year. But he spent much of the season on their practice squad. He played in just six games and had nine carries for 12 yards.
Chestnut appears to have leaped over 2022 fourth-round pick Hassan Haskins into the No. 3 running back job. Haskins hasn’t had a very good camp and also was charged with aggravated assault in late June for allegedly strangling his girlfriend.
What To Do With Cunningham
Malik Cunningham was a dual-threat quarterback at Louisville, throwing for 9,660 yards and 70 touchdowns and rushing for 3,179 yards and 50 TDs.
But he went undrafted and signed with the New England Patriots who kinda, sorta moved him to wide receiver. Actually, Cunningham spent the preseason taking snaps at both positions.
He played quarterback in the fourth quarter of the Patriots’ first preseason game against Houston and completed 3 of 4 passes for 19 yards. He lined up at wide receiver last week against the Packers and was targeted five times but had no catches.
In the Patriots’ final preseason game, a 23-7 loss to Tennessee, he played both quarterback and wide receiver. He caught his first preseason pass against the Titans, but he lost a yard on the play. He attempted two passes, both of which were incomplete.
So, now what? It’s not likely the Patriots will keep him as the team’s No. 3 quarterback behind Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe. That job probably will go to Trace McSorley. And Cunningham’s not ready to help them much at wide receiver or on special teams right now, either.
The most likely scenario is that he’ll be released and then signed to their practice squad, assuming no one claims him.
Stick Locks Up No. 2 QB Job
Justin Herbert hasn’t missed a game due to injury since he entered the NFL in 2020. So, the question of was going to be the Chargers’ No. 2 quarterback this season hasn’t exactly been a big topic of conversation in Southern California this summer.
But stuff happens, even to extraordinarily healthy quarterbacks. And if something happens to Herbert, it looks like Easton Stick will be the next man up.
Stick held off a preseason challenge from seventh-round rookie Max Duggan. Neither of them knocked anybody’s socks off this summer, but Stick has experience – he’s been with the Chargers since they took him in the fifth round of the 2019 draft, even though he’s appeared in just one regular-season game during that time and has attempted one pass – and Duggan doesn’t.
Stick played the first half and Duggan the second in Friday night’s 23-12 preseason win over the 49ers. Stick completed 9 of 11 passes on four drives for just 38 yards. The Chargers scored 10 points on those four drives.
Duggan played five drives in the second half, which produced 13 points, but he completed just 4 of 9 passes for 15 yards. One of those completions, however, was an impressive two-yard touchdown toss to tight end Hunter Kampmoyer. Duggan rolled right, looked like he might try to run it in, then lobbed the ball to Kampmoyer for the score. Duggan also rushed for 51 yards on six carries.
Paul Domowitch covered the Eagles and the NFL for the Philadelphia Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer for four decades. You can follow him on Twitter at @pdomo.