NFL Pre-Season Roundup: Stidham rallies Patriots to victory over Titans

jarrett-stidham

New England Patriots quarterback Jarrett Stidham (4) scrambles against the Tennessee Titans in the second half of a preseason NFL football game. (Mark Zaleski/AP)

NASHVILLE — Jarrett Stidham threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Damoun Patterson with 4:12 left, rallying the New England Patriots to a 22-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night.

Stidham picked up where he left off in his previous trip to Nissan Stadium. Stidham had five TD passes here helping Auburn rout Purdue in the Music City Bowl last December, and this time the rookie was 14 of 19 for 193 yards helping the Patriots (2-0) come back from a 17-8 halftime deficit.

Two days of practices against the Titans was enough for Patriots coach Bill Belichick to let Tom Brady watch a second straight exhibition with New England’s options at wide receiver thin because of injuries.

Marcus Mariota started for the Titans (1-1) and shook off a pair of three-and-outs before his best drive this preseason. He capped a 10-play, 87-yard drive with an 11-yard TD pass to his favourite target, three-time Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker, who broke his right ankle in the 2018 season opener.

With kicker Ryan Succop on the physically unable to perform list, coach Mike Vrabel let Mariota go for 2 against his old team. Mariota looked to throw, then ran to the end zone before going into the air and flipping over Patriots defensive back Duron Harmon for an 8-0 lead. Mariota was 6 of 9 for 63 yards passing.

Brian Hoyer’s first offensive series ended quickly. Logan Ryan, the former Patriots cornerback, stepped in front of receiver Braxton Berrios for an interception. Hoyer was 6 of 8 for 55 yards. Stidham took over in the second quarter.

Brandon Bolden and Nick Brossette each ran for a TD for the Patriots.

Ryan Tannehill, added in a trade from Miami in March to upgrade the Titans’ backup quarterback, was 7 of 11 for 84 yards with a TD pass and a sack. Logan Woodside took over just before halftime and finished the game.

WHO’S AT RECEIVER

Julian Edelman didn’t play as he recovers from an injured thumb, and neither did Phillip Dorsett. The Patriots started Dontrelle Inman and rookie Gunner Olszewski, an undrafted free agent from Division II Bemidji State. N’Keal Harry, the Patriots’ first-round draft pick, also did not play.

JOSH GORDON

The receiver can rejoin the Patriots on Sunday after the NFL conditionally reinstated the receiver Friday night after suspending him indefinitely in December 2018 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Belichick issued a statement Saturday before kickoff that Gordon’s situation has been a league matter.

"When Josh returns to our program, we will evaluate the entire situation and do what we feel is best for Josh and the team," Belichick said.

FLIPPING TITANS

Mariota wasn’t the only member of the Titans to flip into the end zone. Jeremy McNichols flipped into the end zone after catching a swing pass and going 15 yards.

INJURIES

Patriots LB Shilique Calhoun was taken to the sideline medical tent with a right leg injury. Patriots DE Derek Rivers also hurt a right leg and went to the locker room.

UP NEXT

Patriots: Host Carolina on Thursday night.

Titans: Host Pittsburgh on Aug. 25.

Backup QBs lead Browns past Colts

INDIANAPOLIS — Garrett Gilbert threw two touchdown passes in the first half and David Blough added another TD pass in the second half Saturday, leading the Cleveland Browns past Indianapolis 21-18.

Cleveland (2-0) has won nine of its past 10 preseason games — this one with its top two quarterbacks sitting out and Kareem Hunt returned to the field for the first time in nearly nine months. It’s the first time the Browns have beaten the Colts in the preseason since 1979 when the franchise was still located in Baltimore.

Quarterback Chad Kelly did everything he could to keep the Colts’ winning streak intact.

After Blough gave Cleveland a 21-7 lead early in the third quarter with a 4-yard TD pass to Derrick Willies , Kelly tried to rally the Colts.

He took advantage of one roughing the passer call to get the Colts into scoring position then threw a 24-yard TD strike to Ross Travis , who drew a lowering the helmet penalty on the play. Kelly’s 1-yard conversion pass to Hale Hentges made it 21-18. And Kelly led the Colts to the Browns 9-yard line in the final minute before Will Harvey swatted away Kelly’s final throw on fourth-and-1.

Gilbert played the entire first half and was 13 of 19 with 151 yards. Blough played the entire second half and was 7 of 12 with 74 yards.

Kelly wound up 12 of 17 with 115 yards for Indy (0-2).

HUNT’S BACK

Hunt made his first start with the Browns and got his first carry since Nov. 19 but didn’t stick around long.

He had two carries for 6 yards while playing the first two series.

But the league’s 2017 rushing champion did take another step on his comeback journey. He hadn’t played in a football game since video of him shoving and kicking a woman surfaced in November. He was cut by the Kansas City Chiefs two weeks later and didn’t land with another team until the Browns signed him in February.

UP NEXT

Browns: Visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday.

Colts: Host the Chicago Bears next Saturday.

Watson throws TD pass to help Texans beat Lions

HOUSTON — Deshaun Watson took advantage of one series in his preseason debut looking sharp in directing a 75-yard drive capped by a 4-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins to help the Houston Texans to a 30-23 win over the Detroit Lions on Saturday night.

Watson, who sat out in a loss to Green Bay last week, was 5 of 7 for 60 yards and scrambled once for 7 yards. After being sacked an NFL-high 62 times last season, the third-year player had plenty of time to throw while facing a Lions defence which opened the game with the bulk of its starters.

Hopkins, also making his preseason debut, had two receptions for 17 yards and shook off Detroit’s Quandre Diggs to get open and make the TD catch that put Houston up 7-0.

Hopkins, who had a career-high 1,572 yards receiving last season, was the only one of Houston’s top receivers to play. Will Fuller, who is healthy after tearing a knee ligament last season, sat out and the Texans were without Keke Coutee, who injured his ankle last week.

Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford didn’t play for the second straight week, with the Lions instead starting Josh Johnson. Johnson was signed a week ago after backup Tom Savage suffered a head injury in the team’s preseason opener against the Patriots. Johnson was 9 of 18 for 85 yards with an interception.

The Lions had a chance to tie it on the last play of the game, but a pass by David Fales was knocked down in the end zone.

Tight end T.J. Hockenson, the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft, had one reception for 22 yards, but also received a penalty for a crackback block. Running back Kerryon Johnson started and had three carries for 16 yards in a little more than a quarter of work.

Several of Houston’s defensive starters also played briefly, including linebacker Whitney Mercilus, who sacked Johnson and caused a fumble on Detroit’s first series. Defensive end J.J. Watt did not play for the second straight game despite practicing all week after recovering from tightness in his groin.

Detroit cornerback Darius Slay broke up two passes in the first quarter and Jalen Reeves-Maybin had five tackles, including one for a loss, and defended a pass.

Veteran backup Joe Webb came in after the series by Watson and was 14 of 25 for 186 yards with a touchdown and an interception after throwing for 286 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions last week.

The Texans were up 10-3 in the second quarter when Steven Mitchell fumbled after a 4-yard reception and Will Harris scooped it up and returned it 19 yards to tie it.

Webb connected with Vyncint Smith on a 31-yard touchdown pass just before halftime to put Houston on top 17-10.

Fales took over at quarterback for the Lions on the second series of the third quarter and threw a 5-yard touchdown to Zach Zenner, but the 2-point conversion failed to leave Detroit down 20-16.

Buddy Howell’s 1-yard touchdown run extended Houston’s lead to 27-16 with about 8 1/2 minutes left and the Lions got within 27-23 on a TD run by Mark Thompson a couple of minutes later.

Fales was 12 of 19 for 226 yards and a touchdown.

COME BACK HERE

Houston tight end Jordan Thomas caught what appeared to be a touchdown pass from Webb in the second quarter and ran off the field and halfway up the tunnel with teammates chasing him. Thomas had to hustle back after his celebration jog when an offensive holding penalty nullified his score and the Texans had to run another play.

NEXT UP

Lions: Host the Bills on Friday.

Texans: Visit Cowboys next Saturday.

Steelers honour Drake, keep Chiefs in check in victory

PITTSBURGH — The shirts read "shut out the noise." Shutting out the pain of suddenly losing the man behind the mantra will take far longer for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Still, there was something about the game-day routine that brought a sense of relief and normalcy just six days removed from the death of wide receivers coach Darryl Drake.

The receivers walked out to pregame warmups wearing gear with "shut out the noise" emblazoned on them, the phrase Drake adopted for his group heading into the 2019 season.

The Steelers took the field with "DD" stickers on their helmets, stickers that will remain there all season. Players gathered on the sideline to kneel in prayer. A moment of silence was held just before the national anthem.

Then the ball was kicked off and Pittsburgh went back to work, keeping Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in check in a 17-7 victory on Saturday night.

"It’s just been a very difficult week," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who attended Drake’s funeral in Tennessee along with general manager Kevin Colbert early Saturday before returning in time to lead his team to its second preseason victory in as many weeks. "If anything the game is kind of a break from that. You get lost in the things that you need to do."

And what the Steelers (2-0) need to do over the next two weeks is figure out who will be the backup to starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. So far, Tomlin has seen little separation between Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph.

Rudolph guided a long first-half touchdown drive and finished 10 of 15 for 77 yards while Dobbs completed 6 of 11 for 95 yards with a red-zone interception on a night the Steelers (2-0) opted to keep several key starters on the sideline, from Roethlisberger to Pro Bowl offensive linemen David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey to rookie linebacker Devin Bush, who was held out because of a shoulder issue.

Asked if Rudolph, is ahead of Dobbs, Tomlin shook his head.

"Not as we sit here right now," Tomlin said.

Not that any of it matters when Week 1 rolls around. Roethlisberger is firmly entrenched as the starter for 15 years and counting. The same is true in Kansas City, where Mahomes is coming off an MVP season.

Unlike Roethlisberger, Mahomes hasn’t yet earned the right to take most of the preseason off. The third-year pro completed just 2 of 5 passes for 11 yards in two series, a far cry from his previous visit to Heinz Field, when he threw for six touchdowns in a Week 2 win last September that served as a harbinger of the season to come.

"Yeah, that’ll all get worked out," Reid said when asked about Mahomes’ performance. "Everyone can’t be perfect."

Mahomes’ best play during his cameo may have been his decision to slide during an 8-yard scramble, something he didn’t do a week ago when he lowered his shoulder against Cincinnati rather than step out of bounds.

Chad Henne found Mecole Hardman for a 17-yard touchdown late in the first half for Kansas City (1-1), which managed a lone touchdown a week after putting up 38 against the Bengals. Hardman, a second-round pick, has two touchdowns in two weeks and his rapid emergence could give Reid another option to play with in what could be the NFL’s most potent offence.

Rudolph, a third-round pick a year ago who is hoping to supplant Dobbs as the top backup, was given the start instead. Playing with a group that included Pro Bowl running back James Conner and star wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, Rudolph struggled early to gain some momentum.

It wasn’t until Rudolph found himself playing with the reserves that he started to get going. He directed a 14-play, 89-yard drive in the second quarter, a series that ended with a 14-yard sprint to the end zone by Jaylen Samuels.

Dobbs started off brilliantly, hitting James Washington for a 40-yard gain. He couldn’t sustain the momentum, thanks in part to an interception in which he overthrew Diontae Johnson. The ball sailed into the arms of Kansas City’s Charvarius Ward to cut short a scoring chance late in the first half.

Johnson, a third-round pick, ended up scoring in the fourth quarter when he made a diving grab in the end zone on a heave from fourth-stringer Devlin Hodges, a catch that would have drawn a nod of approval from Drake.

"It was emotional for the receiver group," Johnson said. "We all know what Coach Drake did for us as a whole group. We know he is with us each and every day. We’re just dedicating this season for him."

THIS BUD’S FOR YOU?

Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree is entering the season with a significant amount of pressure after Pittsburgh opted to pick up his fifth-year option, but have not approached him about signing a long-term deal. Dupree provided a spark, sacking Mahomes and Henne and knocking down a pass.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Chiefs: S Tyrann Mathieu (shoulder), WR Deon Yelder (knee), WR Marcus Kemp (knee) and LB Breeland Speaks (knee) all left and did not return. Reid said Kemp’s injury appeared to be the most serious.

Steelers: RB Benny Snell Jr. (groin) and LB Anthony Chickillo (knee) left. OLB Ola Adeniyi was held out with an undisclosed injury.

UP NEXT

Chiefs: Host San Francisco next Saturday.

Steelers: Expect to give Roethlisberger his only reps of the preseason next Sunday when they visit Tennessee.

Cowboys edge Rams in in Hawaii

HONOLULU — Dak Prescott appears ready for the regular season, with or without Ezekiel Elliott.

The Dallas quarterback completed all five of his pass attempts in his only series of work as the Cowboys came away with a 14-10 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday night.

Prescott dropped back to pass seven times, completed passes to five different receivers, had one short completion negated by an ineligible lineman downfield penalty and was sacked once.

Prescott’s only drive covered 97 yards in 12 plays, took more than six minutes and culminated with Tony Pollard’s 14-yard touchdown run.

It marked the first Dallas touchdown in a preseason game since Aug. 18, 2018. Dallas was held to three field goals in last week’s 17-9 loss at San Francisco to open the preseason.

With starting quarterback Jared Goff among the large number of Rams’ starters that did not make the trip to Hawaii, Blake Bortles got the start and finished 7 of 11 for 62 yards. His 7-yard scoring pass to JoJo Natson capped Los Angeles’ second drive — which was extended by a fumbled punt return by Dallas return man Reggie Davis and recovered by rookie Jake Gervase.

Los Angeles (0-2) took its only lead on Greg Zuerlein’s 29-yard field goal in the second quarter. Zuerlein attempted a 56-yard field goal just before halftime, but missed wide left.

Dallas (1-1) pulled back ahead late in the third quarter, when third-string quarterback Cooper Rush found Devin Smith for an 8-yard touchdown.

Pollard, who started in place of Elliott, finished with five rushes for 42 yards. Elliott, a two-time league rushing champion, missed his second preseason game while he continues his holdout. Alfred Morris, who signed with the team during training camp, saw his first action of the preseason and carried three times for 6 yards, all before halftime.

The teams met in the NFC Divisional round of last year’s playoffs. The Rams won 30-22 en route to an appearance in the Super Bowl.

WITTEN’S RETURN

Veteran tight end Jason Witten made his preseason debut Saturday after coming out of retirement — and the broadcast booth — last year. Witten was targeted just once — on a third-down pass from Prescott — on the penultimate play of the first Dallas possession. Witten’s 10-yard reception moved the chains and set up Pollard’s 14-yard TD run for the game’s first points.

"It felt really good. I was very anxious to get out there and play," said Witten, a 16-year veteran and 11-time Pro Bowler. "It is just the next step in the comeback. I worked really hard to get back in shape.

"I hold myself to a high standard, so I can say it was not perfect. I got a little antsy early but had a big third-down conversion on an option route."

Witten retired following the 2017-18 season and served as colour commentator on "Monday Night Football" last year.

INJURIES

Cowboys second-year linebacker Chris Covington went down with an undisclosed injury while covering the opening kickoff. He was attended to by Dallas’ training staff for a few minutes, but was able to walk off on his own.

NEXT UP

Cowboys: Return home to face the Houston Texans on Saturday on Aug. 24.

Rams: Host Denver in their next-to-last preseason game on Aug. 24.

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