If this were a trade audition for Ryan Mallett, the New England Patriots might be best off — as they have the past few seasons — just keeping him.
Rumors spread this week that Mallett's start Thursday night in place of starter Tom Brady was a chance for Mallett to showcase his skills to the rest of the NFL, with the Patriots perhaps willing to move him.
The story felt flimsy, and that was before the Patriots lost to the Washington Redskins 23-6 in which Mallett played the first half.
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Mallett completed a mere 5 of 12 pases for 55 yards, but it was not all his fault. It appeared that there were a few miscommunications with his receivers on some short routes, and the Patriots' offensive line was victimized a few times. Left tackle Nate Solder got whipped one-on-one by the Redskins' Brian Orakpo for a sack. Mallett had no chance.
It wasn't all bad for Mallett. He looked better throwing the ball downfield, and four of his five completions went for at least 11 yards. Still, it wasn't Mallett's best night overall. He looked skittish at times amid some pressure and also executed one of the ugliest QB slides you might ever see.
"Yeah, it was a bad slide," Mallett admitted afterward.
Interestingly, if there were a backup quarterback who improved his trade value in this game, it was Kirk Cousins, who was an efficient 9-of-13 for 103 yards and had a pretty touchdown pass to Aldrick Robinson.
Most likely, neither Mallett nor Cousins is going anywhere.
The Baltimore Ravens were among the least exciting offenses in the NFL last season. Joe Flacco seemed to regress the year after his Super Bowl victory. Ray Rice had a career-worst season. Bernard Pierce never stepped up to fill the void. The Ravens badly missed Anquan Boldin's toughness. Dennis Pitta's early injury left a huge void in the middle of the field. The offensive line was in shambles.
So it was refreshing to see the Ravens' first-team offense look very good in a brief showing in their 23-3 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
Flacco was nearly flawless on the opening drive — his only one of the night. He completed four of five passes for 52 yards to four different receivers, including newcomer Steve Smith, who had some nice burst on his one catch (and of course, his patented ballspin thereafter).
Rice showed burst on his first carry for 6 yards, displaying quickness we seldom saw out of him in 2013. Pierce capped the drive with a strong touchdown run. The two split carries and looked like the tandem we saw in the team's Super Bowl season.
The offensive line blocked very well, getting out in space on run plays and giving Flacco great time and clean pockets for his throws.
That was a huge development, even if the 49ers' first-team defense, which was down a few expected starters, looked like it was not giving maximum effort. Maybe one Harbaugh took it easy on the other? No matter — that first series was a nice statement for the Ravens.
New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's imprint was all over the drive, with play-action, moving pockets, the zone running game and the tight ends getting heavily involved.
It's going to be interesting to see if this offense can return to 2012 levels, which certainly will put the Ravens back into contention.
49ers running back Carlos Hyde touched the ball five times on the first two drives of the game and showed why he could be the heir to Frank Gore. Hyde rushed for 39 yards on those carries and showed good burst to the outside on a 19-yard stomp in which he got to the edge before Ravens safety Matt Elam could.
Hyde has almost guaranteed himself a role in the offense this season, even if Gore continues to push Father Time away. The two can split carries, and both have workmanlike potential giving Jim Harbaugh the chance to ride the hot hand when he feels like it.
The 49ers have been gashed by injuries in the backfield with Kendall Hunter out for the season with an ACL tear and LaMichael James on the shelf for a while with an elbow injury. Marcus Lattimore might never reach his potential if he can't get healthy. It's not a coincidence that Harbaugh fed Hyde three of the first four plays of the game, and he netted 7, 19 and 8 yards.
How Hyde lasted deep into the second round of the NFL draft remains a mystery.
Jets 13, Colts 10: Andrew Luck's night was over after an efficient first drive (4-of-5 passing, 53 yards), and Trent Richardson (five rushes, 13 yards) had a few solid runs early. But the bad news for Indy was center Khaled Holmes limping off the field with a left ankle injury. He'll have an MRI on Friday, per head coach Chuck Pagano.
Holmes was vaulted to starter when Phil Costa abruptly retired in the offseason, and the Colts already are counting on a rookie (Jack Mewhort) as the starting left guard.
For the Jets, the Geno Smith-Michael Vick talk typically takes center stage, but it's worth noting that Chris Ivory — part of the Jets' three-headed rushing attack — got hurt. Rex Ryan said Ivory would be fine but left out the obvious caboose statement: "until he gets hurt again." Chris Johnson had a 2-yard rushing score but did little else in his Jets debut.
Chiefs 41, Bengals 39: Bengals QB Andy Dalton looked good in early duty, his first action after signing a long-term contract extension, but his backup, Jason Campbell, struggled mightily.
Campbell completed only 6-of-15 passes with two interceptions, including a pick-six by Chiefs corner Sean Smith. The Chiefs also had high points. The special teams got on the board with an 80-yard punt return for a score by blazing rookie De'Anthony Thomas. The offense had a good rushing attack and some good production in the passing game with Chase Daniel running the second-teamers. Daniel hit tight end Travis Kelce for a 69-yard touchdown connection, but Daniel — who is trying to hold off Tyler Bray and Aaron Murray for the backup job — also suffered a pick-six of his own, courtesy of Dre Kirkpatrick.
Broncos 21, Seahawks 16: The Broncos' running back depth suddenly is being tested. Starter Montee Ball was a workhorse in college but is only a second-year pro and could miss the entire preseason following an appendectomy. Backup Ronnie Hillman had a touchdown in this game and a nice run for 9 yards, but he hasn't been dependable in his career yet. So it was concerning to see C.J. Anderson go down with an apparent concussion, as well as his replacement, Juwan Thompson, who was tested for a concussion (which was negative).
For the Seahawks, most of the starters were gone early — or stayed at home — but Russell Wilson looked a bit harried early behind the first-team offensive line (minus Russell Okung and Max Unger).
Chargers 27, Cowboys 7: It was a strong effort from Brandon Weeden, who led an impressive 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive with a pretty escape from pressure and touchdown throw to James Hanna. It might be preseason action, but Weeden — who has taken most of the first-team reps with Tony Romo (back) out — showed that his career is not dead yet. He finished 13-of-17 passing, cooling off after that drive, but still looking good in his one half of action.
The Chargers' run game was the story on the other side of the coin, as it gashed whatever semblance of a first- and second-team defensive unit the Cowboys could muster. Although Ryan Mathews fumbled at the goal line, it otherwise was a terrific night for the backs. Especially Brendan Oliver, who ripped off a 16-yard touchdown and also added a great 27-yard scamper.
• The games were painfully slow at times Thursday night. There were 23 penalties in Patriots-Redskins, 19 of which were accepted. The Chiefs and Bengals had eight touchdowns combined, four in each half, that required reviews. In the third quarter of Seahawks-Broncos, there was a stretch of penalties on five consecutive plays. As much as the league tries to tinker with the rules and get things right, it does slow down the action. Collateral damage? Perhaps.
• Good to see 2012 draft pick Tank Carradine step up and get his first sack for the 49ers, and his first since playing at Florida State in 2012. Carradine has first-round talent, but injuries have held him back. The 49ers are going to need him on the field this season, and he has bulked up to where he can play on the line and be a regular contributor, it appears. Michael Wilhoite and Quinton Dial, two other reserves who must step up into bigger roles, also had nice debuts.
• You can read about Blaine Gabbert's struggles here, and you almost have to ask yourself: If Jim Harbaugh can't get him turned around mentally, who can?
• Pagano told me earlier this week that Daniel "Boom" Herron put his best foot forward in his attempt to win the third running back spot behind Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw. Herron continued that with a solid outing Thursday: seven carries for 26 yards and six catches for 36 more. Nothing flashy, but Herron made a nice effort to score a touchdown on a pass from Matt Hasselbeck.
• The Jets' cornerbacks struggled Thursday. Dee Milliner played fairly well, but Dimitri Patterson didn't have a good game and it could be a constant reminder of what the Jets have lost at the position — and what they have failed to address there, too.
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