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Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne didn’t do much Thursday night in his first NFL start since September of 2013. He probably didn’t need to. Jaguars coach Doug Marrone pushed his chips in the table when he elevated Henne to the starting job for this game after Blake Bortles‘ latest letdown and nothing that happened Thursday night should change that.
Henne completed 8-of-13 passes for 74 yards while taking three sacks. He misfired on a few open throws but also had two beautiful vertical throws, one of which was dropped. The Jaguars recorded only seven first downs while the team’s running game and rookie left tackle Cam Robinson struggled, a reminder that the quarterback position is only one of the problems on the Jaguars offense. After the game, Marrone bemoaned the offensive line’s mistakes and wouldn’t tip his hand about a permanent decision at quarterback.
Bortles was better this week coming off the bench in the second half, but it’s hard to say he made a push for the starting job when his first drive ended with a fluttering pass that was intercepted. Bortles later constructed two touchdown drives, completing 12-of-16 passes for 125 yards, one touchdown and the pick. He benefited from playing behind the Jaguars‘ first team offensive line going against Panthers backups and third-stringers.
The most telling moment of the night came with under two minutes left, when third-stringer Brandon Allen finally into the action. The Jaguars crowd gave Allen perhaps their biggest ovation of the night, a sign they aren’t enamored with the idea of Henne or Bortles starting Week 1. It looks like they won’t have a choice.
Here’s what else we learned during Thursday’s two games:
1. Cam Newton had a perfect, if brief, return to the field from March shoulder surgery against Jacksonville. He threw only two passes, both completions for 21 yards, in a touchdown drive where Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey shared eight runs. This is coach Ron Rivera’s dream: a diverse running game split between two talented backs, with as few passes as possible mixed in.
2. Newton wasn’t the only key Panther coming back from injury. Rookie second-round receiver Curtis Samuel made his pro debut, and was targeted six times for four catches and only 15 yards. Rivera has to be thrilled his team is getting healthier in time for Week 1.
3. Keep an eye on veteran Jaguars receiver Allen Hurns over the next week. It was eye-opening to see him playing with backups deep into the game. Hurns signed a $40 million contract only a season ago, but appears to be out of favor with Marrone’s staff.
4. Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler don’t care about playing it safe. Occasionally late on throws in his game against the Eagles, Cutler was extremely aggressive throwing it down the field in an attempt to let his talented wideouts make plays on the ball. It paid off with a pretty 72-yard strike to DeVante Parker and a 42-yard penalty on a pass interference. (Both plays victimized newest Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby.)
Cutler wasn’t perfect during his eventful five drives because of a few late throws and a fumble, but Thursday was a nice step forward. He’s going to give Parker, Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills chances to make plays.
5. That Cutler fumble wasn’t exactly his fault. Dolphins left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who had a rough night overall, gave up a clean sack to Philadelphia’s Vinny Curry. The Dolphins desperately need Tunsil to live up to the hype after they said goodbye to Branden Albert this offseason.
6. You would never know that Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi missed time in training camp with a concussion. He’s looked as impressive as any veteran running back in the preseason, running with abandon while piling up 53 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries.
7. It was telling to see second-year Eagles running back Wendell Smallwood splitting first-team reps with LeGarrette Blount. Smallwood has struggled to stay healthy in camp, but he adds juice to an Eagles running game that could use it. His four carries for 28 yards should help his bid for a Week 1 role and he appears to be ahead of rookie Donnel Pumphrey.
8. Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks is in position for the prestigious Defensive Player of the Preseason award after intercepting his third pass of the month. That won’t guarantee him a starting job, but perhaps it will inspire other teams to call general manager Howie Roseman about a potential trade.
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