Highlights, Winners, and Losers From Thursday’s Preseason Games

The NFL is back. While last week’s Hall of Fame Game kind of, sort of marked the return of football, Thursday night’s action — featuring a Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots opener followed by a Minnesota Vikings vs. Seattle Seahawks nightcap — officially kicked off the preseason.

Who stood out in tonight’s games? Let’s run through all the NFL scores, highlights, winners, and losers from Thursday evening.

Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots: Tank Dell, Keion White Steal the Show While C.J. Stroud Struggles

While neither the Texans nor the Patriots played many of their starters, we could still gain some intel on how both teams view their current depth charts. Multiple players made an impact on Thursday night, including one Day 2 rookie from each club.

FINAL SCORE: Texans 20, Patriots 9

Winner | Texans WR Tank Dell

Tank Dell led the NCAA in receiving yards and touchdowns last season and totaled 228 catches over three seasons at the University of Houston before the Texans selected him in the third round of April’s draft. So maybe it shouldn’t have been all that surprising that Dell was ready to contribute in his first NFL action.

Dell proved electric from the slot, where he was free to manipulate defenders without worrying about press coverage. His short-area burst was consistently on display as he gained yards after the catch on multiple slant routes. But Dell’s best moment was a Jermaine Kearse-esque catch that required intense concentration as he held on after a bobble to score a touchdown.

Dell, who finished with a 5-65-1 line, showed playmaking ability that will be sorely needed among Houston’s receiving corps. The Texans don’t have a clear No. 1 receiver — while Dell will need to compete with Nico Collins, Robert Woods, John Metchie, and others for snaps, his performance in Houston’s first preseason game should be eye-opening for the club’s coaching staff.

Winner | Patriots EDGE Keion White

If any player was on Dell’s level during Thursday night’s game, it was Keion White, the Patriots’ second-round pick who dominated Houston’s offensive line in Week 1. While White didn’t register a sack, he caused persistent pressure, played with high energy, and routinely destroyed the blockers in front of him.

New England already has a solid tandem of pass-rushing specialists in Matthew Judon and Josh Uche, but they’ll have to find a way to get White on the field early and often. He showed the versatility to line up from various alignments against the Texans and consistently won his one-on-one matchups, regardless of who was trying to stop him.

Loser | Texans QB C.J. Stroud

Take this with a massive grain of salt. C.J. Stroud played two series, which amounted to 12 offensive snaps. He threw four total passes.

Sure, Stroud’s second NFL pass was intercepted by Patriots defensive back Jalen Mills, whom Stroud clearly didn’t see was roaming in quarters coverage.

But Stroud was playing behind a Texans offensive line without multiple starters — and it showed. Stroud, who was rarely under pressure at Ohio State, faced constant duress against the Patriots.

He took a sack and held onto the ball for too long at times, but he also showed an ability to navigate the pocket and use his mobility.

It’s nearly impossible to judge Stroud based on his Thursday night effort.

For now, it’s a positive sign that Houston opted to start the rookie in their first preseason game, a clear indication that Stroud is on track to start in Week 1.

After the game, Stroud suggested that he wanted to play longer than he did.

“It’s tough,” Stroud said. “I mean, the competitor in me was like, ‘Coach, let me go back out there. Let me fix my wrongdoings.’ But like you said, it is just preseason. It’s a learning opportunity for myself and really this whole football team, and it was good to kind of see the second group in there.”

Winner | Patriots DB Jalen Mills

Jalen Mills has appeared in 89 NFL games, made 75 starts, and played nearly 5,000 defensive snaps in his seven-year pro career. But you wouldn’t have guessed he was a veteran based on the energy he brought to New England’s first preseason contest of the season.

Mills picked off Stroud (as seen in the clip above), but that wasn’t the only play he made. He was impactful in the run game and generally played with the sort of attitude that we might expect from an undrafted rookie trying to make the squad.

Mills has played all over the field for the Patriots over the past two seasons.

He lined up in multiple places again tonight, including safety and the star/nickel corner role.

Loser | Offensive Line Play

It was a rough night if you like offensive line play. Both Houston’s and New England’s offenses struggled to get anything going, and a large part of both clubs’ problem was the blocking up front.

On one hand, we might have seen the OL issues coming. Three of the Texans’ starters — left tackle Laremy Tunsil, right guard Shaq Mason, and right tackle Tytus Howard — didn’t play. And the Patriots didn’t play a single starting offensive lineman.

But NFL teams often need quite a bit of OL depth over the course of a long season, and neither Houston nor New England can be pleased by what they saw on Thursday night. Texans right tackle Austin Deculus played particularly poorly against the Pats’ pass rush — if Howard (broken hand) isn’t ready for Week 1, look for veteran George Fant to fill in at RT.

Winner | Patriots WR Tyquan Thornton

Tyquan Thorton made arguably made the play of the night when he hauled in a 27-yard first-quarter pass from Bailey Zappe. Thornton, New England’s second-round pick in 2022, fought through press coverage and contact before high-pointing the ball and making an outstanding grab.

However, we’d almost prefer to give Thornton an incomplete grade for the night. The fact that he was even playing on Thursday night — while other receivers like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kendrick Bourne, and DeVante Parker sat — likely means Thornton is, at best, fourth on the Patriots’ WR depth chart.

Plus, Thornton didn’t even start tonight’s game. That honor went to sixth-round rookies Kayshon Boutte and Demario Douglas, while Thornton only saw time in “11” personnel packages with three wide receivers on the field.

Winner | Patriots QB Malik Cunningham

Malik Cunningham was the third quarterback to enter tonight’s game for New England on a night when Mac Jones didn’t start, which speaks to Cunningham’s slot on the depth chart.

But Cunningham was incredibly impressive on Thursday night, especially when you consider that he’s spent most of training camp working as a wide receiver. Cunningham, who threw for nearly 3,000 yards and rushed for 1,000+ more for Louisville in 2021, started seeing QB reps at recent practice sessions.

Cunningham completed three of his four attempts, but his best throw came on his sole incompletion, when Pats WR Tre Nixon dropped what would have been a definite touchdown pass. But Cunningham showed his rushing prowess by scoring on a nine-yard run.

Minnesota Vikings vs. Seattle Seahawks: Yes, Jordan Addison Made That Catch

Vikings-Seahawks closed out Thursday’s preseason action with a matchup that featured several winners but few losers.

FINAL SCORE: Seahawks 24, Vikings 13

Winner | The Backup QBs

Geno Smith and Kirk Cousins both sat out of tonight’s game, allowing Drew Lock and Nick Mullens to take center stage during the first week of the preseason.

Lock couldn’t get much going until Seattle’s fourth drive, when he went three-for-three for 47 yards, including a 12-yard TD pass to Easop Winston Jr.

Lock, who didn’t play a single snap for the Seahawks after coming over in the Russell Wilson trade, will once again serve as Smith’s backup in 2023. He finished Thursday 17-of-24 for 121 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception and even rushed for a first down on a zone-read play.

On the other side of the field, Nick Mullens didn’t have the arm strength to rip throws like Lock, but he was still capable of moving the ball. The Vikings hope that Mullens never has to see the field next season, but he’s a much better option than the backup QBs Minnesota had on the roster before they acquired Mullens last August.


Winner | Vikings RB Ty Chandler

The Vikings’ RB2 competition appears to be all but over — if it was ever a real battle to begin with.

Ty Chandler handled the lion’s share of Minnesota’s backfield touches in the first half and played like a workhorse. He ultimately took 11 touches for 41 yards, but that stat line doesn’t do him justice. Chandler consistently made defenders miss, broke tackles, and served as a viable checkdown option in the passing game.

Chandler handled 22 of the Vikings’ 29 RB snaps while the first-team offense was still on the field. His ability in pass protection should help him get on the field behind Alexander Mattison once the regular season starts, as Chandler is comfortably ahead of DeWayne McBride and Kene Nwangwu in Minnesota’s running back pecking order.

Winner | Jordan Addison’s Toe Tap

NFL referees are in preseason mode too. This catch by Jordan Addison was ruled incomplete even though he clearly got both feet down. The Vikings didn’t challenge the play because, well, it’s the preseason.

Addison wasn’t credited with that reception, but he proved himself a tremendous route runner. He only finished with one catch for 22 yards, but he probably could have taken that reception further had Mullens not thrown the ball behind him.

The first-round pick from USC is in line to replace Adam Thielen, who finished with the second-most routes run in the NFL (behind only his teammate Justin Jefferson). If Addison can get open as he did on Thursday, he should be able to make the most of his opportunity.

Winner | Seahawks RB Zach Charbonnet

Zach Charbonnet saw a lot of action in Seattle’s first preseason game, which would typically indicate he’s well behind Kenneth Walker III on the Seahawks’ RB depth chart. But given that Charbonnet just returned to practice after dealing with a shoulder injury, Pete Carroll and Co. were likely trying to ensure the second-round rookie had plenty of reps.

Charbonnet exuded physicality against the Vikings, which is sure to endear him to Caroll and Seattle’s coaching staff. He also caught two passes out of the backfield — he’s likely to be asked to handle a pass-catching role behind Walker during his rookie campaign.

Loser | Vikings S Lewis Cine

Lewis Cine missed most of his rookie season in 2022 after suffering a serious leg injury in Week 4. He’s now healthy, but his first action of the season didn’t necessarily go as planned.

Cine, the final pick of the first round in last year’s draft, got blown up on multiple collisions with Charbonnet and also seemed to take the wrong angle in coverage on several plays.

Cine made a few nice plays and showed exceptional closing speed while tackling Jaxon Smith-Njigba. But Cine, who is not in line to start at safety, made enough mistakes to get noticed.

Winner | Vikings ST NaJee Thompson

Want to earn a spot on an NFL roster as an undrafted rookie free agent? Make plays on special teams like Vikings defensive back NaJee Thompson did on Thursday.

Thompson executed the hit above to perfection, timing it perfectly to avoid a penalty. But that wasn’t all he did. Thompson later downed a punt at the 2-yard line and repeatedly beat attempted jams as a gunner.

A Georgia Southern product, Thompson is still a long shot to make the Vikings’ 53-man roster, but he put solid play on tape on Thursday.

Loser | Preseason Injuries

There was a scary scene at Lumen Field on Thursday night when Seahawks receiver Cade Johnson was immobilized and taken off the field on a stretcher at halftime. Seattle later announced that Johnson was being transported to Harborview Medical Center “as a precaution” to be evaluated for head and neck injuries.

As detailed by The Athletic’s Michael Shawn-Dugar, Johnson took a hard fall while returning a kickoff in the second quarter but continued to play. He was taken to the blue medical tent with four minutes remaining in the quarter and evaluated for the remainder of the half — roughly 20 minutes in real time — before being carted off the field.

Johnson, 25, signed with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent in 2021 after playing college football at South Dakota State. He appeared in three games last season, posting two catches for 21 yards.

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