NFL preseason Week 2 is (nearly) in the books. While we still have games to come on Sunday and Monday night, most clubs have wrapped up their second week of exhibition action. Which players and position groups stood out over the weekend, and who failed to maximize their opportunities? Here are the winners and losers from Week 2 of the NFL preseason.
NFL Preseason Week 2 Winners and Losers
Winner | Brock Purdy, QB, San Francisco 49ers
Five months after undergoing surgery to repair the UCL injury he suffered in last year’s NFC title game, Brock Purdy was back on the field for the 49ers. Purdy was efficient on San Francisco’s opening drive, completing four of five attempts for 65 yards while completing passes to Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and Jauan Jennings.
Purdy also rushed for eight yards and nearly reached the end zone on his run, but he fell just short and was tackled at the 2-yard line.
A look at Brock Purdy’s opening drive to start the game pic.twitter.com/7iBPMZszCh
— Coach Yac 🗣 (@Coach_Yac) August 20, 2023
For most of the offseason, the 49ers had been adamant that Purdy was on track to be ready for the start of the regular season. He’s slowly ramped up his throwing over the past several months and looked more than comfortable against the Denver Broncos on Saturday night.
Sam Darnold and Trey Lance, competing to work behind Purdy as San Francisco’s No. 2 QB, played well in Week 2. Darnold went 11 of 14 for 109 yards, one score, and an interception, although the pick bounced off rookie WR Ronnie Bell. Lance led the 49ers on an eight-play, 64-yard field goal drive to win the game as time expired.
Winner | Darren Waller, TE, New York Giants
The New York Giants acquired Darren Waller from the Las Vegas Raiders with the idea he’d be their top weapon in the passing game, and the veteran tight end showed an impressive connection with Daniel Jones against the Panthers on Friday.
The #Giants design just easy offense
1st play of the game, motion Waller to the boundary stack
Force CB out of press, expand LB, release Waller directly behind Slayton (threaten outside)
Get to the bottom of the numbers and angle inward – easy 6 yards pic.twitter.com/ECnPQqVXpT
— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) August 19, 2023
Waller, who sat out with the rest of New York’s veterans during Week 1 of the preseason, was targeted on four of his eight routes and caught three passes for 30 yards. Displaying his formational versatility, Waller lined up inline four times and twice each in the slot and out wide.
Loser | Buffalo Bills’ Sloppy Offense
It’s just the preseason, but the Buffalo Bills offense didn’t look ready for prime time against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday. Buffalo punted on all three of its drives with Josh Allen and the rest of its starters in the game, and the unit’s performance was relatively disastrous.
The Bills’ offense committed four penalties on its first three series. On their second drive, Buffalo’s offensive line was called for an illegal block above the waist, a false start, and holding on three consecutive plays.
Right tackle Spencer Brown, who committed two of those penalties, looked especially rough against Pittsburgh, but the Bills don’t have much depth behind him. Tommy Doyle, who’d been fighting for a reserve OL spot, had to be carted off the field with his leg in an air cast after suffering a knee injury on Saturday.
Winner | Backup Running Backs
The preseason is time for backup running backs to shine, and several RB2s stood out during Week 2.
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie Tank Bigsby started the action on Saturday afternoon by taking 13 carries for 70 yards against the Detroit Lions. Bigsby, Jacksonville’s third-round pick, should complement Travis Etienne Jr. during his first NFL season.
Jaylen Warren only received one carry for the Steelers, but that was all he needed. Warren, scheduled to back up Najee Harris, turned on the jets for a 62-yard scamper against the Bills.
Jaylen Warren makes a HOUSE CALL 62 YARDS AND GONE pic.twitter.com/rygeDLoJen
— SteelerNation (@SteeIerNation) August 19, 2023
Finally, Tennessee Titans rookie Tyjae Spears closed things out against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday night with an impressive hurdle over Lewis Cine’s tackle attempt en route to a 33-yard touchdown. Spears, who could help alleviate the load on Derrick Henry in Tennessee, reached 20.1 mph on his score.
#Titans rookie RB Tyjae Spears could be a PROBLEM 😮💨
If the Tulane product pans out, he could add some mileage to Derrick Henry’s career 👀
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) August 20, 2023
Winner | Green Bay Packers’ Offense
While the Packers won’t feature Aaron Rodgers as their starting QB for the first time since 2008, Green Bay’s offensive future nonetheless looks bright. Jordan Love played three series against the New England Patriots defensive starters, completing five of eight attempts for 84 yards, a touchdown, and — perhaps most importantly — no turnovers.
Backed up on Green Bay’s 8-yard line, Love connected with second-year wideout Romeo Doubs on a beautiful 42-yard shot.
All three angles of the bomb to Doubs.
Great job holding Mills in the middle to guarantee the one-on-one outside.
What a throw, what a catch: pic.twitter.com/8HQbXkmck8
— Ross Uglem (@RossUglem) August 20, 2023
Later on the same drive, Love found rookie pass catcher Jayden Reed for a 19-yard score.
Jordan Love throws a TD to Jayden Reed 🙌
— NFL (@NFL) August 20, 2023
Loser | Carolina Panthers’ Offensive Line
It’s been challenging to get a read on Bryce Young’s performance for the Panthers through two preseason games, if only because Carolina’s offensive line hasn’t given the rookie quarterback much of a chance.
Young was constantly harassed against the New York Jets in Week 1, while the Giants made things difficult on Saturday. Young was only sacked once but was pressured on half of his eight dropbacks.
Ikem Ekwonu gave up the sack, while rookie guard Chandler Zavala — playing in place of an injured Austin Corbett — committed a costly holding penalty that wiped out a 15-yard completion.
Winner | Baker Mayfield, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Baker Mayfield didn’t even play against the Jets on Saturday night, but he’s still walking away from Week 2 as a winner.
Mayfield started Tampa Bay’s first preseason game and had been scheduled to relieve Kyle Trask — whom he’s competing against for the Bucs’ QB1 job — on Saturday. But John Wolford came in ahead of Mayfield, suggesting that the former Brown/Panther/Ram may have already won Tampa Bay’s starting gig.
After the game, head coach Todd Bowles said both Mayfield and Trask will play in the Buccaneers’ preseason finale, but it seems clear that Mayfield has taken a commanding lead in the QB race — if he hasn’t already claimed the job.
Winner | Mekhi Becton, OT, New York Jets
Things are finally beginning to click for Mekhi Becton, the former first-round offensive tackle who has struggled with injuries for most of his Jets career. Becton played 25 snaps against the Bucs on Saturday, spending time at right tackle, a position he previously said he couldn’t play.
Becton looked utterly dominant. He held up in pass protection and didn’t sacrifice any pressures, and he bulldozed defenders in the run game. Given New York’s offensive line issues, Becton — whom head coach Robert Saleh said played with a lot of “energy and juice” should earn first-time RT reps during practice and into Week 3 of the preseason.
Loser | P.J. Walker, QB, Chicago Bears
The Bears gave former Panthers QB P.J. Walker a two-year, $4 million deal ($2 million guaranteed) to back up Justin Fields, but he might be losing his hold on Chicago’s QB2 job.
Walker struggled during training camp and continued to play poorly against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday. He completed just one of four passes for six yards while taking multiple sacks.
— ImBearingDown (@ImBearingDown) August 20, 2023
Walker’s performance left the door for Shepherd University product Tyson Bagent, an undrafted rookie free agent who just happens to hold the NCAA record for career touchdown passes (159). Bagent went 9 for 10 for 76 yards and led the Bears on a 17-play, 92-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter.
“Everything’s open right now,” head coach Matt Eberflus said when asked about Chicago’s backup QB position. “I think if you have a closed mind, then if somebody is rising or executing (you’ll miss it).”
Winner | Nick Herbig, EDGE, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers may have done it again. After finding Alex Highsmith in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Pittsburgh looks to have unearthed another mid-round edge rusher when they selected Wisconsin’s Nick Herbig in Round 4 of this year’s draft.
Oh my god Nick Herbig with the cross chop and that bend around that tight corner. Holy ****! pic.twitter.com/dnimKQtf03
— Nick Martin (@themicknartin) August 20, 2023
Herbig dominated the Buccaneers in Week 1, posting two sacks on just 13 snaps. He continued to wreak havoc against the Bills in Week 2, managing three tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble. If the Steelers can get T.J. Watt, Highsmith, and Herbig on the field together, opposing offensive lines could be in trouble.
Loser | Zonovan Knight, RB, New York Jets
Now that the Jets have signed Dalvin Cook and activated Breece Hall from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, fellow running back Zonovan Knight is firmly on the roster bubble.
Michael Carter didn’t even dress for Saturday’s game, indicating his roster spot is safe. That means Knight is competing with fifth-round rookie Israel Abanikanda for what is likely to be one RB roster spot.
Abanikanda suffered a thigh contusion against the Bucs but should be back soon. Meanwhile, Knight couldn’t take advantage of his starting opportunity. While he averaged 4.1 yards per carry on eight attempts, Knight also lost a fumble and dropped a pass in the receiving game.