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Week 11 Monday 10-pack

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

Nine days after 11-11-11, the 11th Sunday of the 2011 regular season was played.

In the AFC, we’re no closer to knowing which teams are the best teams.  In the NFC, ineffectiveness and injuries are allowing two franchises with eight Lombardi Trophies between them to continue to separate from the pack.

But let’s go deeper than the same-old “if the season ended today” scenarios or the other fairly obvious stuff you’ll see on certain four-letter networks today.

For some reason, I always can come up with only 10 things to say.

1.  Moral victory for the Bucs.

They say there are no moral victories.  I say “they” say a lot of things, plenty of which are wrong.

In this specific case, here’s why.

Blown out 48-3 by the 49ers and 37-9 by the Texans, the Bucs desperately needed to avoid a similar fate at Lambeau Field.  It wasn’t looking good early, what with the Packers up 14-0.

But the Bucs scratched and clawed their way back into the game, making it competitive and keeping the score respectable.  For coach Raheem Morris, whose contract situation puts the team in a fire-him-extend-him-or-let-him-do-the-lame-duck-thing trilemma for 2012, avoiding an embarrassment was the next best thing to pulling what would have been a most unlikely upset.

That said, a couple of ill-advised onside kicks likely won’t help the “keep Raheem” cause.  Overall, however, the Bucs have nothing about which to be ashamed — apart from their recent effort to make excuses for their 4-6 record by pointing out how difficult their schedule is.

2.  Michael Bush, Kevin Smith prove the fungible nature of tailbacks.

On Sunday morning, an item from one of the Bay Area websites presumed that Raiders running back Michael Bush will be swimming in gold coins come free agency in 2012.  Though Bush definitely won’t be pitching a tent in Zucotti Park, he will still be earning a fraction of the game’s truly elite backs.

Bush, while talented, possesses skills that aren’t uncommon at the NFL level.  Every year, college programs throughout the country churn out men who will move the chains, with competent blocking.  Though Bush, who would have been a first-round pick but for a gruesome leg injury in the first game of his final season at Louisville, lands on the high end of the curve, he’s not in the Adrian Peterson/Chris Johnson financial district, yet.

The performance of guys like Lions’ reclamation project Kevin Smith underscores that point, and eventually will undermine Bush’s case for big dollars.  Unwanted by the Lions after three seasons with the team and drawing zero interest elsewhere, Smith hung around and hung around until the Lions decided that their running game was sufficiently bad to justify bringing back one of the lone bright spots from that 0-16 team of 2008.

Smith responded Sunday with 201 total yards and three touchdowns.

Though the performance may have given Smith a short-term assignment pending the return of Jahvid Best, Kevin Smith’s career nevertheless will be remembered more like Timmy’s than Emmitt’s.  Yes, playing the position requires speed and toughness and courage and durability.  But of all the things that NFL players are required to do (other than kicking, punting, holding, and long-snapping), those traits seem to be the most common.

That’s why only a few get paid a ton of money, and that’s why veterans like Larry Johnson, Clinton Portis, and Tiki Barber are spending the 2011 season unemployed, and flabbergasted.

3.  Percy Harvin would be special, if he got the touches.

There’s a guy in Minnesota who has those interchangeable tailback skills, but at a far higher level than most.  The only problem is that, for reasons neither known nor apparent, the Vikings don’t use him as much as they should.

Percy Harvin made a big splash in 2009 as a rookie receiver and kickoff returner.  Lost in the shuffle of last year’s disappointing season, Harvin nevertheless had more yards from scrimmage.

This year, with not even a mention of an issue with migraines that previously plagued him at the pro level, his workload hasn’t spiked the way that it should for a third-year player who has shown a ton of potential.

Maybe it’ll come in 2012, after quarterback Christian Ponder gets more comfortable and the Vikings upgrade their offensive line via free agency and/or the draft.  Maybe it’ll eventually have to come after Harvin joins a new team.

Regardless, at some point Percy Harvin deserves a chance to become the total package — whether as a full-time receiver or a part-time wideout/tailback or even as a full-time Darren Sproles-style option out of the backfield.  Harvin could be so much better than he has been, and he’s one of the few true stars that remain on the roster of a 2-8 team.

4.  Caveat emptor, quarterback edition.

Titans tailback Chris Johnson still isn’t earning his money.  A week after racking up 100-plus rushing yards for the first time since getting paid, Johnson’s average plunged to 1.1, with 13 yards on 12 carries.

The lesson to the Titans, and the rest of the league, is becoming more obvious:  Don’t pay big money to a running back who has held out for all of training camp and the preseason, especially when there are so many others who can do the job.

In Buffalo, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has provided another piece of advice for NFL teams:  Don’t pay an up-and-coming quarterback during the season in which he’s up-and-coming.

Fitzpatrick’s game has evaporated since he put his name at bottom of a six-year, $59 million contract.  Yes, the Bills celebrated the new deal with a 23-0 win against the Redskins in Toronto.  But the team, and most importantly Fitzpatrick, had their mojo (along with their Deux Deux Deuxs) confiscated at the Canadian border.

Outscored 106-26 in games against the Jets, Cowboys, and Dolphins, Buffalo now finds itself in a 2008-style free-fall, with any realistic chances of a postseason appearance riding on the ability to somehow get their groove back.

And, please, don’t point out that the 2001 Patriots were also 5-5 after 10 games.  The Pats’ arrow was pointing up a decade ago.  The Bills’ tank is, by all appearances, on empty.

By giving Fitzpatrick that big contract, it will be harder for the Bills to effectively consider all their options come January, given the money that has been tied up in the contract for Fitzpatrick.

5.  It’s time to extend the goal posts, somehow.

On Sunday, a pair of field goals created a little controversy, due in part to the fact that today’s kickers routinely blast the ball higher than the uprights extend.

In Cleveland, Phil Dawson believed a 38-yarder that would have put the Browns up by seven points late was good, even though the officials disagreed.  The lost three-pointer nearly ended up haunting the Browns, who had to hold off one final charge by the Jaguars.

In Washington, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan didn’t agree that a 39-yard try in overtime from Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey had satisfied the standard for chalking up a field goal.

In both cases, the ability to determine whether the kick was good was complicated by the fact that the ball went above the uprights.

For kicks that go over the U-shaped structure, the rule book requires the ball to pass fully within the outside edge of the uprights.  Which basically means that if an official standing directly under the outside edge of the upright looks straight up and sees no portion of the ball, the kick is good.

Good luck getting in the right spot and making the right judgment while the ball is soaring right through the air at least 30 feet above the ground.

The easy fix would be to make the uprights taller.  Sure, they already look goofy with the extra-long extensions that would dwarf the H-shaped contraptions of yesteryear.  And the laws of physics would result in much greater stress being placed on the corners of the crossbar as wind blows the very tops of even longer beams.

Still, it’s 2011.  The NFL eventually found a fake grass that performs much better than green cement, and the NFL easily could find a material that would perform well when elongated by an extra 10 feet, even in high winds.

At a minimum, the league should consider a high-tech solution that would use sensors or lasers to visibly extend the post, or that would allow the officials to determine easily whether the ball indeed passes inside the outer edge of the uprights.

As the sport grows and the importance of the outcome of each game (or, for the fantasy football crowd, each extra point and field goal) becomes more significant, the league needs to be prepared to take all reasonable steps to iron out any potential glitches in the rules.  After Sunday, it’s obvious that the league needs to address the height of the goal posts.

6.  Sorting out the offsetting penalties in Eagles-Giants.

The PFT email box and Twitter pipeline exploded on Sunday night, after a penalty for illegal use of hands against the Giants during a 50-yard pass to Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson and a post-play taunting penalty on Jackson completely wiped out the gain and gave Philly an unwanted do-over from their own two yard line.

The prevailing thought was that Eagles should have been able to decline the penalty against the Giants, and then to have the 15 yards walked off after the play, giving Philly a 35-yard gain.

But the outcome reflected the proper application of a strange donut hole in the rule book.

The process gets started at Rule 14, Section 1, Article 9:   “If there has been a foul by either team during a down and there is a dead ball foul by the other team in the action immediately after the end of the down, it is a double foul, and all rules for enforcement of double fouls apply (see 14-3-1).”

Regarding double fouls, Article 14, Section 3, Rule 1 provides as follows:  “If there is a double foul . . . without a change of possession, the penalties are offset and the down is replayed at the previous spot.”

In this case, a key exception almost applied, but ultimately didn’t.  “If one of the fouls is of a nature that incurs a 15-yard penalty and the other foul of a double foul normally would result in a loss of 5 yards only (15 yards versus 5 yards),” the rule book states, “the major penalty yardage is to be assessed from the previous spot.”  Since the penalty on the Giants entailed a five-yard penalty AND an automatic first down, the exception didn’t apply in Jackson’s case.  Even if it had (for example, if the Giants had simply been offside), the Eagles would have had the 15 yards walked off (or, in this case, half the distance to the goal) from the previous spot.

Either way, the penalty on the Giants ultimately penalized the Eagles.  Though the officials sorted it all out properly in real time, the rule book definitely needs to be tweaked to prevent such unfair outcomes.

7.  Vince Young clinches a second chance to start.

The stats weren’t pretty, especially with three interceptions and a passer rating of 69.0, but Vince Young’s performance in the clutch during a primetime game for the squad he unintentionally gave the “Dream Team” label could go a long way toward giving him a shot at a starting job in 2012.

After Young signed with the Eagles following his unceremonious exile from Nashville, Eagles president Joe Banner told PFT Live that Young wanted a one-year deal, even though the Eagles had hoped to lock him up for two.  Young’s insistence on a shorter term lets him get back to the market again in March. Even if he doesn’t take another snap this year, he has done enough to earn extra consideration in this quarterback-need league.

Young, quite simply, is Tim Tebow plus the ability to throw the ball reasonably accurately, albeit unconventionally.  Young still can perform at a high level; the challenge will be to match him up with a coach who’ll be able to shepherd Young through the adversity he’ll inevitably face as a starting quarterback.

Young faced plenty of it last night, and he did enough to keep the “Dream” alive, even if it dies for good next week against the Patriots.

8.  Eli catches the Romo disease.

Two weeks ago, many were singing the praises of Peyton Manning’s kid brother.  Since then, Eli has been playing like the evil twin of Tony Romo.

Late turnovers in losses to the 49ers and the Eagles have dropped the Giants from 6-2 to 6-4, plunging them into a tie with the Cowboys and giving the Eagles a glimmer of hope, especially since Philly currently holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over both Dallas and New York.

In each of the last three weeks, Eli’s passer rating for the season has dropped.  And last night’s 74.0 doesn’t take into account the play that killed the Giants’ late hopes for a comeback — a fumble when Eli was hit from behind by Jason Babin.

As the Giants find themselves in the midst of yet another late-season collapse, Eli needs to find a way to turn those late opportunities into something other than turnovers.  If he can’t, plenty of jobs could be turning over in New York after the season ends.

9.  Bears could be in a real bind.

Peter King explained late night for an exclusive SNF Extra video that the thumb injury to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler could be a killer for Chicago.  Contrary to the classic design of the Mike Martz offense, Cutler had been moving more out of the pocket in order to buy time behind a work-in-progress offensive line.

With Caleb Hanie getting the nod, the Bears either need to get him comfortable doing what Cutler was doing, or hope the offensive line gets a lot better.

In the interim, it could mean more reps for Matt Forte, who’ll only add to his pay-the-man case if the Bears climb onto his back while Cutler is out.

And as to anyone who thinks that my lobbying last week for the Texans to pursue Brett Favre in lieu of Matt Leinart applies to the Bears, my perceived lunacy doesn’t extend to Illinois.  The Martz offense is too complex, the Bears are too cheap, and Martz is too obsessive-compulsive to ever make Favre a potential match there, even though it would give Brett a shot at the Vikings and at least one crack at the Pack.

The best bet for the Bears is to hunker down with Hanie, and hope for the best.

Unless Marc Bulger, who ran the Martz offense in St. Louis, decides to emerge from retirement.

10.  Catching up with what’s a catch.

It had been five weeks since the last time the Calvin Johnson rule reared its head in a game situation.  On Sunday, the Bengals lost a touchdown pass to Jermaine Gresham via the application of a rule that routinely defies with the expectations of the reasonable fan.

Gresham bobbled the ball near the end zone, got possession of it in the vicinity of the goal line, took two steps, fell to the ground with the ball in one hand, and lost the ball when the hand holding it struck the ground.

This year, the league has emphasized the element of time, treating such plays as valid receptions if the receiver who, while going to the ground, had enough time to make a football move, regardless of whether a football move was actually made.  And that seems to be what Gresham did.  Or at least could have done.

Perhaps more importantly, the fact the officials in real-time called it a catch (and thus a touchdown) would require conclusive 100-drunks-in-a-bar evidence to overturn the play.  With the question of whether Gresham had enough time to make a football move a topic that strays into the realm of professional judgment, referee Ron Winter should have deferred to the ruling on the field that Gresham had possession long enough to make a football move.

The outcome reconfirms that the league needs to clean up the rule book once and for all regarding what is and what isn’t a catch when a receiver hits the ground.  The “football move” exception is a twist on the uncodified “second act” rule, which allowed the requirement of maintaining possession through the ground to be disregarded when the receiver manages to break the plane of the goal line while falling.

The NFL needs to just start over, crafting a simple rule that the officials can consistently apply — and that meshes with what a reasonable person would regard to be a catch, or not a catch.

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Kaepernick sits during national anthem

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick throws the ball during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Green Bay Packers on Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar) AP

On a night that was supposed to be significant for what 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did on the field, what he didn’t do while off the field will create even bigger headlines.

During the playing of the national anthem, Kaepernick sat.

The 49ers have confirmed that Kaepernick did not stand for the anthem, and they have issued the following statement.

“The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony,” the team said in a statement issued to PFT. “It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose to participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”

It’s unclear why Kaepernick sat. However, Kaepernick retweeted the following message on Thursday, which accompanied images of the American and Confederate flags: “The fact that you really believe that there is difference in these flags means that your [sic] ignoring history.”

At a time when NFL players are criticized for not speaking out on social issues, Kaepernick has provided a very significant and conspicuous gesture. As the team noted, it’s his right to do so. But given that Kaepernick opted to make a stand by sitting during the traditional pregame honoring of the country and its flag — which is so tightly woven into the DNA of the NFL — there surely will be a reaction.

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Carlos Hyde suffers concussion against Packers

San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde, left, fights off a tackle by Denver Broncos defensive back Shiloh Keo during the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey) AP

At a time when the 49ers don’t know who their starting quarterback will be in 17 days against the Rams, there’s a chance they won’t know who their starting tailback will be, at least for a while.

Via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, Carlos Hyde suffered a concussion on Friday night against the Packers. He has been placed in the concussion protocol, which means that an independent neurologist will have to clear him to practice or to play.

Hyde was effective in the game, rushing four times for 30 yards — including a long of 27. He missed nine games due to injury in 2015.

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Kaepernick thinks he can still win the starting job

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, left, greets Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers at the end of an NFL preseason football game Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. Green Bay won 21-10. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar) AP

After a lackluster performance on Friday night in his return to the field for the first time since being benched for Blaine Gabbert last year, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick expressed optimism regarding the possibility of reclaiming his job.

“Yeah, I think so,” Kaepernick told reporters regarding whether he thinks he can still be named the Week One starter. “I mean, that’s really up to [coach] Chip [Kelly] and the coaching staff. But in my mind I think I can go out and win it.”

Kaepernick, who completed two of six passes for 14 yards on Friday night, specifically believes he can win it by being “more productive” in the fourth preseason game. Typically, however, the starters don’t play in the fourth preseason game. So if he’s playing on Thursday night, chances are he won’t be the starter — unless Kelly decides to let Gabbert and Kaepernick continue their competition in the final preseason game.

Kaepernick added that he would have liked to have played more on Friday night, even if that meant playing behind the second-string offensive line.

“I just wanna play,” Kaepernick said.

Kelly told reporters that he has not yet set a timetable for picking a starting quarterback. The candidates are Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert, and (theoretically) newcomer Christian Ponder or rookie Jeff Driskel.

Kaepernick is due to earn $11.9 million this year, fully guaranteed. He’ll also earn an extra $125,000 for each game in which he’s on the active, 46-man roster. Which gives the 49ers 125,000 to deactivate him in each and every week that he isn’t the starter.

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Chip Kelly: “There’s never been a conversation about cutting Colin Kaepernick”

San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick, left, and Blaine Gabbert stand on the sideline during the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the Green Bay Packers on Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. Green Bay won 21-10. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar) AP

So what will the 49ers do with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, if he doesn’t win the starting job? They can pay him not to play, they can try to trade him, or they can cut him.

As to the last option, coach Chip Kelly told reporters after Friday night’s preseason game against the Packers: “There’s never been a conversation about cutting Colin Kaepernick.”

Technically, the fact that there hasn’t been a conversation doesn’t mean that a conversation isn’t coming. It also doesn’t mean that the move won’t happen without a conversation. Ownership may simply decide to move on, regardless of what Kelly or anyone else thinks.

Regardless, it’s looking unlikely that Kaepernick will start Week One against the Rams or that, if he does, he’ll hold the job for very long.

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Kaepernick doesn’t do much to stake claim to starting job

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, left, runs with the ball as Green Bay Packers defensive end Datone Jones pursues during the first half of an NFL preseason football game Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar) AP

On multiple occasions in the past, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has bedeviled the Packers. In his first game action of 2016, however, Kaepernick didn’t do much against Green Bay to gain ground on current starter Blaine Gabbert.

Kaepernick completed two of six passes for 14 yards and rushed four times for 18. The only good news for Kaepernick is that Gabbert didn’t look much better. Still, Kaepernick hardly did enough to supplant Gabbert as the starter.

At a time when a strange vibe continues to emanate from the organization and Kaepernick regarding their relationship, some (me) have speculated that Friday night was aimed in part at showcasing Kaepernick in a last-ditch effort to trade him. If, as expected, no one is interested in adding him at this stage of the calendar, the team will have to decide whether to cut him or carry him on the 53-man roster.

If he’s cut, the 49ers could save a portion of his $11.9 million guaranteed salary, since an offset would apply to whatever he makes elsewhere. If they keep him, he’ll get it all.

If he gets it all, at some point they should play him, right? The problem with playing Kaepernick is that, if he emerges from 2016 with an injury, the 49ers may not be able to cut him before next year’s base salary of $14.5 million becomes fully guaranteed on April 1.

There’s a chance, then, that they’ll put him in bubble wrap, RGIII-style, waiting for a starter elsewhere to suffer a season-ending injury but otherwise not letting Kaepernick get on the field for fear of chasing this year’s $11.9 million with another $14.5 million next year.

Regardless of how it all shakes out, the strange vibe lingers, making it hard to imagine Kaepernick ever playing another regular-season game for the team he nearly led to a Super Bowl win four years ago.

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Jay Gruden says Bryan Stork still has a decision to make

Super Bowl XLIX Media Day Fueled by Gatorade Getty Images

First Bryan Stork was supposed to be cut. Then Stork was supposed to be retiring. Then it was announced that Stork had been traded from New England to Washington.

But Stork still hasn’t reported to his new team, and we still haven’t heard from Stork directly whether he plans to play or not. And after tonight’s preseason game, Washington coach Jay Gruden indicated that he isn’t certain whether Stork will play.

Instead, Gruden said Stork will “supposedly” report for work tomorrow but has a “final decision” to make tonight.

So it may still be possible that Stork will decide not to play this season, which would void his trade and give Washington back the draft pick it sent to New England. Stork’s rights would then revert to the Patriots, who could waive him or put him on the reserve/retired list.

From all indications, Washington still thinks Stork will be on its roster. But we don’t know that for sure yet.

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Roberto Aguayo makes all his kicks on Friday night

Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo (19) reacts after kicking a field goal against the Cleveland Browns during the first quarter of an NFL football game Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) AP

A trying week for Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo ended on a positive note.

Aguayo made all six kicks he tried on Friday night as the Buccaneers turned in a strong showing on both sides of the ball while beating the Browns 30-13 in Tampa. Aguayo made field goals from 48, 21 and 27 yards and made all three of his extra point attempts.

That’s a sharp change from the first two weeks of preseason. Aguayo missed two field goals and an extra point, leading to much scrutiny of a player who the Buccaneers traded up to select in the second round of this year’s draft. Aguayo followed that up with more misses in Tuesday’s practice, which led to hooting and heckling from a home crowd and responses from other members of the NFL’s kicking fraternity.

All that will likely return when and if Aguayo misses a few kicks during the regular season, but, for now, a player who made 88.5 percent of his field goals and all of his extra points in college has put himself back on track.

That’s a good thing for the Bucs on a night full of them. Jameis Winston threw for 259 yards in the first half, Mike Evans had 115 receiving yards on five catches and the defense recorded nine sacks to go with Aguayo’s successful evening.

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Aaron Rodgers plays two series in his preseason debut/finale

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, right, drops back to throw as San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Eli Harold, left, closes in during the first half of an NFL preseason football game Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) AP

Aaron Rodgers looked less rusty in his preseason debut than the Packers teammates around him.

But the Packers quarterback didn’t need long to remind us who he was.

Rodgers played a quarter in his preseason debut, and led an impressive touchdown drive during his time in there, hitting Randall Cobb for the score.

On his first drive, Rodgers had to scramble around too much, as the protection wasn’t quite to regular season standards. But he used his feet to buy some time, and made a few positive plays.

The 14-play touchdown drive was a methodical one, a good day’s work for the guy who was held out of the first three preseason contests (including the Hall of Fame Non-Game). He’s probably not going to play much if at all next week in the preseason finale, as should be the case.

Rodgers finished the night 6-of-9 passing for 60 yards and the touchdown.

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Josh Gordon gives Browns a taste of what they were missing

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 07:  Josh Gordon #12 of the Cleveland Browns carries the ball during the first quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 7, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Friday night’s game against the Buccaneers hasn’t gone well overall for the Browns, but there’s been one big bright spot.

In his first game since Week 16 of the 2014 season, wide receiver Josh Gordon has provided the team with a pair of reminders of why they stuck with him through his suspension and why they reportedly asked for a healthy return from teams inquiring about trading for Gordon.

The first came on the first Browns possession of the game when Gordon beat Buccaneers cornerback Brent Grimes on a double move and reeled in a 44-yard catch from Robert Griffin III on one of the few dropbacks that saw the quarterback get time to throw. Gordon would then give Cleveland its first touchdown of the night in the second quarter when he used his size to beat out Grimes for a slightly underthrown ball from Griffin for a 43-yard touchdown.

They’ll have to wait out four more games to get him on the field in the regular season, but the glimpse of Gordon’s playmaking ability was a tantalizing one on Friday night.

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Bucs beating up Browns in all three phases

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston throws a pass against the Cleveland Browns during the first quarter of an NFL football game Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) AP

The Browns’ night got off to a decent enough start when they forced a field goal on the first Buccaneers possession and then kicked one of their own after a 44-yard pass to Josh Gordon offered a reminder of what the wideout can do when he’s in the lineup.

Things have gone downhill from there. Jameis Winston has two touchdown passes, Adam Humphries returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown and Robert Griffin III has been sacked four times as Tampa has built a 27-3 second quarter lead at home.

Winston has had plenty of time to throw the ball most of the night and he’s capitalized on big gains to Humphries, Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, including a 34-yard touchdown to Evans in the second quarter. The run game hasn’t been quite as effective, but Winston’s 12-of-18/232-yard line makes up for any sluggishness on the ground.

The defense has kept the Browns in check and the Browns haven’t helped with errors of their own. Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor has an offensive pass interference, tackle Austin Pasztor wiped out a first down with a holding penalty and center Cameron Erving hasn’t looked good in the middle of Cleveland’s line.

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Rough half for starting QBs, but that Tom Brady kid on the bench is OK

New England Patriots' Jimmy Garoppolo (10) is hit by Carolina Panthers' Thomas Davis (58) as he throws a pass during the first half of a preseason NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Aug. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn) AP

It’s a good thing the Patriots had that Tom Brady kid coming off the bench.

Because otherwise, the starting quarterbacks in Charlotte had a pretty rough night.

Cam Newton threw two interceptions on a listless night for the Panthers offense, and Jimmy Garoppolo made sure people would miss Brady when his four-game suspension was over.

Garoppolo was 5-of-9 for 37 yards passing, doing nothing to inspire confidence with what he had with the starting offense (minus tight end Rob Gronkowski, because it’s the preseason).

Brady came in late in the first quarter and gave the Patriots a brief spark, leading a touchdown drive. But on the whole, he wasn’t great either, 3-of-9 for 76 yards in the first half.

Newton’s side was even worse. In his first six series, the Panthers had three three-and-outs, two picks and a dropped fourth-down conversion attempt. He was 8-of-20 passing for 62 yards in the first half, a forgettable night for the MVP.

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Terron Armstead, Cam Heyward, Marcus Gilbert all leave early with injuries

New Orleans Saints tackle Terron Armstead (72) shows off his dance moves during the NFL football teams training camp in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Chris Tilley) AP

The Steelers and Saints have both seen some key members of their lineups depart with injuries in the first half of their game at the Superdome.

Saints left tackle Terron Armstead left the game shortly after picking up a holding penalty and went back to the locker room. There’s been no announcement from the team about his status and Tony Hills has been manning the left side of the line since his departure.

The Saints also saw tight end Michael Hoomanawanui carted off with what looked like a left leg injury.

On the Steelers side, defensive end Cam Heyward was carted off with a bag of ice on his right ankle and right tackle Marcus Gilbert has departed with an elbow injury. Safety Shamarko Thomas was also ruled out for the rest of the night after suffering a groin injury.

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Steelers starting offense looks just fine in first preseason action

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) works against the New Orleans Saints during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Butch Dill) AP

The Steelers rested many of their key offensive players in the first two weeks of the preseason, but there’s no sign of rust in Week Three.

The Steelers have scored touchdowns on both of their possessions in the first half and they’ve looked quite good doing it. Ben Roethlisberger used no huddle for most of the opening 15-play, 74-yard march to the end zone and capped the drive by evading the rush and tossing a four-yard score to tight end Jesse James.

The Saints forced the Steelers into a third down quickly on the next Steelers possession, but Antonio Brown beat Saints corner De’Vante Harris for a 57-yard score that extended Pittsburgh’s lead to 14-0.

Roethlisberger is 12-of-17 for 148 yards, Le’Veon Bell has run twice for 15 yards and caught a pass for 13 more and six different players have caught passes already in a performance that should leave the Steelers feeling full of confidence about their offense heading into the regular season.

UPDATE 8:44 p.m. ET: And that’s all the Steelers needed to see from Roethlisberger. Landry Jones is in the game for the third Steelers possession.

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Washington loses Ryan Kerrigan, Keith Marshall to injuries

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 12:  Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan #91 of the Washington Redskins on the sidelines during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 12, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Redskins 30-20.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Injuries are always a problem in the preseason. But when they come at the same position, teams have to worry.

As such, Washington’s may have to start looking for running backs and pass-rushers.

The team announced that rookie running back Keith Marshall would not return tonight, after suffering a sprained elbow in their preseason game against the Bills.

Coupled with outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan leaving with a groin injury, it’s a rough night for Washington. The team announced that Kerrigan would not return.

Starting running back Matt Jones isn’t going to play again in the preseason because of a shoulder sprain, leaving them short on numbers.

Rookie Robert Kelly’s going to get plenty of work now, and he seems to be doing his part to earn the backup job, and potentially more.

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Buccaneers make a field goal, lose a wideout to injury

TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 26:  Kicker Roberto Aguayo #19 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers warms up before the start of an NFL game against the Cleveland Browns on August 26, 2016 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images) Getty Images

Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo’s night got off to a good start.

After their opening drive stalled inside Cleveland territory, the Buccaneers sent Aguayo into the game to try a 48-yard field goal that was watched a bit more closely than many other preseason field goal attempts. Aguayo has missed two field goals and an extra point already this offseason, but he nailed the kick to put the Bucs up 3-0 on Friday night.

Jameis Winston moved the team with nice throws to Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans before things slowed down as they neared the red zone.

The news hasn’t been all good for the Bucs thus far, however. Wide receiver/kick returner Donteea Dye is out for the rest of the game after hurting his hamstring, which will provide more opportunities for Kenny Bell and other wideouts trying for spots at the back end of the depth chart.

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