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Looking ahead at future Hall of Fame classes

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The seven members of the 2014 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame have received their busts in Canton, Ohio, and now that enshrinement weekend is behind us, let’s look ahead at the players, coaches and contributors who could comprise the next five Hall of Fame classes.

2015

Junior Seau will be eligible for the first time next year, and he’s the one man who looks like a lock for the class of 2015. Seau’s enshrinement will bring up stories about his suicide and questions about whether brain damage on the football field could have led to his depression, but his enshrinement should also be a celebration of one of the greatest linebackers ever to play the game.

Paul Tagliabue, the former commissioner, may be the biggest beneficiary of the Hall of Fame’s new policy of voting on contributors separately from players and coaches. In past Hall of Fame votes, Tagliabue has lost out, but now that he’s no longer competing with players and coaches, there’s a good chance that he’ll be enshrined next year.

Steve Sabol would also be a good choice in 2015, when there will be two Hall of Fame finalists from the separate contributors category. Sabol’s father Ed is already in the Hall of Fame, but both Sabols deserve busts in Canton for building NFL Films.

Kurt Warner is, after Seau, the player with the best chance of being enshrined in his first year of eligibility next year. Some may say Warner’s greatness was too short-lived to merit Hall of Fame induction, but a player with two regular-season MVP awards and a Super Bowl MVP award is probably going to end up in Canton.

Orlando Pace protected Warner’s blind side in St. Louis and was one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL for a decade, and he’ll also be eligible for the first time next year.

Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce were the top two receivers on the Greatest Show on Turf, and they both retired after the 2009 season, making them eligible in 2015. (You can be forgiven if you’ve forgotten that Holt was in Jacksonville and Bruce was in San Francisco in 2009.) It would really be something if they were both inducted along with Warner and Pace. That, however, is awfully unlikely. Wide receivers have had a hard time getting into Canton in recent years, and Holt and Bruce may end up competing against each other and therefore hurting each other’s chances in much the same way that Steelers greats John Stallworth and Lynn Swann did for many years.

Jerry Kramer, the great Packers offensive lineman, would be a strong choice as a senior candidate. Next year will be a harder year for seniors to get in, as only one senior finalist will be nominated. But Kramer may be the most deserving senior candidate eligible.

2016

Brett Favre is a sure thing to be inducted in 2016, and the Packers have already begun the process of turning the year before his induction into a long ceremony honoring Favre, who will have his number retired in 2015.

Terrell Owens also becomes eligible in 2016, but he’s a long shot. Owens is second only to Jerry Rice on the all-time receiving yards list and third behind Rice and Randy Moss in receiving touchdowns, but Owens acted like such a jerk, so often, that he’s remembered as much for becoming a disruptive force in the locker room as he is for being a dominant force on the field.

Eddie DeBartolo Jr., the former 49ers owner, may benefit from the new contributors category and be enshrined soon. The question is whether Hall of Fame voters will reward DeBartolo for his role in building the great 49ers teams of the 1980s and 1990s, and overlook the circumstances that led DeBartolo to be forced out of the NFL.

Jerome Bettis may finally get his bust in Canton in 2016, as a relatively weak crop of first-year eligible players will make room for those who have previously been passed over.

Will Shields, the great guard for the Chiefs, would also seem likely to benefit from a lack of first-year eligible players, although there have been so many great offensive linemen enshrined in Canton in recent years that it’s hard for any one to gain recognition over all the others.

Marvin Harrison was voted down this year, but he had so many great seasons as a receiver for the Colts that it seems like just a matter of time before he gets in, and 2016 may be the year.

Randy Gradishar and Ken Stabler are a couple of good senior candidates who may be enshrined in 2016, when two seniors will be eligible. (Only one senior is eligible in 2015, 2017 and 2019.)

2017

LaDainian Tomlinson becomes eligible for the first time in 2017, and with 13,684 career rushing yards, Tomlinson looks like a good bet to make it. Only four players have more yards than Tomlinson (Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Curtis Martin) and all four are already in the Hall.

Jason Taylor becomes eligible in 2017 as well, and he has a good case, although he may be joining a crowded field of pass rushers, as we’ll detail momentarily.

Kevin Greene was voted down as a Hall of Fame finalist last year, but with 160 sacks in his career, he seems sure to get in eventually: The only players with more career sacks than Greene were Bruce Smith and Reggie White, two of the greatest players in NFL history. The 2017 class may be the one that finally makes room for Greene.

Charles Haley also might finally get his Hall call in 2017. He’s been voted down five times already, but his contributions to Super Bowl winners in both San Francisco and Dallas should be enough to earn him a bust at some point.

Hines Ward was a great wide receiver and a Super Bowl MVP winner, and he’ll be eligible for the first time in 2017. But Ward’s career numbers (1,000 catches for 12,083 yards and 85 touchdowns) are dwarfed by those of some other recent receivers, and Ward may suffer by comparison.

Brian Dawkins was a nine-time Pro Bowl safety who also becomes eligible in 2017, but he seems unlikely to be selected in his first year of eligibility. Dawkins was a beloved player both on and off the field, and at some point the voters may put him in Canton, but that point probably won’t be until he’s on the ballot for at least a few years.

George Young, the former Giants general manager, is just the kind of person that the new “contributors” category is designed to recognize, and the 2017 class may be the year that the late Young gets his due.

Don Coryell would appear to be a likely choice as a senior candidate some day, and 2017 may be when that day comes. Coryell never won a championship as a coach, but he was such an innovator of the passing game that he’s a significant figure in the history of football.

2018

Ray Lewis will be an easy choice as one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history. There’s no room for debate on that.

Randy Moss may leave some room for debate, as his numbers are comparable to those of Terrell Owens, who looks like a long shot. But Moss at his best was such a game-changer that he just feels like exactly the kind of player who belongs in Canton.

Brian Urlacher, who like Lewis and Moss becomes eligible in 2018, has a very good case for enshrinement as well. Although he’ll suffer in comparison to Lewis, there will probably be enough support for Urlacher to get him enshrined in his first year of eligibility.

Steve Hutchinson was a great guard and also becomes eligible in 2018, but he won’t get in on his first year of eligibility. Hutchinson may be a finalist many times, but getting the necessary 80 percent of the vote will be tough.

Tim Brown is a longtime finalist who feels like he accomplished enough in the NFL (usually while serving as the only decent threat in his teams’ passing games) that he should be recognized eventually. The 2018 class may be the year.

Art Modell has been voted down several times, and the opposition to his candidacy is strong from some who say that taking the Browns out of Cleveland was an unforgivable sin. But the new contributors category gives Modell a much better chance, and 2018 could be his year.

Bob Kuechenberg and Cliff Harris are among the best senior candidates who haven’t been selected yet.

2019

Tony Gonzalez becomes eligible for the first time in 2019, and he’s just about a sure thing as one of the greatest tight ends ever to play the game.

Ed Reed also becomes eligible for the first time in 2019, and he also looks like a sure thing as one of the greatest safeties ever to play the game.

Tony Dungy was voted down in his first year of eligibility last year and may be voted down a few more times, but he’s likely to get in eventually, and 2019 could be the year.

Morten Andersen was also voted down this year in his first year as a Hall of Fame finalist, but he also has a good case to make it eventually. Andersen, the NFL’s all-time leader in points scored, would join Jan Stenerud and Ray Guy as the only kicking specialists in the Hall of Fame.

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Cam Newton after rough night for offense: “It’s preseason”

Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (1) tries to escape the grasp of New England Patriots' Markus Kuhn (94) during the second half of a preseason NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Aug. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn) AP

Cam Newton took to the podium for his postgame press conference wearing a Sergio Leone-inspired hat, which was good.

It was his play, however, that covered the bad and the ugly.

After a pretty nightmarish night against the Patriots, the reigning MVP summed it up in the two most appropriate word: “It’s preseason.”

Newton was 13-of-29 passing for 100 yards and two interceptions, missing high when he missed (as he does when he hurries) but it was hardly all on him. The Panthers receivers took their turns dropping catchable balls, tipped balls became interceptions, and there were numerous mistakes that stood out because they had been so polished previously.

“Well, we took our turns making mistakes and any time that happens, you know you’re going to get those kind of results,” Newton said in comments distributed by the team. “There’s no need to panic. It just comes down to having a good week of practice and the truth of the matter is that we played a great team. You know, great players who are coached extremely well and they are very stingy. That’s all it comes down to.

“We will be better from this. I’m glad it happened. I’m not glad we lost but I’m just glad that we had an understanding that we’re not that good yet. We will be better.”

It was bad enough Ron Rivera alluded to the possibility of having starters play in Thursday’s preseason finale, though that might be an extreme reaction to what was simply an off night for the league’s highest-scoring offense. But even when asked about the absence of veteran tight end Greg Olsen Friday night, Newton said the responsibility fell to him.

“We know we’re going to have a great week of practice and it’s just eye-opening,” Newton said. “Like I said, there is no need to panic or press the panic button. But for us, we do need better production from everybody including myself. There were times in the game where I forced certain things where I shouldn’t have and I just have to be more mature and have more understanding of the offensive just to check it down, and let guys do what they do.”

Whether they play in the meaningless fourth preseason game or not, the Panthers have another significant test in two weeks at Denver. And if they want to avoid a repeat of their last meeting with the Broncos, they have a lot of issues to fix.

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Falcons working out veteran safety Dashon Goldson

LANDOVER, MD - JANUARY 10: Wide receiver James Jones #89 of the Green Bay Packers is tackled by cornerback Will Blackmon #41 of the Washington Redskins while free safety Dashon Goldson #38 of the Washington Redskins jumps in the second quarter during the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at FedExField on January 10, 2016 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Falcons might have avoided the worst-case scenario news with safety Keanu Neal’s knee injury.

But they’re making backup plans as well.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Falcons are working out veteran safety Dashon Goldson today.

Goldson was released in March by Washington, and has had a few sniffs here and there. The 31-year-old former 49er and Buccaneers safety may be past his prime, but the Falcons might not be able to afford to be picky at the moment.

Neal’s having knee surgery after being injured Thursday night, and is expected to miss three or four weeks. The rookie from Florida was heading up a pretty thin depth chart at the position anyway, so bringing in reinforcements is reasonable.

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NFL may consider a game in Australia

Hawaii Rainbow Warriors' players Marcus Kemp, left, Steven Lakalaka and Makan Kema-Kaleiwahia, right, take advantage of the sites around Sydney to take photos at the Opera House, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016, ahead of their opening college football game of the season against the California Golden Bears on Saturday. The game, with Cal designated as the home team, will be the first college football game played in Sydney and the first significant American football game played in Australia since 1999. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft) AP

The 2016 college football season kicked off in Australia with Cal facing Hawaii, and the game drew enough interest that the NFL may consider a game Down Under as well.

Hawaii Athletic Director David Matlin told the Sydney Morning Herald that the NFL has been monitoring fan interest.

“Obviously [the NFL] are paying attention to this,” he said. “I think it’s a possibility. I think you have the facilities and the sports enthusiasts, so it’s a real good place for sporting events.”

With 61,247 fans attending the game in Sydney’s ANZ Stadium, the NFL is surely confident that it could sell out a game in Sydney. And the fans in Sydney showed they were willing to spend money at an American football game, with the stadium issuing an apology for not being able to meet the fans’ “unprecedented demand for food and beverage offerings, resulting in unfortunate queues,” a spokesman for ANZ Stadium said.

“We had more than 61,000 people walk into the venue just before lunchtime all wanting to eat and drink,” he said. “This created long queues that took an extended period to service. The specific demand for American-style food products that took longer to prepare – such as the 2-foot hot dogs – added to the challenges.”

The NFL’s primary market for building its fan base overseas is London, which hosts three games a year. This year a game will also be played in Mexico City, future games are planned for China, and Germany and Brazil have both been mentioned as potential hosts for NFL games. So Australia, with its population of only 24 million, is likely a lower priority, especially considering the greater logistical challenges of getting two teams there.

But Australia has shown it can host a football game, and sell a lot of tickets, a lot of beer and a lot of 2-foot hot dogs. The NFL will notice that.

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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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