NFL.com breaks down what you need to know from Week 3 of the 2023 NFL preseason. Catch up on each game's biggest takeaways using the links below:
- No. 17 looked more familiar this time around. A week removed from donning No. 50 in his first time taking the field as a Detroit Lion, Teddy Bridgewater looked far more like himself wearing No. 17 and putting forth a promising night. Bridgewater connected with Antoine Green for a 70-yard touchdown that stood as the obvious and eye-popping highlight of the night, but was clearly more settled in throughout. He finished with a line of 13 of 22 for 178 yards and the TD toss. It was a stark difference from going 5 of 11 for just 34 yards a week prior against the Jaguars. Dan Campbell never minced words about being a big fan of Bridgewater, and the Friday version of Teddy B was exactly the veteran backup he was hoping to get.
- Welcomed showing from Thielen. The most important moment during Panthers wide receiver Adam Thielen's evening was that he returned from an injury scare. Carolina can't afford to lose anymore wide receivers with D.J. Chark and Terrace Marshall Jr. currently on the mend. The most promising occurrence came with Thielen's burgeoning chemistry with quarterback Bryce Young. In two drives, Thielen had five targets, four receptions, 48 yards receiving and a 16-yard touchdown catch -- the first TD thrown by Young in the preseason. At one point, Thielen looked to have been injured and was taken to the blue tent. He also exchanged some words with the Lions sideline during the ordeal. He emerged from the blue tent with what head coach Frank Reich said was nothing more than getting the wind knocked out and later found the end zone. More than anything, Young needs a strong offensive line. Second to that, the No. 1 overall pick could use a trusty veteran wideout to look to. After Friday, Thielen offered reason to believe he can be that dependable presence for the young QB.
- READ: Mike Vrabel on Titans QB Malik Willis' performance vs. Patriots: 'Love the way that he competed'
Coral Smith's takeaways:
- Willis can't escape turnover woes. Starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill only took three snaps and handed all three off, while Will Levis was unavailable due to injury. That left Malik Willis once again taking on almost an entire game's worth of snaps, and the chance to use that extended time to prove he deserves to be the backup for the start of the season. But with the preseason coming to a close, Willis' play has not shut the door in the way he probably wanted, as he continued to show inconsistency on Friday. Willis had an interception in both of his previous games this preseason and had another in the first quarter, throwing behind a receiver who tipped it into the arms of a defender. But from his next possession through halftime, Willis looked like a different man. He was 8 for 8 after the interception until halftime as he led a 90-yard touchdown drive, finding receivers in tight spots for big gains, and finishing by finding running back Julius Chestnut for a 12-yard score. But in the second half, Willis repeated the pattern, throwing an interception in the third quarter before following it up with a solid touchdown drive. Overall, Willis finished 15 for 20 for 211 yards with a 102.3 passer rating. There was more good than bad in Willis' outing, but the inconsistency is still a concern if he takes the field in a regular-season matchup. Willis might win the No. 2 role by default if Levis remains injured for an extended period, but the Titans will not want to see more of the turnovers that have plagued the second-year QB.
- Pats linebackers show depth. Unlike the Titans, who let their starting defenders play a few series in the preseason finale, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick left most of his first-stringers on the sideline, affording other players a chance to make their final statements before roster cutdowns and the start of the regular season. 2023 third-round pick linebacker Marte Mapu made his preseason debut and was in the mix early and often, finishing with four tackles in a shortened outing. And a couple other linebackers fighting for a spot on the roster made big plays throughout the contest, forcing turnovers and applying pressure to the Titans offense. Calvin Munson led the team with 10 tackles, one for loss, and also was on the receiving end of a diving interception on a tipped ball in the first quarter that led to a touchdown on the subsequent offensive possession. Joe Giles-Harris also hauled in an interception in the third quarter and Ronnie Perkins had nine tackles, one for loss. There are some small depth concerns at other positions on the Patriots' defense, but depth at linebacker seems to extend all the way to the bubble players.
- Kelley's explosive run highlight of evening. While the end of preseason is for many when the distinction between making the roster or not is made, the preseason is also for players who already have a spot to try and move their way up the depth chart into bigger roles. For the Chargers, the starting RB role is solidly in the hands of Austin Ekeler, but behind him there was an opening for a couple players to earn the RB2 position with a strong effort in August. Joshua Kelley had the role in 2022, but Isaiah Spiller created a bit of a battle with a solid first two preseason games to push Kelley in the competition to retain his position. But with just Friday's game left before decisions are made, Kelley showed off with a highlight-reel 75-yard run in the opening quarter. The fourth-year RB stutter-stepped at the line before finding the gap and shedding tackles as he found open field, taking it all the way for a touchdown. Though Spiller made a good case for himself over the last few weeks, with one big run on Friday Kelley put his stamp on the preseason and could have clinched the No. 2 role for himself.
- Purdy looks primed for regular season. It was unavoidable that quarterbacks would be the main topic of conversation in San Francisco on Friday after the trade of Trey Lance to the Cowboys prior to kickoff, but once the Niners took the field, the focus was on the quarterback who is set to start games in September. Brock Purdy once again looked completely calm and in control of his team, playing two drives alongside the majority of the starters. Other than a hiccup when running back Jordan Mason fumbled at the goal line, Purdy's unit looked pretty much unaffected by any outside noise. He went 5 for 9 for 73 yards, capping off his night with a 5-yard scramble for a touchdown on his second drive. In those limited snaps, Purdy spread the wealth, targeting five different receivers, including connecting with Brandon Aiyuk on a 35-yard completion. Discussion of the trade of a former first-round pick will linger around the Bay Area, but the talk didn't seem to distract Purdy.
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