Detroit Lions fall to Jaguars, 25-7: Teddy Bridgewater, Nate Sudfeld struggle as backups

Detroit Free Press

Teddy Bridgewater had three practices with the Detroit Lions. Even after nine NFL seasons, that is not enough to be sharp for a preseason game.

So this is not meant as a referendum on Bridgewater or his play in the Lions’ 25-7 preseason loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday.

But with the start of the regular season a little over two weeks away, it still feels like the Lions will go only as far as Jared Goff can take them.

Bridgewater is an upgrade at quarterback from last year’s No. 2, Nate Sudfeld, and there’s no question he’ll be good for the development of wide receiver Jameson Williams, quarterback Hendon Hooker and other young Lions.

But Lions coach Dan Campbell said something important after Bridgewater agreed to terms earlier this month: For all the veteran quarterback has done and been through, “We need to see if he’s still got it.”

Bridgewater went 0-2 as a fill-in starter for the Miami Dolphins last season and missed time with an assortment of injuries. He completed 62% of his passes, but threw as many touchdowns (four) as interceptions. The Dolphins, with one of the best receiver groups in the NFL, scored 38 points in Bridgewater’s two starts. (Though to be fair, Bridgewater left after one pass attempt in one of those games.)

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On Saturday, facing mostly second-teamers for Jacksonville, Bridgewater played most of the first half, completed five of 11 passes for 34 yards and had one turnover, a fumbled handoff when he was hit on his way to give the ball to running back Craig Reynolds.

The Lions had 48 yards of offense and four first downs in the first half (compared to 206 yards and nine first downs for the Jaguars) and ran exactly three offensive plays on each of their first four possessions. Sudfeld replaced Bridgewater late in the half for a pair of two-minute drives and fared little better — worse, actually.

He was 2-for-5 passing for 19 yards in the half and threw another bad interception, his third of the preseason, that was reminiscent of one he threw high and behind Jameson Williams last week against the New York Giants.

Neither quarterback looked very good, though their struggles were due in part to the offensive linemen they were playing behind and the receiving corps they were playing with.

Sudfeld and Bridgewater were sacked once each Saturday, but Bridgewater slipped out of at least three other sacks and Campbell said he counted three dropped passes. Still, when the best thing the two QBs (and by extension, the offense) did Saturday was hard-count to draw Jacksonville offsides on a fourth-and-1 late in the first half … well, that doesn’t exactly breed confidence in Goff’s backups.

The good news is, the Lions have one more week of training camp and one more preseason game before the regular season. I’d be surprised if Goff plays, though some starters might, because the Lions both need to make sure he stays healthy at all costs and see, still, if Bridgewater has “still got it.”

More observations from Saturday’s preseason game:

The final marks for Sudfeld

Sudfeld finished 9-for-16 for 80 yards passing with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Chase Cota. His interception came with 47 seconds left in the first half, on the play after his cadence drew the Jaguars offsides; he airmailed Cota near the left sideline, and he nearly lost a fumble on the next play when he was hit as he threw by Jaguars linebacker Jordan Smith.

Officials initially ruled a fumble on the play, with Jacksonville recovering, but the turnover was overturned on replay.

Fourth-string quarterback Adrian Martinez did not play Saturday.

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Lions protect key players

The Lions, who finished with a measly 131 yards of offense, held most of their key starters out of the second straight week, including Goff, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Kalif Raymond, David Montgomery, Aidan Hutchinson, Alex Anzalone, the entire starting offensive line and secondary.

Rookies Jahmyr Gibbs, Brian Branch and Sam LaPorta dressed but did not play Saturday. All three have locked up key roles for the fall.

Rookie LB Campbell big again

Jack Campbell, the only one of the Lions’ top four draft picks who played Saturday, had another impressive showing, with seven tackles. The Lions are still sorting out the second starting linebacker job next to Anzalone and they used Saturday’s game to rotate their three options at the position: Campbell, Derrick Barnes and Malcolm Rodriguez.

Barnes and Rodriguez started and though neither made much of a dent in the stat sheet — Barnes was not credited with a tackle, Rodriguez had one — I thought both played well. It still is very much to be determined how the Lions will divvy up play time in that unit, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lions used a rotation early in the season to give all four linebackers play time.

50/50 weirdness

Bridgewater wore the No. 50 jersey he had on in practice this week, a tribute to the Starz show “BMF,” but it was weird to hear referee Shawn Smith, before every Lions series, say, “No. 50 is eligible,” or, “No. 50 is quarterback,” to alert the defense to his number.

Bridgewater’s fumble, it should be noted, was unavoidable. Jaguars defensive tackle Jeremiah Ledbetter, a Lions sixth-round pick in 2017, blew past center Brad Cecil at the snap and hit Bridgewater’s arm before he could get the ball in Reynolds’ belly.

Reynolds got most of the work at running back in the first half, carrying eight times for 13 yards.

Starling stars in special teams

Undrafted rookie cornerback Starling Thomas V got a shot at kick return duties Saturday and had two nice returns of 37 and 26 yards. Thomas should be active as the Lions’ third or fourth outside cornerback (depending on what you consider Will Harris) to start the season, and he’s a logical replacement for Justin Jackson as return man.

Gibbs and Raymond also took return reps in practice last week, but they may have too big of roles on offense to risk using on kick returns.

Jermar Jefferson (on kicks) and Cota (on punts) also figured in the return mix Saturday and didn’t hurt their chances of making the team. Cota had a nice 28-yard punt return, and Jefferson returned one kick 26 yards.

Receiver move in the works?

Cota had two catches for nine yards on a quiet day for the entire receiving corps. He may have inched ahead of some of the Lions’ other options for the No. 5 receiver job, Dylan Drummond, Trinity Benson and Antoine Green, based on his game play the past two weeks. But I’d be surprised if the Lions weren’t active in trying to add to their receiver room in the coming weeks.

Maybe there’s a small move at the roster cut deadline, like the trade Brad Holmes made to acquire Benson two years ago. Or maybe they wait till closer to the trade deadline and take a bigger swing at adding help to the room.

Happy Gilmore

Thomas and fellow undrafted rookie Steven Gilmore played the first half at cornerback as the Lions spent the first 30 minutes Saturday evaluating players most heavily in the mix for backup jobs. Gilmore had a bit of up-and-down day. He got beat for a 48-yard catch in the first half when he was late playing the ball, but he also intercepted an overthrown pass that Tracy Walker juggled and had another pass breakup near the goal line.

Dan Campbell praised Gilmore’s resilience after the game, and the fact is NFL cornerbacks are going to have some bad moments. To Gilmore’s credit, he didn’t let one play get to him.

Gilmore was a player I struggled with in my roster prediction last week. I left him off that 53-man prediction, but will probably have him on it this week. Assuming Emmanuel Moseley isn’t ready for the start of the season, the Lions need another outside cornerback to have in reserve and Gilmore can be of value on special teams.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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