Preseason all downhill from here

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Preseason all downhill from here

Preseason football gets a bad rap around here, and that reputation is entirely deserved. But even in the midst of all the apathy, the first preseason game is always special.

Its just nice to see everyone back on the field. The sight of Brady under center gives you that safe, familiar feeling. Its your first real introduction to the rookies, the new additions and the new collective face of this years team.

Its football! Its back!

The nostalgia wears off after about a quarter (or earlier if the starters get a quick hook), but those first few minutes feel right. Its the closest well get to regular season excitement until the real thing.

Looking back at the opener Thursday night, the story has to be Chandler Jones. As a friend of mine posted on his Facebook wall: I have been waiting 20 years for you Chandler Jones.

Right now, thats what it feels like.

Im so excited about Jones that Im already worried something bad is going to happen. He seems too good to be true. I dont care if its only the first game of the preseason, he did things last night that I havent seen from a Patriots DE since . . . I dont know. Im going to stop now on the off chance that Jones is a bust and this paragraph haunts me for the rest of my Internet life. But one last time, two feet on the ground: CHANDLER JONES.

Ridley brought it, too. Love that wobbly running style; he looks like younger, stronger and more athletic Kevin Faulk. And he didn't fumble! Brandon Lloyd showed that he WILL get open; he looked like what we all imagined Ocho would be. On the defensive side, other than Jones, Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory had a great first date, and can hopefully build on their relationship moving forward. It looks like Kyle Love is still on the rise as well. Love Love.

Obviously, there's of room for improvement. I know that everyones already gone mad over the offensive line. But come on, that wasnt the offensive line. Those were imposters. The Pats didnt have Mankins, Waters or Vollmer. Would you judge the receiving corps if Welker, Hernandez and Gronk were out? Of course not.

I'm not saying that the O-line is issue-free; just that it's too early chalk this as a major area of concern. It's too early for everything! It's one preseason game. Nothing qualifies as that big of a deal.

Well, except for Dane Fletcher.

That just sucks. It's a reminder of the biggest reason the preseason has this bad rap to begin with. You see a guy like Fletcher, who works so hard every year but can never catch a break, go down with an ACL and you wonder: "What's the point?" The worst part is that the play was called back on an offsides penalty. So in reality, Dane Fletcher's season is over because of a punt return that didn't count in a game that didn't count. How depressing is that? Just doesn't seem fair. But it's the grim reality of preseason. You never know when or where a player will go down, and just like that, disappear.

Sometimes I wish that's what the preseason would do. Just go up in smoke, and cease to exist. But in reality, I guess I'll settle on having one fake game in the books, and less than a month before the real thing gets underway.

If you need me in the meantime, I'll be at the pro shop, trying on Chandler Jones jerseys.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Rookie Dak Prescott solid again, Cowboys beat Bears, 31-17

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Rookie Dak Prescott solid again, Cowboys beat Bears, 31-17

ARLINGTON, Texas - Maybe the Cowboys will be OK without quarterback Tony Romo this time. The future of the Dallas running game with Ezekiel Elliott looks pretty good, too.

Dak Prescott led scoring drives on all four Dallas possessions in the first half before throwing his first career touchdown pass in fellow rookie Elliott's first 100-yard game, and the Cowboys beat the Chicago Bears 31-17 on Sunday night to snap an eight-game home losing streak.

With his second straight win, Prescott doubled the number of victories the Cowboys (2-1) had in 14 games without the injured Romo over three seasons before the fourth-round pick showed up.

Prescott's first TD pass was a 17-yarder to Dez Bryant for a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter, and he's up to 99 throws without an interception to start his career. Philadelphia's Carson Wentz has 102, and those are the two highest career-opening totals for a rookie in NFL history.

"Dak's handled every opportunity he's had right from the start really, really well," coach Jason Garrett said. "No different tonight."

Brian Hoyer had trouble moving the Chicago offense early with Jay Cutler sidelined by a sprained right thumb as the Bears fell behind 24-3 at halftime and dropped to 0-3 for the second time in two seasons under coach John Fox.

Making his 27th career start for his fourth different team, Hoyer was 30 of 49 for 317 yards - a good portion of that with the game out of each late in the fourth quarter - and threw for two scores to Zach Miller.

"We haven't played a complete game," Fox said. "This week was the reverse of what we've had. We played very poorly in the first half."

Elliott finished with 140 yards on 30 carries, including a 14-yard run when he hurdled safety Chris Prosinski. The Cowboys kept giving him the ball while trying to work the clock with a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter a week after he was benched because of two fumbles in a win over Washington.

"Made a lot of good runs tonight, a lot tough runs, a lot of NFL runs," Garrett said. "He's physically tough. He's mentally tough."

It didn't even bother Prescott that Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith missed just the second game of his six-year career after his back tightened up during the week.

Prescott was 19 of 24 for 248 yards in Dallas' first home win since last year's opener, which was a week before the first of two broken left collarbones that kept Romo out of 12 games last season.

Romo is expected to miss about another month after breaking a bone in his back in the preseason.

Prescott had one of three rushing touchdowns for the Cowboys, who have seven this season after getting eight all of last year, when they finished 4-12.

Because the Bears fell behind again, they couldn't do much with the running game. They had just 15 carries for 73 yards and lost leading rusher Jeremy Langford to an ankle injury in the second half.

Jets lose, Patriots guaranteed 1st place in AFC East when Brady returns

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Jets lose, Patriots guaranteed 1st place in AFC East when Brady returns

When Tom Brady returns to the Patriots following his four-game suspension, his team will be in sole possession of first place in the AFC East.

That became the reality as soon as the Jets fell to the Chiefs in Kansas City on Sunday, 24-3. The Jets committed eight turnovers in the loss to fall to 1-2. 

The Bills and Dolphins each won their first games of the season on Sunday, taking down the Cardinals and Browns, respectively. 

With the Patriots record at 3-0 following their win over the Texans on Thursday night, and with all three of their AFC East rivals sitting on just one win thus far, even if Bill Belichick's club was to fall to Rex Ryan and the Bills in Week 4, it would still be alone atop the division.

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Surely the Patriots would like to have a zero in the loss column when Brady returns. Regardless, to be in first place when Brady's Deflategate punishment is finished -- and having achieved that mark with two different starting quarterbacks -- has to be a point of pride for the organization . . . and a source of agita for those who doled out the punishment.