Matt York/Associated Press
The highways were jammed with broken heroes Thursday night. While most were just leaving for Labor Day weekend and avoiding the poisonously dull final preseason games at all costs, some were on the field taking one last shot at making an NFL roster. Here are some of the most heroic last-ditch efforts of the preseason. (Most, sadly, didn’t amount to much.)
Paxton Lynch, quarterback, Denver Broncos
The numbers: 14-of-15 for 128 yards and two touchdowns. It was mostly flat passes and screens against Cardinals scrubs. It didn’t erase Lynch’s three preseasons as your sister’s slacker boyfriend who claims he will start looking for a job next week. But Lynch’s two touchdown passes, plus the gaudy stat line, were pretty enough to let him salvage a little dignity after a catastrophic preseason.
The result: John Elway waffled for a day before releasing Lynch on Sunday in favor of (yikes) Kevin Hogan. It takes a lot for Elway to admit a mistake, but Lynch gave him a lot over the years.
Danny Etling, quarterback, Patriots
The numbers: 18-of-32 for 157 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions, plus seven rushes for 113 yards and a touchdown. Etling sprayed most of his passes that traveled more than 10 yards downfield, save for one deep strike to K.J. Maye. But he did run 86 yards for a read-option touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was part of a clever plan to disguise himself as a running back so Alex Guerrero didn’t decide he’s a threat to Tom Brady’s immortality and cast a Ray of Enfeeblement spell on him.
The result: Etling gets to hide out on the Patriots practice squad for a year. If he plays his cards right, that can lead to years of future employment on Patriots farm teams in cities like Houston, Detroit and Nashville.
Keon Hatcher, receiver, Raiders
The numbers: Eight catches for 128 yards and three TDs. One of Hatcher’s touchdowns came after he rolled over the defender attempting to tackle him and leapt to his feet before his knees could touch the ground. Hatcher went undrafted out of Arkansas last year after running a slow 40 at the combine but performed well throughout training camp.
The result: Hatcher made the roster, thanks to this effort and Martavis Bryant’s release. One player’s misfortune is another’s opportunity: final cutdowns in a nutshell.
Byron Pringle, receiver, Chiefs
The numbers: Four catches for 122 yards, plus a 47-yard kickoff return. Pringle, a 25-year-old undrafted rookie who stood out at the Senior Bowl, had a quiet camp for the Chiefs before getting open for 62- and 40-yard deep balls Thursday. But he then left in the third quarter with a hamstring injury.
The result: The injury landed Pringle on the IR. He’s done for the season and could be released pending an injury settlement. (Older rookies don’t get a lot of second chances, unfortunately.)
Nathan Stupar, linebacker, Saints
The numbers: Three sacks, one interception and one fumble recovery. A 30-year-old career special teamer, Stupar played most of the final preseason game, got some sacks when he was unblocked up the middle on blitzes, intercepted a pass thrown at his chest but fumbled during the return, and hustled downfield to retrieve an opponent’s fumble. As a journeyman who looked like Mike Singletary in a glorified scrimmage, Stupar was the living embodiment of the final week of the preseason.
The result: As a core special teamer, Stupar was unlikely to get cut, but cap-strapped teams like the Saints sometimes face tough decisions on veteran role players, so the monster game may have saved Stupar from going the way of Danny Bailey.