NFL Preseason 2011 Concludes With Three National TV Games And Final Roster Cuts

Colts at Bengals, Broncos at Cardinals and Raiders at Seahawks will air live on NFL Network It’s the final week of the preseason and young players around the league know this is their time to shine.

With final NFL roster cuts to 53 players this Saturday, this week’s games are a last chance for many players to make their team’s roster. The starters are basically set throughout the league as are the key backup positions. It’s the “bubble” players who are out to impress.

“The young guys in the NFL, they know this is their game,” says ESPN analyst and former NFL head coach HERM EDWARDS. “It’s real important for a young player and a rookie trying to make a team.”

For many of these young players, they know this is their last opportunity to make the final 53.

The final week of the preseason features three games on national TV as NFL Network delivers all the action.

Thursday night, September 1, will showcase a doubleheader. The Indianapolis Colts will visit the Cincinnati Bengals in the early matchup (7:00 PM ET) and the Arizona Cardinals will host the Denver Broncos in the nightcap (10:00 PM ET). On Friday, NFL Network will bring fans live coverage when the Seattle Seahawks welcome the Oakland Raiders to town (10:30 PM ET).

Some of the highlight games in Week 4 of the NFL preseason:

INDIANAPOLIS at CINCINNATI (Thursday, NFLN, 7:00 PM ET): Last week, Indianapolis quarterback CURTIS PAINTER passed for 171 yards and two TDs, including a 57-yard strike to wide receiver REGGIE WAYNE.

“He took over the huddle,” said Wayne about Painter. “That’s what you want to see in a quarterback. You want to go out there and make plays for him, to give him that confidence. He did a good job.”

Painter elevated his play days after the team signed veteran quarterback KERRY COLLINS. Collins ranks second among active quarterbacks in attempts (6,163), completions (3,439) and passing yards (40,441). He trails teammate and Colts starter PEYTON MANNING in all three categories.

The Bengals defeated Carolina 24-13 last week as rookie quarterback ANDY DALTON (second round, No. 35 overall) played the best game of his young career. He completed 11 of 17 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown as he led four first-half scoring drives.

“Andy did things well,” said Cincinnati head coach MARVIN LEWIS after the game. “He really just settled down and played at ease.”

Dalton connected with rookie wide receiver A.J. GREEN (first round, No. 4 overall) on a 40-yard touchdown and the Bengals hope there are many more to come.

“It’s like a dream come true,” said Green about his touchdown. “I know we have a chance to be great. I’ve said since day one that the sky is the limit for us with this offense.”

The offense also ran the ball effectively as CEDRIC BENSON gained 68 yards in the first half and BERNARD SCOTT added 63 yards on six carries in the second quarter.

“We came out running the ball well,” said Dalton. “The way we were running ball, they had to stack the box, and we were able to take advantage.”

DENVER at ARIZONA (Thursday, NFLN, 10:00 PM ET): A strong pass rush helped propel the Broncos past Seattle last weekend. Denver recorded five sacks in the 23-20 victory, including two by rookie linebacker VON MILLER (first round, No. 2 overall) and 1.5 by defensive end ELVIS DUMERVIL.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen a pass rush like that,” said Broncos cornerback CHAMP BAILEY. “And if we can keep that up all year, we’re going to have a good year.”

Denver quarterback KYLE ORTON passed for 236 yards with one touchdown and QB TIM TEBOW (93 passing yards, 25 rushing yards) helped set up the game-winning field goal.

“We wanted to come out and play really well this week,” said Orton.

The Cardinals got big plays out of their starters last week. Quarterback KEVIN KOLB (205 passing yards) connected with wide receiver LARRY FITZGERALD (108 receiving yards) on an 80-yard touchdown pass, wide receiver ANDRE ROBERTS scored on a 34-yard run and rookie cornerback PATRICK PETERSON (first round, No. 5 overall) had a 34-yard interception-return touchdown.

“The touchdown (to Fitzgerald) was a unique play,” Kolb said. “We actually made that adjustment at the line. Obviously, the coaches were pleased with us communicating like that. I’ve said the sky’s the limit for our offense, because the more I can take on and be able to communicate with those guys, the better we’re going to be.”

For Peterson, his first career touchdown was a special moment for the rookie out of LSU.

“I was screaming all the way to the end zone,” Peterson said.

OAKLAND at SEATTLE (Friday, NFLN, 10:30 PM ET): The Raiders and Seahawks will meet on Friday night to close out the 2011 preseason.

Oakland quarterback JASON CAMPBELL completed 12 of 17 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown last week. Wide receiver DEREK HAGAN had six catches for 121 yards and a TD.

“I’m just comfortable,” said Hagan after the game. “I know how to get open. I know how to run routes. And it all comes down to really just studying.”

On the ground, the Raiders got 32 yards from starter MICHAEL BUSH (6.4 average) and 81 yards and a score from rookie TAIWAN JONES (fourth round, No. 125 overall).

For Seattle, QB TARVARIS JACKSON connected with tight end DOMINIQUE BYRD last week on a touchdown.

“We got some points on the board,” said Jackson, “so that was a good thing to show the guys we can do it.”

Undrafted rookie free agent DOUG BALDWIN, who starred at Stanford, ignited the Seahawks with an electric 105-yard kickoff-return touchdown.

“Doug’s been very effective this preseason so far,” said Seattle head coach PETE CARROLL. “There’s really been nothing that he’s been asked to do that he can’t do. He’s made a big impression. He’s making a loud noise about ‘I need to be on this team.’ And good for him.”

WINNING IS A HABIT: Thirty-four of the 45 Super Bowl champions (75.6 percent) finished the preseason with a winning percentage of at least .500.

Since 2000, the 11 Super Bowl champions have combined for a 28-16 (.636) preseason record during their championship seasons.