The New England Patriots have dropped to 1-2 on the preseason after losing 30-28 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but I hope nobody cares about preseason records. I mean, the Detroit Lions went 4-0 in the preseason before going 0-16 in the regular season.
What is important is the development of younger players and how players on the roster bubble performed. There were a few performances that caught my eye, including two wide receiver performances that validated what we saw on Monday against the Philadelphia Eagles. I’m not going to talk about Tom Brady’s night, because it doesn’t matter. He’s the second best quarterback in the game, so who cares if he only completed 65% of his passes with a sub-80 QB Rating.
Jeff Demps made his debut for the New England Patriots in the preseason, and he looked as explosive as advertised…as a running back. Demps broke off one rush for 29 yards and finished the day with 41 yards on just three carries. He returned one punt for 16 yards and two kick-offs for an average of 22 yards per return. The kick-off returns didn’t go as well as expected and he looked raw, but that’s expected for a UDFA who just started practicing a few days ago. All in all, Demps looked great.
Rookie Chandler Jones also made a big impact in this game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as he was constantly disrupting the pocket and came away with the Patriots lone sack on the night. Dont’a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich also had hits on the quarterback.
Although Marcus Cannon struggled again in this game, Nate Solder made strides on the left side, and this was overlooked by a few fans. Cannon was somewhat culpable for Michael Bennett’s strip sack, but Brady did hold on to the ball a little bit too long on that play. In all, the Bucs managed to have four quarterback hits, with two sacks on Brady overall.
Nate Ebner and Marquice Cole both tied for the team lead with six tackles, with Cole contributing two passes defended in this game to lead the team. I left Cole out of my 53-man roster, and he’s proving doubters like me wrong. The problem is that I think his success was overstated, because he was targeted quite a bit (hence, the six tackles). Cole did show off his versatility, but I’m not convinced yet. Alfonzo Dennard also played in this game, and he is definitely in a better position to make the roster than the former Jet.
There was a lot of talk in this game about four wide receivers: Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Dont’e Stallworth, and Julian Edelman. Welker did not play, giving Edelman more chances to play in the slot. There is nothing to take out of Edelman’s performance. Sure he never caught a pass in a game that was supposed to showcase his abilities, but he only had one pass thrown at him.
Deion Branch clearly outperformed Stallworth on Monday, and he beat him again last night. On Monday, Stallworth struggled to get open while Branch had 51 receiving yards. Yesterday, Stallworth dropped two passes and had a flattering stat line of three catches for 40 yards. He didn’t play well at all, as two of those catches came against inferior competition (third-stringers, if I am not mistaken). Branch only caught one 13-yard pass, but he was only targeted once and did not drop two passes like Stallworth.
I came away impressed with the performances of two players on the front seven in Brandon Spikes and Ron Brace. Spikes is arguably the most violent and electrifying young linebacker in the league, and he showed his tenacity against the run in this game, helping to hold Doug Martin to a mediocre 4.1 yards per carry. Brace is clearly the third defensive tackle on this team behind starters Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love, and he followed up his solid showing against the Eagles by adding three tackles- including one for a loss- in the first game after the release of former “No. 3 DT” Jonathan Fanene (I made that term up).
Kyle Arrington, Spencer Larsen, and Shane Vereen all left the game due to injuries. Don’t expect Larsen to make the team.
Aaron Hernandez looked great, as usual, while Ninkovich did not as a pass rusher. I came away disappointed with his display against Jeremy Trueblood, who is one of the worst right tackles in the league. He did bounce back in this game, but I just think that Ninkovich was ineffective. Oh well, maybe next time.
The two best performances for New England came from backup quarterback Ryan Mallett and starting running back Stevan Ridley. The blocking up front was less effective after Mankins left- look at the hits Brady took- but Ridley was still able to average 5.4 yards per carry and finish with 87 rushing yards. His cuts were great, he broke off a 29-yard run of his own, and he was effective in short yardage situations with a one-yard TD run to open up New England’s scoring in the second quarter.
Ryan Mallett was awesome, which continues the upward development for the former Arkansas standout throughout the preseason. He had a poor game against the New Orleans Saints, followed by an average outing against Philadelphia, and he turned in a great game yesterday. The drops hurt his numbers, but he finished the game with a 107.7 QB rating and two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to cut the game to 30-28 (TD passes to Jeremy Ebert and Jesse Holley). Mallett was accurate, put the Pats on the board, and his performance went beyond the stat line.
Which players caught your eye for both good and bad reasons yesterday?
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.