The New England Patriots finished up the preseason with a 3-1 record after disposing of the New York Giants on Thursday night, and there were several interesting performances. Below are five noteworthy outings, with three being of the positive variety and two being of the negative.
1. QB Ryan Mallett
Like others, I felt that Ryan Mallett played his best game in a Patriots uniform on Friday night, and the numbers don’t really do him justice. That interception? I’m pinning that one on Aaron Dobson, and it seems like far too many passes thrown at him end up being picked. In fact, he has had three targets end up being picked off in the past two preseason games, and that just speaks volumes to his lack of aggression when the ball is thrown. Mallett missed a couple of throws he should have made (that’s not uncommon from him), but he also made a few truly amazing throws (also not uncommon). That 40-yard touchdown pass to Josh Boyce showcased some excellent speed from the rookie out of TCU, in addition to great blocking, but it also takes a quarterback with an awful lot of arm talent to make that throw. That’s exactly what Ryan Mallett has, and this was clearly his most successful audition at a starting quarterback gig for another team in this league. I doubt anyone gives the Patriots a second-round pick based on that performance, but I’m sure he made plenty of people feel better about his prospects.
2. WR Quentin Sims
This was an obvious inclusion, and Quentin Sims is locked into the practice squad. He and Tim Tebow share a scary good connection, but it goes beyond that for Sims. Throughout training camp, Sims quietly performed well, and I had him penciled in on the practice squad even before the first preseason game. His coming-out party against the Giants affirmed his status as a player worth developing, and the former Georgia Tech and Tennessee-Martin receiver is certainly an intriguing UDFA. Sims finished the game with three catches on four targets for 72 yards and two touchdowns.
3. C Matt Stankiewitch
I already stated my disdain for Josh Kline’s performance in my “What We Learned” piece, but Matt Stankiewitch might deserve more blame for the fact that Tim Tebow was sacked a whopping four times. Stankiewitch is the kind of player you root for, because he has terrific intangibles and plays with a warrior’s mean streak at center as a run blocker. But Stankiewitch is a tremendous liability in pass protection, and he has shown that time and time again this preseason. The Penn State product had a rough night against the New York Giants, and the Patriots wisely cut him as a result of that. Stankiewitch should still make the practice squad due to his ability to develop into a poor man’s Ryan Wendell (great run blocker, poor pass blocking), but he’s not even a lock for that.
4. DE Michael Buchanan
No list praising top performers from Thursday’s game would be complete without Michael Buchanan, who locked himself onto the 53-man roster with that dominating performance. The releases of Marcus Benard and Jermaine Cunningham have confirmed the fact that Buchanan is a lock, and Buchanan played his best game when he knew everything was on the line. That says a lot about a player, but 2.5 sacks and three QB hits say even more. Buchanan was all over the place, as he made big plays and also consistently put pressure on the quarterback. The ability to do both in one game leads to a truly special performance, and Buchanan clearly outplayed both Jake Bequette and Benard. While I thought both players played well (Benard more so than Bequette), Buchanan was simply at another level.
5. WR Aaron Dobson
Aaron Dobson looks like a boom-or-bust receiver right now, but I still have plenty of hopes for him due to his terrific upside. But what I’ve seen this preseason hasn’t changed my opinion on Dobson, because I still believe Dobson is a player with the potential to be a No. 1 receiver but will have a rough rookie season. There are still several things that Dobson needs to improve on, and one of them is being more aggressive on thrown balls. Dobson also needs to do a better job of getting open (that should come with experience), and he had a poor outing with just three receptions for 35 yards on eight targets. That is an average of less than 4.5 yards per target, which is a very poor total. The fact that two interceptions were thrown on targets to Dobson also hurts him, and he still has a long way to go in his development. I am still optimistic and believe that he can be the “X” receiver this team needs in the long run, but it is clear that Kenbrell Thompkins is the better player right now.