We finally got our first opportunity to see the Patriots starting units on the field tonight, and I think it is safe to say they were extremely impressive.
Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola tore up the middle of the field as usual, combining to catch three balls for 28 yards, plus drawing a very long pass interference call in the first quarter. These two looked extremely explosive, and I am confident this combination will be deadly throughout the regular season. Kenbrell Thompkins caught a beautiful back-shoulder touchdown from Brady on New England’s second drive, displaying some of that excellent concentration that he flashed at times last season. It looks like the battle for the third wide receiver spot is being won by Thompkins right now, as he was on the field before Brandon LaFell tonight.
One of the top positional battles we have been watching this offseason has been along the offensive, and that confusing shuffle continued tonight. Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly continued to split the snaps at center, while Jordan Devey and Josh Kline took most of the snaps at guard. As a group, their play wasn’t awful, but it certainly wasn’t exceptional. Nate Solder bounced back nicely from a bad showing last week, as did Sebastian Vollmer. Most of the Pats struggled in this department came on the interior.
As for the defense, I think they played just as we expected them to, giving up zero points in the three drives they were on the field. They did all of this with Brandon Browner and Alfonzo Dennard on the bench, as Dennard did not dress tonight, while Browner came on later in the game. The defensive line was particularly impressive, getting solid pressure on Nick Foles, and closing up all running lanes for LeSean McCoy. This group is going to be one of the top units in the NFL over the course of the 2014 season. The backups didn’t fare as well, as missed tackles, and bad coverage plagued them the rest of the night. I mean, they made Mark Sanchez look good at one point.
Aside from the the starting units putting on a show, the top storyline in this game was Jimmy Garoppolo and Ryan Mallett playing well after Brady left the game. The rookie signal caller came on before Mallett, and was accurate, decisive, and did not turn the ball over. He got a few reps against the Eagles starters, and still performed well, which speaks volumes to me. Garoppolo was six for 12, for 72 yards and two scores.
Then Mallett came on in the second half, and had a terrific outing. He got into a nice rhythm, and led the Pats on three scoring drives. Mallett completed seven of the 11 passes he threw, for 71 yards and a nice touchdown to Brian Tyms, who played well in his own right. As a group, the Patriots racked up 476 total yards, 250 of which came on the ground.
These two teams went back and forth all night on the offensive end, but a late goal-line stand by the Patriots defense ultimately gave them the (meaningless) win.
Roy Finch and Malcolm Butler are two guys that initially stood out to me in terms of making a case for a roster spot, as both played well. I think Butler has pretty much sealed up a spot on this team, with back-to-back solid performances. He was in on two separate forced fumbles, recovering one of them on his own. Finch is an explosive guy, and his play tonight will certainly help him when it comes time for the final cuts.
Perhaps the biggest story of the night was the amount of flags thrown. There is always a lot of yellow on the field during the preseason, and that held true in this tilt. There were a total of 21 flags thrown in this game, with a ton of them being defensive holding, and illegal contact fouls. I really hope they die down by the time the regular season starts up, because all of those penalties made this game hard to watch.
Be sure to check back on Musket Fire for more analysis all week long.