The Patriots had a lot to prove in their first preseason game on Thursday night against the Giants. How did they look? Who stood out?
Patriots football is back! The excitement could be felt! Even Patriots players appeared thrilled to be back.
The excitement seemed fitting as the game went on and the team performed much better than expected. No starters were activated for New England, but that didn’t stop those who did play from making plays and displaying what they could do all night long.
Wide receivers showed up and showed out
The reports out of Foxboro since the start of training camp last month have been not-so-good in regards to the offense. But in the last practice available to the media before this game, there was a noticeable difference as the offense had their best overall day since the first day of camp.
A lot of eyes were on the offense as a whole and much of that focus was on the receivers. Throughout practices, they have struggled to gain separation and finish plays, but that was not an issue on Thursday night.
It was a showcase of young talent all night long, with Tyquan Thornton, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, and Tre Nixon leading the way. Kristian Wilkerson also had himself a night.
Thornton proved he’s more than just a speed guy in his quiet yet productive NFL debut. He ended the night with only 2 catches for 9 yards but did score the first points of the season for the Patriots with a touchdown late in the first quarter.
Both Humphrey and Nixon have had noteworthy practices this offseason and they continued that against the Giants. Humphrey caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Bailey Zappe to help put the Patriots ahead late in the fourth quarter. And Nixon showed his speed and separation skills all night, totaling 4 receptions for 81 yards.
Wilkerson finished the game as the top receiver with 8 receptions for 99 yards. During his time on the team over the last two years, he’s shown he can be a starting quality player. But the WR room is stacked with several players making more headway, leaving Wilkerson a lot to compete with.
What’s the feeling overall regarding the receivers after this game?
Indeed, you shouldn’t look too much into a preseason game, whether the team performs well or not. But it was refreshing, and frankly comforting, to see the offense finally work together. The reports of their performance over the last several weeks had become worrisome, with many wondering if the new scheme in place should be scrapped. But they made it work on Thursday and there’s hope for a better camp next week.
Defense proved to be the real deal
The Patriots went into this game without any starters playing, but the Giants didn’t follow suit. The game began with their starting offense on the field and the Patriots defensive line was able to keep up.
Because the defense has been out-performing the offense in practices thus far, there were questions if the defense was “truly that good” or if the offense was “just really that bad.” As soon as the game began though, the defense proved to be the real deal (even with the starters out).
For the first two New York offensive drives, their starters were on the field including quarterback Daniel Jones. The Patriots’ defense was able to not only (mostly) contain the receivers and backs from making big plays, but they were also able to get to the quarterback.
Bringing pressure and knocking down quarterbacks became a massive weakness last season. Other than the consistent production from Matthew Judon, no other player was able to apply pressure or get to the QB.
On Thursday night, that wasn’t the case. Although Josh Uche was the only one credited with a true sack, he wasn’t the only player able to get to Jones. Rookie Sam Roberts brought the pressure, Mack Wilson came in unblocked and knocked Jones down and both Anfernee Jennings and Raekwon McMillan tallied up QB hits as well.
With joint practices starting next week, it will be intriguing to see if the defense can continue on this track. Not many expected the defense to be the dominant side of the ball this season, but they’re outperforming any preseason assumptions quite nicely.
Myles Bryant returning punts for the Patriots?
There has been a rotation of guys practicing returns at camp and we got to see a star born in Myles Bryant in this game.
Although he only returned 2 punts during the night, Bryant showed a natural ability to break tackles and get good yardage. His first return came in the first quarter when he was able to run for 30 yards to New England’s own 45-yard-line.
Because both of their top return specialists left in free agency this past year, the Patriots are in the market to develop a new returner. Bryant may not have much experience with it, as he said post-game that he hadn’t done punt returns since high school, but he certainly shined during the opportunities he had.
Running backs struggle to make plays throughout the game
The Patriots had three running backs active for this game; Kevin Harris, Pierre Strong Jr., and J.J. Taylor. But the struggles they’ve had throughout training camp continued throughout this game.
Between the three of them, they totaled only 50 yards on 17 carries for an average of 2.9 yards per carry. Harris did score a 3-yard touchdown on New England’s first possession of the third quarter, showing some life for the backfield.
In all fairness, both Strong and Harris are rookies. This was their first game in the NFL and leniency can be given because of that. Taylor has been with the team for a few years but has never made a tremendous impact, which shouldn’t be expected to change in week one of the preseason.
With that in mind, they will all benefit from more practice time. But questions are remaining about the starters as well, considering their lack of success so far in camp. Is it an overall issue at the position? Time will tell.
Thankfully, and most importantly, no serious injuries occurred
There were a few injury scares during the game, but from what has been said post-game, the Patriots are fortunate to have avoided any serious injuries.