While the final score didn’t favor the Patriots Thursday night, from what I saw there were more positives than negatives in New England’s 36-35 exhibition loss to the Rams. Here are some things worth noting from Thursday night’s game:
SOME POSITIVES FROM THURSDAY NIGHT:
Brandon Tate: Tate opened the game with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. It was the first time the Patriots started off the game with a kickoff return for a touchdown since Bethel Johnson did it back on December 5th, 2004 against the Cleveland Browns. He followed it up with a 43 yard return the next time, although the offense couldn’t capitalize.
Brandon Meriweather: Made some big hits during Thursday night’s game, and also contributed on special teams. Overall he had a good night, and was just solid for New England.
Brandon Spikes: The rookie linebacker spent another evening around the ball making plays and seems to really be settling in. The only downside for Spikes happened to be a costly one, as he didn’t read the touchdown pass to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui fast enough, and watched him go in for the score on the Rams first offensive possession of the game. In all fairness to Spikes, Gary Guyton got beat on almost the exact same play on the ensuing possession on a 23-yard pass to Hoomanawanui, which helped set up a Rams field goal. He also got called for roughing the passer, but it seemed a bit ridiculous as his hand only glanced the helmet and didn’t exactly look like a penalty. Spikes also put a big hit on the quarterback midway through the fourth quarter and nearly caused an interception. He finished with seven combined tackles, tied for third on the night with defensive lineman Ron Brace.
Ron Brace: Had a sack on Rams QB Sam Bradford, which helped push the Rams back and caused their drive to stall. Thanks to Brace that drive only led to a field goal attempt instead of a potential touchdown. He finished with four tackles and combined for seven.
Alge Crumpler: Made a tremendous sideline catch late in the first half which helped to keep New England’s drive going – which set up a touchdown by Rob Gronkowski.
Rob Gronkowski: Speaking of Gronkowski, that touchdown came on a tremendous effort, where Gronkowski dragged his guy all the way into the endzone before diving in for the score. Take some time and watch the highlights if you missed it – it’ll be on SportsCenter. He also caught a 32 yard pass from quarterback Tom Brady, which helped set up another touchdown reception for him. That one came from 20 yards out, which gave New England a 28-27 advantage early in the fourth quarter.
Zoltan Mesko: He dropped a punt in at the Rams 4-yard line and boomed most of his punts Thursday night which helped at least give New England win the field position battle. The only negative for Mesko was that he whiffed badly on a tackle Thursday night – which one would believe will cause him to get a little grief when they sit down to review the film.
Randy Moss: He may be one of the older guys these days at his position, but Moss beat the Rams defenders and hauled in a 65-yard play-action pass for a touchdown to pull the Patriots within 6 at 27-21 with 5:01 left in the 3rd quarter.
Tom Brady: Despite their slow start on offense, Brady missed just four passes all night, finishing 18-of-22 for 273 yards, three touchdowns, and a quarterback rating of 158.0. His final touchdown pass of the night was even more impressive because it came on a drive that started from their own 1-yard line.
Brandon McGowan: Made an interception early in the third quarter where he jumped the route and returned it 38-yards to the St. Louis 10 yard line. It later lead to a touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer to Sam Aiken, putting the Patriots up 35-27 with 11:14 left in the game.
SOME NEGATIVES FROM LAST NIGHT:
The Rookie Dominated: Another rookie QB, another big night, as Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford finished 15-of-22 for 189 yards and two touchdowns and not once looked frazzled against New England’s defense.
Offense Got Off to a bad start: New England gained just 14 net yards through their first two offensive series. Had they been facing a higher scoring offense they could have been facing a larger deficit than the 10-7 one they faced after the Rams marched the ball fairly easily up and down the field during that same span. They also had a poor first half, as New England had just four first downs throughout the first two quarters, and were a dismal 0-for-4 on 3rd down with a 20:25 – 9:35 disadvantage in time of possession.
Devin McCourty: Got burned for a 31 yard play by Rams receiver Donnie Avery after he faked McCourty and got behind him, and Bradford hit him on a perfect throw on a rollout pass. He also got beat toward the end of the first half for what would have been a touchdown, but lucked out because Rams wide receiver Laurent Robinson was wide open, but couldn’t get his feet down in bounds. St. Louis instead ended up with a field goal.
Jonathan Wilhite: Wilhite had a bad night, getting burned more than once, including allowing a reception late in the fourth quarter which helped set up a touchdown that pulled the Rams within one. He would have actually allowed a touchdown had the referees not completely missed the call that the receiver was out of bounds – since his man did keep his feet in and should have scored.
Darius Butler: Got beat one-on-one against receiver Brandon Gibson, after Gibson caught a short pass right in front of him, and juked Butler who couldn’t make the open field tackle and Gibson easily took off into the endzone.
OTHER NOTES: Sammy Morris got the start at runningback, followed by BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Laurence Maroney dressed but did not play at all in the game….Fred Taylor was listed on the official stat sheet as having played, although like Maroney he didn’t carry the ball at all Thursday night…An unfortunate note for Rams receiver Donnie Avery, who appeared to suffer what appeared to be a significant knee injury as time was winding down in the first half. Avery was one of the fastest guys in the NFL, and to see him injured is obviously disappointing. It also has to be quite a blow to Rams fans, who after seeing how their team fared in the first half against New England had to be hopeful for a big season. One thing worth mentioning is also the fact that Wes Welker went over and shook hands with Avery as he was placed on the cart before being taken off the field …New England didn’t finally touch the ball in the second half until there was 5:37 left in the 3rd quarter. New England trailed 27-14 at that point….Scott Zolak was a sideline reporter Thursday night, and offered some commentary after Hoyer threw his first touchdown pass of the night to Sam Aiken. Zolak said that like Matt Cassel Hoyer would be ready to go in case the “inevitable” happened and Brady went down to injury. I’d like to believe he meant “unthinkable” – and am hoping he doesn’t know something we don’t and doesn’t suddenly have the ability to see into the future…Terrance Wheatley left with an injury in the fourth quarter but walked off the field under his own power. Wheatley appeared to suffer an apparent injury to what looked like his left ankle and was seen being attended to by trainers on the sideline…The Patriots focus on putting pressure on the quarterback netted them more penalties than sacks Thursday night, as New England was flagged three times for roughing the passer – although one of those three was definitely questionable…The overall time of possession differential was pretty surprising, as the Rams dominated that part of the game by holding the ball 43:46 – 16:14.