The Patriots got off to a very slow start especially defensively falling behind 11-0, before rallying for a 23-22 preseason win over the Chicago Bears on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.
Jimmy Garoppolo played impressively on Thursday, completing 16 of 21 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. His best work came late in the 2nd quarter as he ran the two-minute drill with precision and coolness directing the Patriots on a touchdown drive to put the Patriots up at halftime.
LeGarrette Blount had a very solid game, looking his best this summer, Blount finished with 11 carries for 69 yards. The play of the offensive line and fullback James Develin definitely helped matters. Blount is a vastly different runner when he’s able to hit the line of scrimmage running. He showed excellent vision, good decisiveness and appeared much quicker than the player who struggled a week ago against New Orleans.
Garoppolo wasn’t supposed to get the start as Tom Brady was slated to play the first series. Bill Belichick told 98.5 the Sports Hub an hour before the game that all three QBs would play. But Brady never made it onto the field for warmups giving speculation that the team had changed their mind about his playing.
It was later learned that Brady sliced the thumb on his throwing hand on a pair of scissors. He supposedly was trying to clear his cleats of something stuck on the bottom of them when he inadvertently cut himself. Pressed after the game for details, Belichick told Ben Volin of the Boston Globe that he made the decision to only go with two QBs on the day.
Some other observations from Thursday night’s win include:
Defense Struggles to Get Off the Field Early: The Bears were shut out a week ago in their preseason opener against Denver but didn’t look like that team in the first quarter. Jay Cutler put together a pair of good drives to put the Bears up 11-0 early.
Cutler drove them down the field in their opening drive before a solid play by reserve defensive lineman Anthony Johnson stopped the drive. Johnson coming in as a sub-package pass rusher, deflected the pass at the line of scrimmage on third down in the red zone forced the Bears to settle for a field goal. The opening sequence much like the joint practice on Tuesday began, with Cutler and the Bears picking on cornerback Justin Coleman. He gave up back-to-back big pass plays of 29 and 12 yards to put Chicago in business.
After a three and out opening drive by New England, Cutler drove the Bears down the field again. The Patriots were unable to stop the Bears on third down picking up penalties in the secondary by Coleman and Pat Chung that negated third down stops.
Cutler mixed up the play calls nicely and they finished off their touchdown drive with some nice running by Jeremy Langford, taking the ball in from five yards out. It wasn’t the look the defense was looking for.
Jimmy G., Offensive Line Get it Together: The Patriots offense mixed it up and had better balance overall in Garoppolo’s time on the field. They ran the ball 12 times in 45 snaps and as mentioned above were getting a good push up front. They used run-heavy formations with Develin and Cameron Fleming as an extra tight end to get things moving.
Garoppolo put together a nice drive that stalled inside the Bears 10-yard line when Brandon Bolden fumbled. Bears cornerback Tracy Porter stripped Bolden of the ball and recovered to end the threat. It was a poor play by the Pats STs standout, by not switching the ball to his outside hand and not covering it up with two hands when getting tackled.
But the offense had found their footing and the Patriots would put 17 points up in the second quarter. It was nearly 21 but a superb goal line stand by Chicago forced the Patriots to settle for a field goal. On a key third down, Lamarr Houston fought off a Joe Thuney block and stopped Tyler Gaffney on third down.
On the ensuing drive, LeGarrette Blount finished off a good drive by powering it in from the one-yard line to give the Pats their first score of the game. That set the table for Garoppolo’s fine work in the final two minutes.
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Using the two-minute, hurry-up offense, Garoppolo looked cool and decisive, leading the Patriots to a seven play, 57-yard drive that culminated with a very impressive 16-yard touchdown pass to TE A.J. Derby. Jimmy G. fired the ball into a very tight window for the score and followed it up with a two-point conversion to Chris Hogan to put the Pats up 17-11 at the half.
Johnson, Jones Picks Up Defense: After an inauspicious start, the Patriots defense picked up their collective play, holding Chicago to zero yards in the second quarter after allowing 129 in the opening stanza. In fact, the Bears didn’t pick up a first down after the first quarter until there was less than a minute left in the third.
Missing many of their top edge rushers on Thursday including Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, and Shea McClellin, the Patriots looked to the interior pass rush and Johnson definitely provided a spark.
The second year 6’2, 295-pound tackle from LSU has been quiet most of the summer. Battling some nagging injuries, he hasn’t shown much until this week against the Bears in joint practices. He flashed briefly in some limited opportunities and then exploded on the scene in the game.
The Patriots used him as an interior pass rusher and he displayed some nice explosion off the ball and was a constant disruptor inside. He and Trey Flowers combined for a sack to end one drive and Johnson who was signed in May after being released by Washington had his best work on Thursday night.
Cyrus Jones provided the Patriots with their only turnover on defense. The rookie corner perfectly read the comeback route of wide receiver Deonte Thompson and jumped it. He easily picked off QB Brian Hoyer’s pass.
While it wasn’t all good, including the final Bears drive where the secondary allowed a receiver to get behind them on a broken play on the final play of the game, the overall impression of tonight was positive. The defense rebounded and played well after a slow start. The offense under Jimmy Garoppolo looked strong despite missing many of his primary weapons.
It’s now on to Carolina.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2016 Patriots Roster 53 Man Roster Projection Bill Belichick Brandon LaFell Danny Amendola Dion Lewis Dont'a Hightower Jabaal Sheard Jimmy Garoppolo Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Tom Brady Trey Flowers