The Giants are no strangers when it comes to sending Patriots fans home irritated, which was exactly what happened on Thursday night as New York delivered New England’s first loss of the preseason with a walk off touchdown.
Fortunately, this one doesn’t count and will likely be the highlight of New York’s season, but with four preseason games now in the rear view, the Patriots finished Thursday night’s contest by answering a few more questions heading into the club’s final roster cut downs. Here are some thoughts after a few players were able to make some last impressions during this one.
1 ) After a strong couple of weeks, receiver Gunner Olszewski certainly made his presence felt Thursday night with a terrific all around performance. He returned 3 kickoffs for a total of 77-yards, with the receiver going full-tilt on every one of them. He also returned a punt.
But the biggest surprise came in the second half after the Patriots lost defensive back Malik Gant to an injury. With the team already thin in the secondary, Olszewski, who is a former college cornerback, stepped in at cornerback and certainly looked the part. He was spotted on replays keeping relatively tight coverage and putting forth an admirable effort.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to leave on a high note as the Giants’ final completion of the night came against Olszewski as Alonzo Russell came away with the pass from Giants QB Kyle Lauletta for the 14-yard touchdown.
After the play, while all the other players seemed glad it was over, Olszewski was clearly upset and frustrated. However, it doesn’t detract from a night where he flew around the field, including one play where he came completely out of position to make a tackle after several of his teammates failed to make the stop.
But prior to the touchdown, Olszewski did an admirable job and potentially solidified his value to the team. He also had a decent night in the passing game, hauling in two receptions for 35-yards, one of which went for 29-yards on New England’s final possession of the first half that helped set up a 51-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.
Considering how much Bill Belichick appreciates versatility, one would have to believe that the former Bemidji State standout should most definitely have a shot at a roster spot.
Stidham finished the preseason strong.
2) Thursday night was also yet another decent showing for Jarrett Stidham, who, barring disaster, should hopefully now not be seen again for any length of time until next season.
Stidham finished the preseason fairly strong, completing 18-of-28 (64%) for 225 yards along with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. The rookie’s turnover wasn’t completely his fault as he was hit as his arm was going forward late in the first quarter while rolling to his right on a deep pass attempt to Thomas. The worst part about that play is it came on the next snap following a terrific 19-yard run on a 3rd-and-13 by the quarterback, which at the time extended the drive and had them out to midfield.
The turnover ended up being costly as two plays later, the Giants hit a 35-yard pass where New York receiver Alonzo Russell got behind Keion Crossen, making the reception as Crossen dove at him from behind.
But Stidham, again, kept his composure and engineered three straight scoring drives, taking advantage of a pass interference miscue by the Giants by delivering a 35-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas for a touchdown on their next possession. He followed that up with an 8 play, 61-yard scoring run on their next drive that ended with another touchdown to Thomas, this time from 3-yards out. However, what was most impressive about that one was a throw he made on the third play of that series when he delivered a rope to Thomas near the sideline, which went for 20-yards and put them deep in Giants territory. He later hit Thomas from 3-yards out for the touchdown, putting the Patriots back on top at the time, 16-10.
Stidham put together another good drive following an interception by Crossen, leading them down the field on a 7 play, 21-yard drive that ended with a 40-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.
The rookie played the entire game but had a quiet second half as he attempted just 5 passes while completing 4 of them for 40-yards. It’s obvious the coaching staff wanted another long look at him as they make their final roster decisions, which now could set up some interesting scenarios on the depth chart. But considering his overall body of work, while it certainly wasn’t his best game, Stidham should still be feeling good about what he put on film this preseason.
Thomas made a big impression during his first game action.
3) For a player we hadn’t seen at all during this preseason, Demaryious Thomas left a strong impression as the Patriots continue trying to work out their depth at the receiver spot.
Thomas played well, finishing the evening catching 7-of-his-8 targets for 87-yards and two touchdowns. The thing that stood out about him was his size, strength and the body control he showed on one of his touchdowns where he boxed out his man, made the reception, and then spun forward and ran in for the score. He finished the evening as the team’s leading receiver.
It wasn’t all perfect for Thomas, who botched a handoff from Stidham on an end around deep in their own territory, reaching out with both hands and failing to pull in the football. The Giants took advantage, recovering the football and setting themselves up with terrific field position at the Patriots 14-yard line. Four plays later, they hit a 32-yard field goal to go up 10-3.
But seeing Thomas out there changes the landscape a bit and now for a player who wasn’t really on anyone’s radar, Thomas made enough of an impression where he seemingly should be in the mix. How that affects another player in New England’s receiving core is now the big question heading into this weekend.
Crossen bounced back after a tough start.
4) Keion Crossen ended up being a player who initially looked like he was going to walk away from Thursday night’s game by seeing his stock tumble, but he ended up being one of the nicer stories of the evening.
After giving up the touchdown early in the game, Crossen finished the contest with an interception, five passes defended and also led the team with 12 tackles.
Defensive backs need to have short memories and Crossen never let any bad play he let up Thursday night affect him, which was certainly good to see. Players can’t get better unless they make a mistake and Crossen showed that even if he does, he’s able to come back from it. That’s exactly the type of player a team needs in its secondary and it was nice to see Crossen not let one play derail what otherwise was a fairly decent evening.
That performance likely stood out to the coaching staff and his outlook seems bright as the Patriots reportedly traded Duke Dawson to Denver on Friday, which seemingly solidifies Crossen’s future.
5) After a difficult couple of weeks, Stephen Gostkowski finished strong Thursday night against New York.
The veteran kicker was perfect on all three of his attempts, including a 51-yard field goal at the end of the first half.
One of the areas that was discussed during the broadcast was how much smoother the operation appeared to be in terms of the snap and the hold with newcomer Jake Bailey now handling the holding duties. That was a problem the week before and it was obvious that the group wasn’t completely comfortable working together.
But on Thursday night, each kick was perfectly hit down the middle and unlike previous weeks, there weren’t any questionable moments that could have raised any question marks. It was just business as usual for the veteran kicker, who appears like he’s back on track heading into the regular season.
Gordon saw his first action of 2019.
6) The return of Josh Gordon was good to see, with the receiver seeing his first action after being cleared to return by the league.
Gordon was targeted six times Thursday night, finishing with two receptions for 30-yards. One of those came on the team’s first third down of the night as Gordon caught a 19-yard pass on a 3rd-and-2 as the offense marched 62-yards on 10 plays before Stephen Gostkowski hit his first field goal of the evening, which was for 31-yards.
Overall, Gordon looks like he still needs to settle in but getting some work in out in front of the home crowd appeared to be just what he needed. Now the big question will be whether or not he can build on last year’s success, which will obviously be great for the offense if he’s able to be even more effective than he was in 2018.
Edelman was back in action Thursday night.
7) While it was also good to see Julian Edelman back in action, seeing him get nicked up was a little concerning.
The veteran receiver hit the field with force Thursday night, exploding out of the tunnel in a full sprint down to the end zone as he was clearly fired up about getting back on the field.
Edelman caught one pass for 20-yards but landed awkwardly after the play and was seemingly favoring his injured hand. He left the game and didn’t return, but was spotted on the sideline joking around with Brady and appeared to be in good spirits. According to NFL Media reporter Ian Rapoport, it was just a scare and he didn’t suffer any setbacks to his previously injured thumb.
One moment that was noticeable was on a 1st-and-10 play from the Giants’ 48-yard line on their opening drive. On the play, Stidham had Edelman coming across the field between two defenders and opted not to throw the ball and potentially see the veteran take an unneeded hit. Instead, Stidham pulled it down and took off for 8-yards after Edelman cleared the middle, setting up a 2nd-and-2 but more importantly, it kept the veteran out of harms way.
So for now, it otherwise appears Edelman avoided disaster and should hopefully be ready to go next Sunday. That’s good news for an offense that knows how valuable he is and will definitely need him as they try and make another championship run.
While the final score wasn’t what everyone might have been looking for, what transpired on the field Thursday night should have fans feeling pretty good heading into 2019. Saturday’s final roster cuts should be interesting to see how they play out, but it appears the needle was moved a bit for at least a few players who are hoping to stick around for the foreseeable future.
The Patriots will now turn the page toward the Steelers, with the two clubs set to battle it out in the season-opener next Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.