Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 8-15, with their first preseason game in the books, we got our first (albeit limited) look at the new members of the Patriots, as well as some who have returned in 2021. We’ll be returning to our typical Sunday AFC East notes next week as well.
The run defense and the pass rush gave us signs of improvement while the projected starting units were in the game and the running game looks strong and deep for the offense with all of the running backs having good games on Thursday against Washington.
The passing game, both offensively and defensively needs some work, something we’ll see more of during the joint practices and preseason game with the Eagles this week. But for many of the newcomers to the team this year, Thursday’s game was a solid start to their Patriots’ career. We’ll delve into that some more.
Have you checked out our team news feature for all 32 teams yet? It is a great resource to keep up with what is going on all across the NFL.
Quick Hitters For the Pats, and the NFL:
Dion Lewis: The Patriots’ former running back (who current back J.J. Taylor is most compared to) has announced his retirement after a 10-year NFL career where he played in eight seasons.
Lewis broke his leg in 2013 and missed both the 2013-2014 seasons before signing a futures contract with the Patriots. It was with New England he saw his most success helping the Patriots reach two Super Bowls, winning one.
His 2017 season was a stellar one, rushing for 896 yards on 180 carries for a 5.0 yard average with 6 touchdowns. He caught 32 passes for 214 yards and 3 touchdowns while returning 23 kickoffs for 570 yards including a 103-yard touchdown.
He moved on to the Titans for two seasons before playing for the Giants last year. He was still receiving interest from teams as recently as a week ago but decided to hang it up.
Ryan Fitzpatrick: The Washington QB is now on his 9th team in 17 years and can still play and play well. He’ll probably be the starting QB for the WFT when they start the season. He had a couple of nice throws in the game on Thursday.
Robert Mays from the Athletic wrote up a fantastic piece on Fitzpatrick prior to the Patriots game and it is definitely worth checking out on one of the NFL’s most unique personalities in the game. He still has a photocopy of his first NFL paycheck for minicamp with the Rams as a rookie. “It’s a copy of it,” he said. “Because I sure as hell cashed that thing. I thought it might be my last check ever too.”
Fitzpatrick has no insecurities about playing and is reveling in just loving the game as he knows it could end at any time. “Playing with house money is a great way to put it. I’m playing on borrowed time. I shouldn’t even really be playing anymore.”
Ron Rivera: The Washington head coach met with Cam Newton before the game and shared a hug as the pair still seem very close, which Rivera confirmed in his post-game press conference.
“It was good. It was good to see him again. He and I are kind of connected for the most part. My first chance in the league as a head coach and he was our first pick, the first pick of the draft actually. So it was good to see him. I’m always cheering for him. He’s a heck of a young man.”
J.J. Taylor: The Patriots’ diminutive but exciting running back always seems to have fans on the edge of his seat every time he touches the ball. Running back coach Ivan Fears, who is a notoriously hard grader, calls Taylor “Little Dion” (see above) and although he may be considered on the bubble this season, there should be a home for him, as well as a role in 2021.
Taylor was running back kickoffs on Thursday, caught all five passes thrown his way during the game, and had a nice 9-yard run during the game. With the Patriots looking to replace the versatility of Rex Burkhead, Taylor is definitely in the running for the all-purpose change of pace back.
While he doesn’t run as well as Damien Harris or Sony Michel and isn’t the pass receiver James White is, he’s good at both and can be a valuable role player while fulfilling the STs as a kick returner.
Special Teams: The Patriots’ special teams units, which are always a strength had a very forgettable night despite the play of both the punter and kicker. Jake Bailey averaged 54 yards per punt while UDFA Nordin was 3-3 on field goals including a 50-yarder that would have been easily good from 60, although he did flub an extra point. But after that…not so good.
As we wrote in our Friday takeaways, the punt team was flagged three times for false starts, as well as committing two other penalties, and also had a muffed punt (Marvin Hall). The coverage units, especially the punt coverage unit was not up to par allowing punt returns of 19 and 20 yards. That will be a big area of focus this week.
Defense at the End of the Halves: Being a little nitpicky here since few of the starters were on the field at the end of the first half, and they were long gone by the end of the 4th, but the defense couldn’t get off the field on either drive and it will no doubt NOT escape the attention of Bill Belichick.
Washington took over with about three and a half minutes to go in the 2nd quarter and went on a 12-play, 64-yard touchdown drive to take a halftime 7-6 lead. Then with 6:28 to go in the game, the Patriots pinned Washington at its 8-yard line. But the WFT went on a 15-play, 92-yard drive where they scored a touchdown and appeared to tie the game with a 2-point conversion. As we said on Friday, that’s why while the games don’t count, they matter.
4th & 2 Podcast: If you haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, please check it out. We are scheduled to record one later today. Hopefully, it will happen so please check it out.
Russ Francis/Chuck Fairbanks: The former Patriot tight end and head coach both should be in the Patriots team Hall of Fame…this will be on our Sunday posts until it happens.
Newcomers Stand Out in Patriots Debut:
With the first preseason game in the books, the Patriots got their first look at many of their newcomers, both free agents, and rookies, and overall, they have to be pleased with what they saw.
Matthew Judon came exactly as advertised and right away showed the prowess that he has in both the passing and run defense. On a third and short, Judon immediately recognized a run to the opposite side and shot down the line and tackled the running back Peyton Barber down well short of the sticks forcing a punt.
He also dropped into coverage, forcing an incompletion, and on the next play showed his pass rush skills by getting a good hit on Fitzpatrick as he was releasing the ball. He got rolled up after that but after getting checked out in the medical tent was okay. Overall it was a small sample of exactly what we’re hoping to see from him.
Jonnu Smith was signed to re-energize the tight end position along with Hunter Henry, who is injured. And in one play, Smith got people excited again as he caught a short crossing pattern from Cam Newton and showed his athleticism, carrying it for 16 yards. It should be a staple of the offense moving forward.
Mac Jones had a very impressive debut as he got a loud ovation as he took the field. Everything we saw from him at Alabama was on display with the Patriots. He looks comfortable and confident in running the offense. He processes the game quickly, makes decisions fast, and delivers an accurate ball.
He dropped a perfect 34-yard pass right in the bucket to Kristian Wilkerson that should have been a touchdown but it was dropped. Later he missed another deep pass to Gunner Olszewski by about 3-4 inches.
Bill Belichick and the staff continue to throw different scenarios at him. By not challenging an obvious catch by Jakobi Meyers, “Yeah we didn’t feel like challenging it,” Belichick said. It forced Jones into a 3rd down conversion situation. At the start of the 3rd quarter, Belichick had Jones run the 2-minute, no-huddle offense and he completed eight straight passes before an incompletion forced the team into a field goal situation. He avoided critical mistakes, took what the defense gave him and played well within himself.
But as to the reaction from many fans and media types that he’s supplanting Cam Newton as the starter? Let’s pump the brakes or to quote Bill Parcells, “don’t put him in Canton just yet.” Was it impressive? Absolutely. Is he pushing Newton? Yes again. But he wasn’t asked to push the ball down the field, something that the coaches will no doubt ask him to do against Philly in the joint practices and the preseason game this week.
Stay patient Patriots fans, he is the future, but he isn’t the present just yet.
Rhamondre Stevenson had to wait until the 4th quarter to get into the game, but albeit against 3rd stringers, he looked very impressive and hard to bring down. After Joejuan Williams’ interception and return to the Washington 19, Stevenson came in and promptly blew through the line for a gain of nine. After a penalty set them back, he carried four more times, powering in from the one-yard line for a touchdown.
Then with the game winding down, he took the ball around the right side and burst down the sideline, easily outdistancing himself from the would-be Washington tacklers, showing some good speed for a big back for a 91-yard touchdown.
As we mentioned before, the Patriots running back room is crowded…and talented. Damien Harris, Sony Michel, J.J. Taylor all have talent, but Stevenson just put himself in the mix for more snaps. If he continues the remainder of preseason running the way we have seen him so far, then he could become part of the rotation.
Quinn Nordin has been making the most of his kicking opportunities with Nick Folk out with an injury. In his first game action, he was 3-3 in field goal attempts with a 50-yarder that would have been good from at least 10-yards more. But then he pushed an extra point wide right before making his last one. But Bill Belichick threw some cold water on the kicker controversy talk after the game.
“We’ll take a look at it,” Belichick said in his post-game presser. “Hit a couple good ones, missed an extra point. It’s all about consistency. Quinn has gotten better. He’s worked hard. But again, it’s really about consistency at that position. We’re getting there. We’ll see what kind of progress he continues to make.”
“That’s a good question. It’s a good observation. We try to maintain an open mind towards everybody every year. We all have to re-establish ourselves or establish ourselves and our level of performance for that individual year. We’ve had a number of players, Brandon Bolden, Jon Jones, guys who would go near the top of the list that came in and not in one day or one practice, but over the course of training camp established a level of performance and consistency and trust that we believed in, and Jakobi [Meyers] and J.J. [Taylor] more recently.
“So again, we try to keep an open mind towards everybody, and every player that’s here is here for a reason, is here because we think that they can be competitive. As you said, there’s usually been a player that has, Gunner [Olszewski], guys like that that just earned their way on the roster. So again, those are kinds of things that just really evolve. They don’t, I would say most of those players, it wasn’t like they showed up the first day and it looked like we should have drafted him in the first round. That’s usually not the case. I would say it’s more of a build-up over time and a significant level of improvement over a relatively short period of time that takes place with those guys.”
Bill Belichick’s comments when asked about UDFAs in New England and does he remember seeing one early in camp ever that he knew would be special.
“So, how was your week?”
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Posted Under: 2021 Patriots Preseason
Tags: 53 Man Roster Projection Bill Belichick Cam Newton Dion Lewis Jonnu Smith Kyle Van Noy Mac Jones Matthew Judon New England Patriots NFL Patriots Quinn Nordin Rhamondre Stevenson Sony Michel Stephon Gilmore