The preseason is over, and the Patriots ended it in the Meadowlands as their backups downed the Giants’ backups 17-12 to finish off the preseason 3-1, not that it matters. The starters for both teams took a seat and let the backups get their playing time in, as many were putting together an audition tape for the 31 other teams in the league.
Rookie quarterback Danny Etling went wire to wire under center tonight, we’ll have more on him below, as both Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer got the night off. The team may have suffered one significant injury as OL Ulrick John who is considered one of the players definitely in the mix for a backup lineman’s spot on the 53-man roster, left with a foot injury and didn’t return. He was seen after the game in a walking boot.
Marquis Flowers and J.C. Jackson also left via injury during the game, but neither was considered serious. Flowers was evaluated for a concussion but did return to the game, while Jackson was treated for dehydration.
Bill Belichick was upbeat and smiling after the game in his post-game press conference and stated that the team only played about three dozen players tonight, similar to last season’s finale as well.
“Really proud of our team tonight. The guys played hard,” Belichick said. “Those guys really did a good job. It was a good warm night. I thought they showed up well. We’ll see on film but I think I learned a lot about these guys. I like the way they competed. We’ll see.
“It was a good competitive football game.”
So, now the coaches will go about the business of paring down the roster to the initial 53-man limit by Saturday at 4:00 p.m. and then announce a practice squad on Sunday by 1:00 p.m. We say initially because you can expect the bottom of the roster to be a fluid place for the first week or so of the regular season, right up to when the team plays the Houston Texans to begin the regular season.
So here is our quick observations from tonight’s game and how certain players may fare in the roster cutdown.
J.C. Jackson: The undrafted rookie from Maryland had a big night, intercepting two passes and defending three others. He showed very good ball skills on both picks, high pointing the ball and snagging both.
But he had his not-so-great moments as well. He totally whiffed on Amba Etta-Tawo’s 41-yard touchdown play and looked awful there. He was also beaten several times in the game as well. But his compete level is very high and he had the production you’re looking for in a game like this. Belichick said he had a long way to go, but they like his skills. He may have earned a roster spot, but at least a practice squad slot.
Cyrus Jones: Jones had a disappointing night, he didn’t flash much in the return game, not being able to make the first man miss and break tackles which is his specialty. He played significant snaps both on the edge and at slot corner and didn’t stand out. He could lose his spot if the team feels McCarron or Berrios can handle punt return duties.
Danny Etling: The rookie quarterback didn’t have a great night, his first half was particularly bad, but he played a little better in the second half and was seeing the field for really the first time for any sustained action. He had the highlight play of the preseason when he took a naked bootleg 86 yards for a touchdown with just under four minutes to go in the game. Belichick smiled and cracked, “When’s the last time a quarterback has run more than 85 yards for the New England Patriots,” he joked. “At least 20 years.”
Etling completed 18-32 passes for 157 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He rushed for 113 yards on seven carries. He still struggles with accuracy and consistency, which isn’t a shock considering his limited snaps this summer. His footwork suffered while he was under pressure, but these are correctable.
He showed enough to warrant a practice squad slot and the team can see how much he can develop this season. He is more athletic than perhaps he was given credit for, throws a good tight spiral and has very good arm strength.
Mike Gillislee/Riley McCarron: Two players seemingly on the bubble before the game, didn’t play and are probably safe…for now on the roster. With the shortage of wide receivers on the roster, McCarron probably gets a spot initially on the 53-man roster. While fans on social media are clamoring for Braxton Berrios, he missed nearly as many practices as he attended this summer. And he didn’t stand out anymore so than McCarron either offensively or as a returner. But we’ll see.
Gillislee, we wrote on Monday, may get a reprieve if either or both Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel aren’t ready for the regular season. It appears that way after the Giants game. Speaking of backs…
Ralph Webb: The rookie from Vandy had another solid performance in the finale. He rushed 12 times for 41 yards and found the end zone again when Etling’s pass at the goal line was behind him and he made a nice catch, reaching behind himself and hauling it in. He definitely rates a practice squad look and we wrote here, that he may rate a higher ceiling than Gillislee at this point, but the coaches may opt to go with a veteran back early this season.
Derek Rivers/ Vincent Valentine: The pair of players who both missed all of 2017 played a significant amount of snaps, well into the second half but seemingly for different reasons. Valentine seems firmly on the bubble. The rotation of big men inside has him on the outside looking in right now, unless a trade of someone else is made this week. We wrote about that as well earlier on Monday.
Rivers doesn’t seem to be in danger of losing a roster spot, but after missing all of his rookie season due to injury, the team clearly wants him to get in as much action as possible. He should be a member of the edge rotation this fall.
Keionta Davis: The big, 6’4, 280-pound 1st-year player had a disappointing finale on Thursday night. It started off well when he showed good power and split a double team coming off the left edge and pressured Giants QB Kyle Lauletta and forced an incompletion.
However, he lost containment on an end around, crashing down inside and allowing the runner to get to the edge with speed and the result was a 19-yard gain. Going against the twos and threes, we expected Davis to flash more than he did. But he should still be in consideration for a practice squad spot.
Jason McCourty: The 10-year veteran started at safety and played the entire first half. When an injury occurred in the third quarter, he returned to the field before being replaced by Jordan Richards. That can’t be a good sign for him moving forward.
On the broadcast, it was said that the coaches may just want him to get as much work as possible at safety before the regular season begins. That is possible, but we’re putting him squarely on the bubble here.
Big time props have to go to WR K.J. Maye, and RBs Kenneth Farrow and Khalfani Muhammad. The three were signed to the team just this week and had very limited time to prepare and practice before playing the Giants. They all knew they had a snowball’s chance in hell of making the roster but all were intent on maximizing an opportunity to audition for a slot in the league. All acquitted themselves well.
Maye led all Patriots receivers with five catches for 71 yards. Farrow had five carries for 24 yards. Muhammad had four for 21 yards. Excellent work