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5 Keys from Patriots preseason loss to Giants

The Patriots got their 2022 preseason underway by dropping their opening contest to the New York Giants, 23-21.

Of course, it’s not the wins and losses that count at this point, but rather the players who flashed on the game field, providing excitement as the summer continues to progress and plenty of new faces showed up in the contest, with rookie Tyquan Thornton scoring the first touchdown, Terrance Mitchell forcing a fumble and Mack Wilson showing off some newfound speed for the middle of the defense.

Here are the five key takeaways as the Patriots’ 2022 season is officially underway!

Big names get the night off
Some notable big names did not suit up against the Giants, headlined by quarterback Mac Jones, most of his starting offensive line, save rookie Cole Strange, and a number of defensive starters like Ja’ Whaun Bentley, Lawrence Guy and Davon Godchaux, along with the top three returning safeties.

With joint practices with the Panthers and Raiders rapidly approaching, there will be plenty of live work for those important players over the next two weeks. On this night though, it was a chance for many young players to get their feet wet in the NFL, and for some of the new veterans, a chance to get their first action as Patriots.

Thornton puts up the first TD of 2022
After a strong start to training camp, Tyquan Thornton carried it over to the game field, scoring the team’s first touchdown of the season with a nice move along the backline of the end zone, juking his coverage and making an easy grab for six points. Despite being known for his long speed, Thornton is showing development in his route running nuance that can help him get open in small spaces.

The rookie would finish with just two catches but they were enough to continue his strides forward. His continued development will remain something to watch in the coming weeks and months.

Names of note
The Patriots defense has long preyed on takeaways and Terrance Mitchell showed why he intrigued the team in free agency by punching the ball out and forcing the game’s first turnover. Fellow corner Malcolm Butler pounced on it as the duo combined to make the big play. Mitchell forced six fumbles in his last two seasons with the Browns and Texans as his knack for jarring the ball loose continued.

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Rookie defensive lineman Sam Roberts delivered some good pressure, setting up a sack for Josh Uche. Roberts hasn’t stood out much in camp thus far, an admittedly hard thing to do as a defensive lineman, but made his presence felt in his first game action, also drawing a holding penalty. A hands-to-the-face penalty was one lowlight for Roberts.

On the other hand, LaBryan Ray has had some stand-out pass rushes in drill work and again showed some solid work in the game getting after the quarterback. With not many new faces along the defensive line both Roberts and Ray should have growth opportunities.

Anfernee Jennings, who didn’t see any action in 2021, got plenty of playing time and showed why he’s been one of training camp’s biggest risers. He’s a big, strong edge player who gave his blockers a heck of a time throughout his reps.

Myles Bryant was a surprise with some dynamic punt returns, with a long of 30 yards. Bryant hasn’t really shown up before in this capacity and it was an interesting twist, even if rookie Marcus Jones and his outstanding punt return ability is still waiting in the wings.

After an ugly third-down drop, Tre Nixon redeemed himself starting in the third quarter with catches of 36 and 32 yards. Both featured nice adjustments by Nixon while the ball was in the air.

Kristian Wilkerson led the team in receiving with eight catches for 99 yards. The third-year player still has an uphill climb to make the roster but he did everything he could on Thursday night.

Zappe gets his feet wet
Brian Hoyer started the game and went 5-of-8 for 59 yards and a touchdown to Thornton, as he helped move the offense down the field as well as they’ve moved all summer. Once Bailey Zappe entered the game the offense sputtered for the rest of the first half but he would start to find some success.

Things would turn around early in the second half as the rookie started to get comfortable. Zappe would hit on a 26-yard strike to Tre Nixon on the second play of the third quarter to get things going, then find Nixon again for another big play down the sideline as the Patriots would end up scoring on their opening possession.

A deflected interception was a tough blow as Zappe was leading a fourth-quarter drive, but he would rebound, leading the Patriots on a fourth-quarter touchdown-scoring drive that gave New England back the lead. His touchdown pass to Lil’Jordan Humphrey showed a good, quick decision as he unloaded the ball in the face of pressure. It was a solid debut for the rookie signal caller as he played close to three quarters in his first NFL action.

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After all the usage and talk of the wide zone running plays, the offense largely kept their ground game under wraps, attempting just seven runs to 17 passing plays in the first half, while relying almost entirely on J.J. Taylor before Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris finally entered the game in the second quarter.

The running game overall was ineffective running behind the backup offensive line, producing just 52 rushing yards on 18 carries. Kevin Harris’ tough touchdown run was one highlight that showed some of the rookie’s power.

Defense can’t get off the field early, late
The Patriots defense is no stranger to the “bend-don’t-break” style and showed it on their first drive, allowing a 13-play, 68-yard drive but holding the Giants to a field goal. But moving forward they were bending and breaking, allowing an 11-play, 86-yard drive, and later in the second half they’d allow a nine-play, 51-yard touchdown drive as the D wasn’t making consistent plays to get themselves off of the field.

They’d show some improvement in the second half as the Giants dipped further into their depth chart, forcing a punt and getting a red-zone stop on ensuing possessions late to maintain the one-score game. But after the Patriots retook a one-point lead the defense couldn’t get the last stop, allowing a final long drive that set up the Giants’ game-winning field goal.

On the night, the defense allowed a total of 418 yards, as they struggled to get off the field on third down and shot themselves in the foot with some untimely penalties, especially in the early going. Some of it is to be expected with backups in the preseason, but after an excellent start in training camp practices, their play dropped off against a live opponent.

This sets the stage for some interesting joint practices with the Panthers, who are embroiled in a quarterback competition. Making plays and getting off the field will continue to be a key defensive focus.

 

6 takeaways as Bailey Zappe, Patriots wide receivers show flashes in preseason loss to Giants

“We have a bunch of great guys … that can do everything that you really dream of for having a receiver.”

The intentionally short-handed Patriots opened preseason play against the Giants on Thursday with a 23-21 loss, as Graham Gano nailed a field-goal as time expired to give the Giants a victory.

The big picture
The Giants scored first, marching down the field on a 13-play opening drive that resulted in a field goal. The Patriots answered as the first-quarter came to a close, however — capping off an eight-play drive by Brian Hoyer that resulted in a touchdown by rookie wide receiver Tyquan Thornton whose intriguing preseason continued.

In the second quarter, the Giants wrested control back with a touchdown pass from Tyrod Taylor to Richie James. They took a 10-7 lead into the break.

In the third quarter, rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe came alive, leading an 84-yard drive that included a 32-yard completion to Tre Nixon — one of several connections between the two. Kevin Harris punched in the touchdown on a three-yard run.

The Giants, however, had an answer — a 51-yard touchdown drive capped off by Antonio Williams, and a 29-yard drive jumpstarted by an interception of Zappe that led to a field goal.

Zappe bounced back again — with 7:12 remaining in the fourth quarter, he embarked on a nine-play, 69-yard drive that finished with 2:12 remaining when he connected with Lil’Jordan Humphrey for a tough 20-yard touchdown pass.

The Giants, however, had enough for one more push — they drove 69 yards on 11 plays to set up Graham Gano for the game-winning field goal from 24 yards out as time expired.

Star of the game
Bailey Zappe – 19-for-32, 1 TD, 1 INT, 205 yards

Zappe had an abysmal start, completing just three of his first nine passes and nearly taking a safety on his opening sequence. Afterward, however, he settled in and made several nice throws in the second half as the Patriots took a late lead. He scrambled a few times and delivered several different throws that found their marks.

Presumably Zappe won’t be challenging Mac Jones any time soon, but he reversed what looked a challenging debut.

“I thought he was calm all night,” Bill Belichick said. “Again, we’re all going to learn from things. He’ll learn from things. He made some good plays. There’s some other things that — it’s part of the learning process.”

Zappe acknowledged he got more comfortable as the game went on.

“The more times I come to the sideline, talk to my coaches, talk to my teammates about what they saw, what they’re seeing, and just going back on a drive and just having that next-play mentality,” Zappe said. “That’s kind of what my coaches, my teammates, we all try to communicate to everybody is have that next-play mentality and moving on from what happened prior and moving on to the next one and trying to do our best, do our job.”

What it means
Very little to most of the team’s key pieces, obviously. But several Patriots made intriguing debuts, which was essentially all Belichick wanted.

“There’s a lot of things we’ll learn from tonight and work on this week and try and improve next week in the next game opportunity we have,” Belichick said. “I thought the players responded well to the competition, and it was a pretty evenly matched game, a lot of good situations, and a lot we can learn from, so that’s what we’ll do.”

Takeaways
1. One of the more intriguing players of the evening only played a few snaps — first-round pick Cole Strange, who did not allow a pressure and put together several solid run blocks. He also impressed Mike Golic Jr., who noted the savagery of playing without gloves or wrist tape.

“I mean, I came out clean, so that’s all I know,” Brian Hoyer said when asked about Strange. “They did a great job protecting me and kind of hard for me to see how he’s doing, but all I know is I didn’t get hit very much, so that’s always a good sign.”

Strange later told reporters he felt he has “improved in every possible way” since the start of camp.”

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2. Thursday offered very little clarity as to who will be the offensive play caller. Matt Patricia appeared to be calling plays when Brian Hoyer was in the game. Joe Judge may have taken over later. At one point, NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry noted that Patricia was talking to the offensive line while Judge spoke to the quarterbacks.

Belichick was not amused when reporters quizzed him about it after the game, telling reporters not to “worry about it.” One reporter started to ask what he needs to see.

“I don’t need to see anything, just we’re going through a process,” Belichick interrupted. “Simple as that.”

That seems a little unusual.

“What do you want me to do?” Belichick asked.

Maybe provide a little clarity?

“Great. Yeah,” Belichick answered acidly. “Going through a process.”

3. We should note that Belichick didn’t spend the entire evening angry at reporters.

4. The Patriots have quite a few wide receivers. In addition to Devante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, and Jacobi Meyers, Tre Nixon (four receptions, 88 yards) and Kristian Wilkerson (nine receptions, 99 yards) looked promising on Thursday.

Thornton, meanwhile, has reportedly looked great in training camp as well, and he got great separation on a couple of plays against the Giants. He scored his touchdown against starting cornerback Aaron Robinson, who was flagged for holding Thornton’s jersey.

“We have a bunch of great guys that can make plays, that can do everything that you really dream of for having a receiver,” Zappe said. “… Honestly, all of them can do many things, and we have a great receiving corps.”

5. In a new role as a punt returner — which he later said he hadn’t played since high school — Myles Bryant ran back a pair of punts for 46 total yards, including one for 30 yards.

6. Everyone who spoke at the podium postgame made a point to shout out running back James White, who announced his retirement Thursday afternoon.

“He was a tremendous player for us, tremendous person,” Belichick said. “There’s not enough complimentary things to say about James or we’d be here all night and still have time left over. Ultimate team player, huge in big games, as professional as they come, and on and on and on.”

Hoyer made a statement before taking questions.

“I want to start off first and just congratulate James White on an outstanding career,” he said. “We’re going miss him. For me, having known James all the way back to 2017, I can honestly say the most dependable teammate I’ve ever had. You never questioned James’ work ethic, his leadership, even though he was a little quiet.

“We all loved him, and I want to wish him well in the next chapter and just say how much I respect him and how fortunate I feel to have played with him. He’s truly a special player.”

Zappe followed Hoyer’s lead and opened with his thoughts on White.

“I’ve only been here for four or five months and only known him for that long,” Zappe said. “Just to be able to be in the facility with him, be able to see how he carried himself and kind of learned many things from him and how he prepared, it’s really something I’m going to try to carry on.”

The Patriots face the Panthers in Foxborough next Friday.