Well, leave it to a natural disaster to give some perspective. Despite what I thought on Saturday night before Harvey hit Houston, maybe New England receiver Julian Edelman’s knee injury is actually not the worst thing to happen to anyone, ever. Please consider donating to organizations helping out in and around the worst-hit areas. (You can give to the Red Cross via this link, and/or the Houston Food Bank right here.)
Oh, yes, last Saturday’s game at Detroit. New England avoided a winless preseason by coming back from a 28-24 deficit to score two Stephen Gostkowski field goals in the final 3:40, including the game-winning 45-yarder that left two seconds on the clock. The negative view, of course, was that the Patriots needed some late-game Jimmy Garoppolo magic after Tom Brady and Co. staked them to a 24-0 first-quarter lead.
On to notes from the final scrimmage to feature starters. Tonight’s tilt vs. the Giants should feature more guys backing up than a wedding reception garter toss. Oh, no, I’m fine, thanks.
The First Cut Is The Deepest: The worst part about the Edelman injury is all the second-guessing and “what-ifs” that come with it. What if they’d called a different play? What if Brady hadn’t thrown to him, or had thrown a horrible pass? What if Edelman had just run straight ahead instead of trying to make a diamond-hard cut past a defender?
Again, he’s a professional football player who will work hard to return. He could very well come back as quick as ever. He’ll be fine. It’s just a shame that the offense that looked so good on paper – those last two words being the phrase of the summer – won’t come to full fruition on the field.
G, Your Hair Smells Terrific: We have zero confirmation as to whether or not that’s the first thing CSNNE’s Mike Giardi says to Jimmy G. every day, so please do not start that rumor. In the second half at Detroit, Garoppolo completed seven of 12 passes for 83 yards and avoided any unflattering turnovers (like the uggo toss he had last week at Houston). Working with a backup crew featuring about as many stars as the fourteenth season of ER (not or Clooney or Margulies among the bunch), Garoppolo engineered those two final field goal drives. Receiver Austin Carr and running back D. J. Foster carried most of the load, neither of whom is guaranteed to remain on the roster next week.
Yes, Brady looked unstoppable by comparison, but I would have loved to see what Garoppolo could do with that first-team personnel.
Ealy To Bed: Thus ends the great Kony Ealy experiment of 2017, as the defensive end couldn’t seem to exhibit the positional flexibility New England asked of him, forcing the team to release him last weekend. Ealy ended up with one tackle on the night, seemed to create decent pressure on pass plays and some stoutness vs. the run, but, as I wrote in my notes during the third quarter, “where’s he been?”
In the end, Ealy did some of what was expected, but not enough, failing to keep contain on a couple of plays and getting pushed aside on one rush in the fourth quarter. Compare his output to front-seven defenders like Alan Branch, who executed a big-boy sack plus a stop for no gain, and rookie Harvey Langi, who has consistently harassed QBs this preseason (and helped his chances for a place on the roster with a few wince-inducing special teams hits). Ealy’s inconspicuousness became, well, conspicuous. He’s now a member of the Jets, where he has a better chance of fitting in, scheme-wise. (I assume. I haven’t been following Gang Green too closely, but I think we can all agree the Jets aren’t prepping for a deep playoff run this year.)
Meet Me Outside: Regarding Ealy’s release, Matt Chatham of FootballbyFootball.com has been saying all week that New England’s depth at defensive end doesn’t seem nearly as important as stocking up at their outside linebacker spot. That position requires a different kind of athlete: more mobile, more versatile (think Kyle Van Noy more than Trey Flowers). A few of those very types have arrived at Foxboro lately, including rookies Nick Usher of UTEP and Mikey Bart of North Carolina. Usher’s 6-3, 235. Bart is bigger at 6-3, 267, but showed some quickness at his pro day with a 4.84 40 and 7.13 3-cone drill. The Patriots also traded a seventh-rounder to the Bengals for Marquis Flowers (6-3, 250), who played only a few snaps on defense last year but showed prowess on special teams and could bolster New England in that area. Nice writeup on the trade by ESPN’s Mike Reiss here, where Reiss compares this trade to the one in 2010 that brought special teamer/backup LB Tracy White to New England.
Jersey Numbrer Note: The newer Flowers wears number 59, Bart is 64, and Usher is 66. Those 60-something numbers for front-seven players do NOT bode well. We shall see.
Keeping Two Butlers: Things must be going pretty well if you have more than one Butler around, and with rookie free agent Adam Butler showing up last week (and Ealy, well, not), prospects are good he’ll join cornerback Malcolm Butler on the final 53. At the 6:22 mark of the first quarter, Adam Butler shook off his blocker and chugged along the line of scrimmage, catching up to running back Theo Riddick and flattening him like a pressed flower for no gain. Butler had only one tackle in the books, but demonstrated the ability to provide pressure and generally pester opposing offenses.
Butler the corner, meanwhile, caused a turnover by punching out a football from Golden Tate’s grip, much in the same manner he did with Robbie Anderson at the Jets last year. (You can see that highlight here.) With an official count of two, the veteran Butler ties former Patriot Logan Mankins for the team lead in ball-punching.
Speaking of which…
The Family Jules: It’s just a real kick to the you-know-whats to lose Edelman for a whole year, you know? Announcer Christian Fauria called him “Mr. Reliable” during the pre-game analysis, and he was proven right as Brady’s first three passes went to Edelman: an 11-yard bubble screen, an across-the-middle catch-and-run for 23 yards, and the quick-in with ill-fated yards-after-catch for 18 yards. They’ll miss Jules, not just for his overall production, but for his attitude and selflessness. I mean, who was more excited than he when Danny Amendola converted the Patriots’ second two-point try to tie the Super Bowl? As you can see at the 8:26 mark of this video, Edelman almost concusses Amendola going helmet-to-helmet before trying to shatter his sternum. If they were on opposing teams in game action this would be a 15-yard penalty.
His energy. That’s what they’ll have the most trouble replacing.
Play This 45: I wonder how many people get that reference. Anyway, new Patriot/old linebacker David Harris (number 45 in your program) demonstrated toughness and experience last week, with five tackles on the night. The veteran looked sharp vs. the run, broke up a pass across the middle, and seemed to know his place within the defense. He did have trouble covering speedy back Ameer Abdullah in the flat, an issue that New England must keep in mind (like they don’t already know). Interesting to watch how Harris’ responsibilities increase as he grows more comfortable with New England’s personnel.
Three If By Air: While Harris played well overall, the backup secondary looked more like a tertiary, as the Patriots gave up four touchdowns in a row, three through the air. All four scores came on sustained drives of 80, 88, 62, and 60 yards. It wasn’t all the second-stringers, though. Near the end of the first half, Matt Stafford (who had struggled in the first quarter), completed all four of his passes, the last two in a row: 22 yards to Tate, and 23 to Marvin Jones for a touchdown over Butler. May have been a loss of focus or an expectation of safety help, but it was not good. Second-year QB Jake Ruddock completed 10 of 13 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.
While such Giants luminaries as Josh Johnson and Geno Smith will play quarterback tonight, it will be worth watching how well the Patriots’ backups can contain New York’s second-string receiving corps, if only to see scheme match-ups and defensive communication.
This is as good a time as any to note the many undrafted free agents making a bid for the practice squad this September. For a rundown of this summer’s UDFAs, including Langi and the young Butler, please see our annual “Who’s The FA? UDFA!” page from this spring.
This Club Has Everything: It’s that thing like when the defensive backfield starters looked ready to go for most of the first half. A notable play from cornerback Stephon Gilmore at 10:22 of the first quarter, going low to hit Kenny Golladay on a short pass and, most importantly, grabbing the receiver’s foot to ensure he went down short of the first-down marker. Giardi of CSNNE.com has lauded Gilmore’s physicality for a while, and he has been proven correct in the corner’s performances of late. Should be fun to watch.
Chris Still Clear: I haven’t even mentioned Chris Hogan yet. Once Edelman left the game, Brady’s next two passes to Hogan went for touchdowns. Hogan ended up with four catches for 70 yards, not bad for one quarter. It looks like he’ll be a top choice to replace the irreplaceable, or at least fill in some of what will be missing. The most heartening play in this vein came on second down with 3:49 in the first, when Brady scrambled to his right and whipped a pass along the sideline that found Hogan coming back for a six-yard gain. The pair looked to be on the same wavelength on that play. They converted the ensuing third down on a short pass across the middle where Hogan outraced his defender up the left sideline for a 25-yard gain. The team eventually settled for a field goal on that drive, getting a 24-0 lead.
In The Back Of Your Edelman: Yes, it’s going to be a team effort to replace Edelman’s production. As ESPN’s Mike Reiss pointed out in his Sunday column, Brady targeted Edelman 38 times on third down in 2016, three more than Hogan (12), Amendola (10), and Malcolm Mitchell (10) combined. Yes, a healthy Rob Gronkowski and Dion Lewis – plus new Patriots Brandin Cooks and Rex Burkhead – will help fill in the gaps. The above stat, however, helps us understand that said gap looks big enough for your local mountain range.
Some thoughtful discussion of how the Patriots could seek to make up for Edelman’s offensive output on the Quick Slants Podcast, featuring former Patriot linebacker Jerod Mayo’s take on the receiver’s impact in the locker room. (The Mayo interview begins at the 36-minute mark.)
By the way, Edelman’s spot on the roster could get taken by a non-receiver. While rookie Austin Carr has looked solid in the slot (three receptions for 30 yards at Detroit), he could help the team more as a practice squad player to be developed while a defender (pass rusher? linebacker?) or offensive lineman gets on the regular-season roster.
The most frustrating aspect of this fourth preseason game? I don’t think much that happens tonight will help us discern what’s going to happen. Maybe a bye week would be better for everyone involved? No? Okay, forget I said anything.
Cameron Is So Tight: Not a stellar output by offensive tackle Cameron Fleming, who looked stiff and got run around more than a greyhound track. Fleming, in lieu of LaAdrian Waddle’s injury, is the front runner to back up Nate Solder at left tackle. This fact has increased church attendance throughout the New England region, as fans have come out in droves to pray for Solder’s safe return.
Fleming’s an interesting prospect. He was drafted in 2014 (fourth round), cut in September 2015 and signed to the practice squad, only to be re-signed to the roster that October. He’s been a swing tackle and extra tight end on running plays, most notably vs. the Colts as the Patriots have repeatedly gashed Indy on the ground like sharp rocks on bare feet while your daughter wears beach shoes and asks you to come in the water and play but god damnit those rocks hurt. Anyway, the Stanford grad has good size (6-5, 320) and slow feet (5.28 40-yard dash, 5.00 20-yard shuttle, 8.24 3-cone, compared to the 6-8, 320-pound Solder’s 5.05, 4.34, and 7.44). Against speedy pass-rushers, this makes him look less like a wall and more like a maypole.
Now in his fourth year with the team, Fleming hasn’t provided a dependable answer at backup left tackle. Is injured rookie Tony Garcia prepared to contribute anytime soon? Have any of the O-line UDFAs (Cole Croston, Max Rich) shown enough to chip in? I’d answer no on both counts. Maybe time to see who gets on the waiver wire this week. This remains a compelling, less-reported story of the team’s offense.
It Gets To Be Quite A Rush: On the positive side, if you wanted to plan a better Patriots debut from running back Mike Gillislee, I’d like to hear about it. His first carry came at the 6:33 mark of the first quarter, a one-yard scoot to the right side with blocking from Gronk, tight end James O’Shaugnessy, and fullback James Develin so well-choreographed it looked like an old-timey music video. He followed that up with a successful two-point conversion on a similar play. Gillislee ended up with 38 yards on eight rushes, a strong average sweetened by a 27-yard burst off left tackle at the beginning of the second quarter.
Matt-er Of Fact: Farewell and adieu to tight end Matt Lengel. Someone check on fellow Northeastern alum Chris Price. Lengel provided blocking from all angles: on the line, in the backfield, and in motion. The tight end most likely to replace him looks like O’Shaughnessy, a respectable blocker who has shown receiving abilities that Lengel does not possess. He had five receptions for 41 yards at Houston, his only game of the preseason. Not exactly Patriots-Hall-worthy, but a damn sight better than two catches for minus-one yard, i.e., his 2016 season total with the Chiefs.
The First Cut Is The Deepest: No gradual roster cutdowns in the NFL anymore. Now, we go straight from summer 90 to fall 53, which means that 1,184 football players across the league will find themselves looking for work Saturday. It’s a time for reflection on the future for some, a call to redouble efforts for others, and an adjustment for all. We’ll update new roster signees next week.
Overall, a solid broadcast of the game, with some cogent analysis from Fauria and clear play-by-play from Roche. Some further thoughts…
Typically, I go over replays that the show missed, but the only one I wrote down was the Edelman injury play, and after a few minutes, we ended up seeing plenty of that. More than we need to see ever again. Roche had a mild slip-up when he called Lions running back Matt Asiata “formerly of the Detroit Vikings.” Meh. I do that type of thing talking to myself every Sunday afternoon.
Three Is A (Not-So) Magic Number: Three negatives I noticed during the broadcast, one of which I enjoyed for pure entertainment value. During the halftime highlights, an audio snafu occurred where Roche and Fauria had to talk over what sounded like a director giving orders and praise to his crew. The best part about this involved the fact that the two guys in the booth heard it, too, as evidenced by a) their voices increasing in volume to be heard over the chatter, and b) Fauria, thinking he was off-air while going to commercial, saying, “Did you guys hear that?”
Hey, at least no one cursed.
Also at halftime, Ron Burton tried to ask Bill Belichick about Edelman, which went about as well as a welcome party for the Titanic. Belichick respond with, and I quote, “Yeah. No. I don’t know.” I mean, listen, I know Burton’s got a tough task, and he has to ask, but I wish he’d been prepped for a follow-up and/or let’s-talk-about-anything-else question. “I know it’s too soon to know anything on Edelman, Bill, but how do you like the Lions uniforms? That’s a pretty blue, right? Didn’t your dad play here?”
I’ve said this before, and it’s worth repeating: tough gig, that halftime Belichick interview. Especially after his most prolific receiver goes down.
Lastly on the negative front, with 7:40 left to go in the third, Roche tried to throw to Paul Perillo and Andy Hart in the studio, but got no response. I have a funny image in my head where they’re taking a break (maybe eating a pizza) and, when Roche says their names, they look at each other in wide-eyed panic and try to run back to the studio.
All Fauria One And One Fauria All: This team is at its best when they complement each other, the best example coming at the end of the third quarter as Fauria broke down the second defense’s failings and sideline reporter Matt Chatham added to it nicely by pointing out the veterans on the field getting reps for conditioning purposes. Kudos to Fauria also for highlighting James White blocking a blitzer to give Brady time to throw to an open Hogan on that 25-yard gain in the first quarter.
Another example of the duo playing well off each other came with the visitors up 21-0 with 6:25 left in the first quarter, Roche asked if there’s any such thing as a redo, with Fauria adding that Detroit should ask for a mulligan. There was also Roche’s response to the myriad penalties. At the beginning of the second quarter, Roche said, “There’s going to be a penalty on every play,” to which Fauria responded, “Let’s just talk through it,” and continued to give analysis over the official’s announcement. Entertaining stuff. Preseason game four should be fun.
Stepping Up To The Mike: On the CSNNE post-game show, some thoughtful predictions from Giardi, who seemed more informed and savvy about what was happening with the Patriots than his cohorts. Of note, Giardi said that the Patriots will not put a third tight end on the roster this year, and that, should Solder miss more time, Marcus Cannon will get flipped to left tackle as Fleming goes to the right. For the record, I agree with the latter but think O’Shaughnessy might have something to say about the former.
Now for some commercials that stuck out.
Why Fi? A Ford ad featuring a harried young woman yelling, “Wifi. Wifi! It’s not a what, it’s a thing,” made me wonder about the disconnect between creating a commercial and appreciating whom it appeals to. Who wants to get in a car with that woman? It seems like someone arrived at the merely smirk-worthy idea that “wifi” could work as a pun and thought, yes, let’s come up with an ad campaign around that.
Ford should never over think it. Every one of their ads should say, “We’re Ford. We make good, relatively inexpensive cars, mostly in America. Buy one.”
By the way, who the hell is that woman talking to who doesn’t know what wifi is? A telephone operator from 1985? Hell, even the Amish know what wifi is, and they don’t use it.
Dearly Departed: I’m a sucker for the Irish-based music in that Geico ad about Boston, but it made me wonder what other kinds of music gets used for other regions? I mean, New Orleans (brass) and Detroit (Motown) are obvious, but what songs do they use for the New York market? Or, say, Cleveland?
Hmm. Your move, Geico.
Oh Boy Oh Boy Oh Boy: In the Chevy ad, it makes me laugh when the cover comes off to reveal a Silverado and one of the onlookers reacts as if he’s a toddler watching a magic trick. I mean, he knew it was going to be a truck, right? It’s not like he thought there was a pallet of broken toasters under there. That’s going to end up as one of the highlights of 2017 NFL commercials: the reactions to Chevy reveals. “You mean this whole time it was actually an Equinox oh my God I can’t take it!”
To Infinity And Right Over There: The Infinity QX60 commercial “On the Run” shows how far technology has gotten us. Set up like a chase scene, we see various screens on the dashboard as a man races through city streets (a little too fast, in my opinion), getting directions from his kids on where to go as they track their mom in a road race. And to think we used to tell each other, “Hey, I’ll be on this corner around this time,” and it used to actually work. Also, the mom’s in good shape. Barely breaking a sweat, there. Almost as if she didn’t really run a road race – that none of it was real. Hey, wait a minute… (pulls back cover…)
It’s actually a Chevy Trax! Oh Sweet Heavens preserve us!
Opponent Mascot Name Etymology: The Patriots play the Giants tonight at Gillette. The word “giant” comes from the Greek word “gigas.” Looking at some synonyms, I realize I would have enjoyed other names, like the New York Mammoths, or the Brobdingnagians. Tough to fit on a t-shirt, though.
Opponent Site Name Etymology: Whether New York or New Jersey, the origin’s not unlike that of New England. York, in northeast England, was founded as (ancient Roman) Eboracum around 2,000 years ago, while Jersey is the biggest of the Channel Islands (located between England and France) and was officially founded in 1204.
Mix Tape Song That May Or May Not Prove Relevant: Diving back into my recently discovered cache of mix tapes, the song “Anything Anything” by Dramarama sums up the mood of tonight’s game. These guys on the back end of the roster will do just about anything to keep their NFL careers going. Let’s hope for no injuries and just rewards.
Pay The Price: Writing earlier of Husky alum Christopher Price, his book The Drive For Five is available for purchase. I haven’t been this intrigued about a book reveal since a certain episode of “The Twilight Zone.”
Tonight features a festival of backups, so tune in at 7:30 and keep an eye out for UDFAs and some second-year guys earning their spots on the team. Last one before the records count, folks. Enjoy.
Chris Warner is looking forward to the return of “The Good Place.” He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweeted @cwarn89.