New England outscored Washington 26-17 in their first preseason game of 2018 last Thursday night, coming back from an ugly 17-0 deficit behind backup quarterback Brian Hoyer as Tom Brady stayed on the sidelines. Some notes from the game below, including players to watch for during this Thursday’s tilt vs. Philadelphia (7:30 p.m. eastern time).
Dropping A Giant Third On The Field: Giving up a first down on third and 11 early in the game set the tone for the less-than-inspiring starting Patriots defense facing a less-than-starting Algonquin offense. The Pats’ ones failed to stop Washington’s twos throughout much of the first half. Quarterback-With-Sports-Movie-Quarterback-Name Colt McCoy completed 13 of 18 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns. Disheartening, if in a premature/preseason kind of way. Interesting to watch if there’s any improvement on the pass rush and run defense vs. Philly.
Don’t Tighten Up – Lucien Up: Receiver Devin Lucien (he of the roundabout Patriots tenure, as you’ll see in this piece by NESN’s Doug Kyed) led the team with four receptions for 71 yards (17.8 avg.), becoming a key player in New England’s comeback (not their greatest comeback ever, but still fun to watch). Lucien seems to run precise routes and haul in the football, something that my preseason fave Phillip Dorsett had a bit of trouble with last week. Keeping an eye on Lucien to see if he gets a run with the starters while also hoping Dorsett pulls in a few receptions to gear up for September.
All Hands On Decker: And what of the new guy, Eric Decker? More reps for the Dapper One this week? Need to see more of what he can do vs. game-style competition. Like, catching a pass, for instance. (See Tanya Ray Fox’ piece summarizing former Patriot receiver Andrew Hawkins’ thoughts here.)
Revved-Up Bentley: We thought this guy might prove worth watching, just maybe not so quickly. Rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley tied for the team lead in tackles with fellow linebacker Elandon Roberts, notching six total. (Some nifty film breakdown by Evan Lazar here.) The rookie also stripped an Anacostian running back of the ball, but the fumble was called back because NFL officials seem dead-set on killing fans’ enjoyment of the game. Bentley has fit right in, to the point where I expect him to put in first-half minutes this week but give way to rookie Christian Sam by the second half for the latter’s evaluation.
Nuts And Berrios: You’ve got to have a set of prominent pecans to return punts in the NFL. With Julian Edelman out for a month and Danny Amendola making Miami a tad hotter, maybe Braxton Berrios is the guy? Would love to see him get the opportunity to bring back a strong return. His ability to get open in the passing game will determine his standing on the team, especially after receiver Riley McCarron has shown the tendency to catch the ball with his pads only slightly less often than a field hockey goalie.
Will The Butler Do It? Defensive lineman Adam Butler could use a few more QB rushes from the interior of the line to set him on the right path. It seems that Keionta Davis might bring some competition, so both deserve watching.
Running Up That Hill: Not sure if running back Jeremy Hill made a deal with God, but you have to like his chances of making the roster after his 11 carry, 51-yard, one-TD performance (he may have scored twice if you look at the replay on the goal line). Beyond the numbers, Hill looked sharp in his cuts, demonstrating vision and decisiveness that Mike Gillislee has seemed to lack. Check out his reception/juke/straight arm combo at the 0:37 mark of these highlights.
Maybe we’ve witnessed enough August playing time for Hill? One of those preseason situations where the less we see of him going forward, the better in terms of his likelihood of making the team? Do you mind if I just keep asking rhetorical questions? Would that be okay? Hmm?
Get This Down Patterson: Speaking of playing time, maybe for the best if Cordarrelle Patterson gives the youngsters a few shots at kickoff returns. Just take the Rob Gronkowski preseason route of Warm-ups and Active Spectatorship.
Checking Out The Webb: Biggest candidate for Preseason Fan Darling? Rookie running back Ralph Webb, who scored two touchdowns and two 2-point conversions last week, managing to stick out in a very crowded backfield. Not sure the Patriots will keep him on the roster, but if they cut him, another team’s likely to give him a shot.
Wynn-Wynn Situation: Rookie lineman Isaiah Wynn at tackle? Wynn at guard? Looking forward to watching him play while feeling glad knowing there’s no rush to get him in there thanks to new Patriot/obsidian obelisk Trent Brown and backup right tackle LaAdrian Waddle. All seems well up front.
Backs To The Future: Plenty of young defensive backs to discuss, including J. C. Jackson, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen, Jomal Wiltz, and Ryan “We’re Number One Oh Hell Where Did That Guy Come From?” Lewis. Looking specifically for one-on-one match-ups and pairings with veterans in certain defenses. Seems that Jackson has the upper hand at the moment, but would be surprised if Crossen or Lewis didn’t make a play this week.
Young guys to watch this week include Crossen and tight end Ryan Izzo, as well as rookie punter Corey Bojorquez who could make his pro debut (though apparently Brady had an impromptu punting tryout this week). This will give me time to consider a pun for Corey’s name. Challenge accepted.
Bojorquezhemian Rhapsody? No? I’ll keep working on it.
Chris Warner will stop writing Patriots columns eventually. In the meantime, his Twitter handle is @cwarn89.