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Analysis: Patriots-Lions

Posted Aug 23, 2013

Observations about New England's third preseason contest from the press box at Ford Field.

DETROIT – Third preseason games are supposed to be barometers for how well prepared an NFL team is for the regular season opener. If that is indeed the case, the Patriots aren’t even close to being ready for the Buffalo Bills on September 8.

New England looked as bad, if not worse, than they did in their third preseason game two years ago, which also took place in Detroit – a lopsided, mistake-marred 34-10 debacle. The Patriots starters were ineffective in all three phases of the game in the first half, and not much better with the backups playing all of the second half.

That said, here’s what stood out from Ford Field Thursday night:

…The lone bright spot in the forgettable first half was the play of rookie WR Kenbrell Thompkins, who had six catches for 93 yards by halftime. He did drop a pass that contributed to a stalled drive, but overall, he played very well, getting open on deep routes and looking very comfortable in the offense.

…Rookie TE Zach Sudfeld learned a rookie lesson the hard way, fumbling in the Lions red zone on the opening drive of the game as the Patriots were going in for what looked like a touchdown. It was a very good defensive play by Detroit, as the defender put his helmet right on the ball to jar it loose, but Sudfeld needs to be more aware of his surroundings, particularly in that part of the field.

…Without Danny Amendola at wide receiver (he didn’t practice this past week, reasons unknown), Julian Edelman started in his place, registering just three catches for 18 yards.

…Defensive back Devin McCourty started at safety, his first preseason game action of 2013, and was involved for most of the first half.

…Prior to the game, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork went out on the field about two hours before kickoff and received an extensive amount of personal stretching help from strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash. This was unusual behavior for Wilfork, who normally doesn’t come out to warm up that early. Something apparently was bothering him in what looked like his lower body. Wilfork suited up, but did not play a snap in the game.

…Right guard Dan Connolly entered the game on the second offensive series. It was his first preseason action of the summer. On the third series, Will Svitek, who’d been starting in Connolly’s stead, came back in the game. That was the extent of Connolly’s action on the night. He had been dealing with a shoulder injury throughout the offseason and summer months.

…Top 2013 pick Jamie Collins started at outside linebacker for New England in place of Jerod Mayo. The latter didn’t make an appearance until midway through the second quarter, and even then, only sparingly. This, after Mayo was the first starter on defense to leave the field and not return last week against Tampa Bay. The third preseason game seems like an unusual time for experimentation with personnel, so, perhaps there’s something physical that Mayo is dealing with that precipitated his reduced playing time.

Leon Washington, last year’s second-best kickoff returner in the NFL, was curiously not inserted at that spot for the opening kickoffs of the first quarter. He did, however, three field punts, but for just 10 total yards. Perhaps this was due to Amendola’s absence. With regular punt returner Julian Edelman taking Amendola’s spot in the offense, Washington may have been spelling Edelman on punt returns. Washington finally got a turn at KOR in the third quarter, which he chose not to take out of the end zone, even though it appeared returnable.

…Left defensive end Rob Ninkovich and left corner Aqib Talib were the only two Patriots defenders who stood out positively. Veteran safety Adrian Wilson, on the other hand, was still on the field well into the second half, which could be an indication that he’s struggling to win a roster spot.

…New England’s starting offensive line had a tough time against Detroit’s d-line in the first quarter, both against the run and in pass protection.

…A sloppy first quarter (two fumbles, penalties) continued into the second, with Tom Brady throwing a very bad interception on a route where two of his receivers criss-crossed one another too close to the line of scrimmage.

…Rookie Duron Harmon looks like he’s sewn up a spot on the 53-man roster. He replaced McCourty at safety in the second quarter. However, he didn’t make many positive contributions in his extended time on the field.

…RB Brandon Bolden’s first-quarter fumble may have sealed his fate. He’d been losing ground on the depth chart to LeGarrette Blount already, and he didn’t help himself with that mistake. Bolden, the second-year back, was later seen on the Patriots sideline wearing just a long-sleeve t-shirt and shorts. Not a good sign for his long-term future with the team.

…Starters often play well into the third quarter in third preseason games. Not so for New England this night. Perhaps the coaching staff had seen enough of their first-half ineptitude to decide enough was enough for them. Just wasn’t their night.

…The backups didn’t perform nearly as sloppily in the second half, but not all that great, either.

…Rookie DT Cory Grissom, who’d been making a name for himself throughout the preseason, appeared to injure his left foot early in the fourth quarter and was taken immediately to the locker room.

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