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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Tue Sep 21 | 02:00 PM - 11:59 PM

Game Observations: Successful business trip for Patriots in Philly 

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Two down, one to go.

This week, the Patriots took their first business trip of the 2021 NFL season, an extended stay in Philadelphia for a series of business-like joint practices with the Eagles at Philly's training headquarters. Thursday, they met again just down the street at Lincoln Financial Field, getting down to the business of their second of three preseason games.

Final scores of course being irrelevant during the preseason, New England had to have entered this exhibition contest hoping to improve in all aspects of its performance from a week ago against Washington – a game they won, but with inconsistent results overall from various position groups.

In that respect, the Patriots more than took care of business.

* * *

Joejuan Williams, who made the tackle on the game's opening kickoff, had a solid week in his normal role as a cornerback during practices with the Eagles. The third-year man was rewarded, it seemed, with a starting nod opposite J.C. Jackson at outside corner, although it should be noted that the Patriots also entered the game a bit thin at corner due to some injuries. Williams, however, continued his strong showing during first-half action Thursday night.

* * *

Picking up where he left off last week, edge rusher Matt Judon made another big play right off the bat versus Philadelphia. When a shotgun snap sailed past Eagles QB Joe Flacco, Judon gave chase and stripped him of the ball right as Flacco tried to pick it up and run. Defensive back Jalen Mills then scooped up the loose ball, giving the Patriots offense excellent field position to start the night.

Judon and Mills were two of the biggest money signings by New England this past offseason and have been integral parts of this defense through the first two games and all throughout training camp. Judon later pressured Flacco on a 3rd-and-9 deep in Philly real estate, forcing an errant throw and another Eagles punt.

Mills, meanwhile, has played a lot of outside corner prior to Thursday night's game, but may be better suited as an inside corner, and that's where he mostly lined up in the game versus Philly.

* * *

Seeing Flacco under center so early came as a mild surprise, as he is listed as Philly's No. 2 QB and consistently took second-team reps during practices with New England earlier this week. Regular starter Jalen Hurts came down with some sort of illness at the last moment, according to reports, necessitating the understudy Flacco's insertion.

* * *

Starting QB Cam Newton looked better – i.e., more confident – throwing the football and maneuvering in the pocket during the game than he did in this week's practice sessions. In fact, this may have been the most fluid Newton has looked since signing with the Patriots in the summer of 2020. Granted, it was only preseason action, and the Eagles didn't play several of their front-line defenders, yet Newton's performance Thursday can be viewed as an encouraging development, particularly if he can continue it in the coming week of joint practices with the New York Giants back in Foxborough.

* * *

Red zone work was the focus of Tuesday's Patriots-Eagles joint session. While New England came away with mixed results during that practice, the Patriots started off strong with a touchdown run by Damien Harris off the Flacco turnover. It proved a foreshadowing of the night's events for New England, a team that struggled with offensive red zone consistency last season.

* * *

Next possession, the Patriots drove a considerable distance to penetrate the Eagles' red zone once again, but had to settle for a 36-yard field goal attempt by Quinn Nordin. The rookie kicker missed it, though, pushing the ball wide right. Most of the right-footed Nordin's misses in practice this summer have been pushes to the right. Nordin's lone miss a week ago against Washington was a 33-yard extra point that he also pushed to the right.

After the second Patriots touchdown of the night, Nordin again missed the ensuing extra point by pushing the ball wide right. His propensity for pushing the ball suggests that he's either not following through properly and/or striking the ball in the wrong spot. Nordin ended up missing two extra points against Philadelphia in addition to his field goal miss, all of them wide right.

* * *

New England's starting defense played longer this week, nearly all of the first half, than a week ago, when it only saw action for a pair of series. Against the run, the unit continues to show progress, typified by another good 3rd-down stop on the second Eagle possession that forced a Philly punt. LB Kyle Van Noy, DL Carl Davis, and rookie DL Christian Barmore appeared to team up to clog the middle of the line of scrimmage on the particular play. With rush defense – particularly on critical downs – an issue for the Patriots last season, this is a positive trend so far this preseason.

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With tight ends sparse due to a rash of injuries (second-year player Devin Asiasi suited up Thursday night as the only available Patriots tight end), second-year offensive lineman Justin Herron was thrust into double-duty as a jumbo tackle-eligible. His name was called a number of times in the game, but for the wrong reasons. He committed a handful of blocking penalties. Herron saw considerable action along the O-line as a 2020 rookie. He's a versatile young talent, but Thursday was a sloppy outing for him.

* * *

DE Chase Winovich finally saw some on-field work this week after coming of the PUP list. Though he incurred an unfortunate roughing-the-passer penalty in the first half after falling into Flacco's legs following a pass. Winovich made up for lost time later with a pair of legitimate sacks and five total tackles, four of them solo. Winovich when healthy is clearly at his best as a pass rusher. It's a crowded group on the edge and Winovich is fighting to find a role for himself. He may have helped his cause against the Eagles, but still has some ground to make up after missing much of the start of camp.

* * *

As he did a week ago, rookie QB Mac Jones appeared during the second and third quarters. Playing with a left knee brace that we first saw during practices with Philly this week, Jones didn't seem fazed by the additional equipment. If anything, he played even more effectively in Philadelphia Thursday after a shaky couple of days during joint practices.

Jones' first drive against the Eagles turned out to be a lengthy one that ended with a touchdown. The drive featured nice mixture of passes and runs and overcame a pair of holding penalties along the way. It should've been capped with a two-point conversion, but WR Kendrick Bourne saw Jones' pass go right through his hands in the end zone and fall incomplete.

Jones threw the football very well all night, at times eluding some Eagles pressure to do so. At the start of the second half, Jones orchestrated a marvelous, mostly no-huddle scoring drive. He looked confident in organizing his teammates quickly before each snap and decisive with his throws thereafter. Another step in the right direction for the young passer.

Sadly, his best throw of the game also resulted in an incompletion – a deep ball to N'Keal Harry which the receiver couldn't secure as he fell hard to the turf.

* * *

Rookie RB Rhamondre Stevenson continues to display an enviable combination of speed, elusiveness, and power. For the second consecutive game, he's found the end zone twice, but against the Eagles, he also lost a late fumble. This miscue will likely give his coaches an excuse to impress upon the young ball carrier the need to focus on fundamentals, but there's no denying that Stevenson is an exciting player to watch.

* * *

Powerful Play & Powerful Player of the Game presented by Enel

As much as the Judon/Mills strip-sack fumble recovery set the tone for the Patriots on the night, a 4th-down interception caused by cornerback Justin Bethel and made by linebacker Harvey Langi may have been the most impressive. Bethel, primarily a special teams contributor, was defending Eagles receiver Jalen Reagor along the Patriots sideline, and as the ball arrived, Bethel, with his right hand tied up with Reagor, raised his left arm to deflect the ball.

As it fell, Langi swooped in out of nowhere to collect it before the ball hit the ground. Great game overall for Langi, who also registered a sack and five tackles. He nearly had a second INT late in the third quarter, but his diving effort bounced off the ground.

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