The Patriots wrapped up their preseason with a 31-29 loss to the Giants on Thursday night. The Giants game-winning touchdown came as time expired but it will quickly be forgotten as now the team turns their focus to the Steelers and football games that actually count.
Rookie quarterback Jarrett Stidham went wire to wire, making his case to be Tom Brady's only backup and that he's a solid developmental player at a critical position where the Pats are the longest in tooth.
This finishes another impressive summer for the Patriots and one in which, most importantly, they avoided any devastating injuries. The rookies and second-year players showed remarkable development over the entire month of August, while the veterans all looked primed to pick up where they left off last season.
Some questions remain but most of the major ones have been answered and now we turn the page to the 53-man roster cut down, then the season opener against the Steelers with the unveiling of a sixth Super Bowl banner.
Here are the game observations from the preseason finale!
- Jarrett Stidham got the start and played the whole game, finishing 18-of-28 for 225 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. This should fuel the fire that he'll be the sole backup quarterback this season and he only threw gasoline on that fire with his performance. There were still some rookie moments like holding the ball too long and a couple turnovers, but the good overshadowed the bad, highlighted by a perfect 35-yard touchdown pass to Thomas. Stidham's ceiling remains a mystery but he's shown he can play at this level and gives the Patriots reason for optimism behind Brady.
- After a summer spent not knowing what the Patriots Week 1 offense would look like, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas all saw action right out of the gate, a good sign for their readiness. In limited action that trio reassured Patriots fans that there are actual NFL receivers on the roster ready to compete with the iron of the league.
- Gordon had two catches for 30 yards and drew a pass interference penalty in almost a full half of work. He mostly picked up where he left off last season, running slants and stretching the field down the sideline. Tom Brady must've been happy to see a legitimate outside threat on the field, the offense was devoid of one all summer. Still not sure if we'll ever see 2013 Josh Gordon, but the 2019 version still looks pretty good and the Pats will need him to play a major season-long role this year.
- Thomas had a good knock-the-rust off game and likely secured his spot on the roster. The highlights -- two touchdowns, running to the right spots and catching what was thrown his way by Stidham, including a 35-yard TD. Overall, 7 catches for 87 yards is pretty tantalizing. The rusty parts - a fumbled jet sweep exchange and a two-point conversion he couldn't hang on to. In the end, fans should feel pretty good about the Patriots' receivers. It's a long season and whether or not the top trio can stay on the field all season long remains a question, but the confidence level should be rising with good reason after this finale. It's a strange development for a fourth preseason game to finally see what your starting receivers might look like.
- The defense didn't feature the same kind of potential-starter personnel like the offense did, though Keion Crossen, Calvin Munson and Byron Cowart were three fighting for a spot that started. A nice fourth-and-1 stop got them off to a good start to prevent an early score. Even the defensive backups have been solid this summer and that continued for the most part against the Giants. Some good defenders are going to be cut this weekend unfortunately.
- After seeing Ryan Izzo get a shot last week against the Panthers, it was Stephen Anderson and Eric Saubert who got the early looks in this one, with Anderson leading the way. Combined the tight ends finished with just one catch. Will it be Matt Lacosse and Ryan Izzo on opening day? Both were dressed but did not play. If there's unanswered questions about this Patriots team, tight end is the biggest.
- JoeJuan Williams played safety in the finale, an interesting twist and a good way to get him some experience on the back end like they did with Jason McCourty last year. Williams could be an intriguing matchup option from the strong safety spot.
- Keion Crossen, in a fight for a roster spot, got off to a bad start as he was beat down the sideline for a 35-yard touchdown, but he'd bounce back and finish with 5 passes defensed and 10 solo tackles to go with an interception. It seemed pretty clear Crossen and Duke Dawson are knocking on the door of the roster. Crossen's second quarter interception drew a big celebration from the Patriots sideline. It was a huge play that he needed to help secure his spot. Dawson chipped in with an interception of his own that drew similar excitement. Is there a spot for both?
- Dietrich Wise entered the game near the end of the first quarter. He's been a popular player for debate and it would seem he's definitely on the bubble, though Byron Cowart was in there as well, a player he might be going head-to-head with. Wise played in a pass rush role, as the team is likely considering his value in that spot since he might no longer be an early-down scheme fit if the defense plays more odd fronts.
- Jakobi Meyers saw the slot snaps after the first drive but was silent until a drawn pass interference penalty in the end zone late in the second quarter. He finished with just one fourth-quarter catch, his most quiet game to date and leaving question if he is still in fact the roster lock we thought he was a couple weeks ago.
- It was a reassuring performance for the field goal unit as well with no issues or misses with the holds or kicks. Overall, Gostkowski was 2-for-2 on extra points and 3-for-3 on field goals, including a 51-yarder at the end of the first half.
- Gunner Olszewski continues to make a case for a roster spot. He's a little bit of a madman, with reckless regard for his himself, but it's hard not to love that about him. His performance makes you wonder if he's more worthy of a roster spot because you know he'd immediately contribute as a returner while someone like Jakobi Meyers would likely be a gameday inactive. Gunner had two catches for 35 yards, 3 kick returns for 77 yards (25.7 average), 1 punt return for 7 yards and a tackle on defense. He even played cornerback, making a tackle and preventing a two-point coversion and it was as if he was screaming PATRIOTS from the mountaintop. If he makes the team he will play a role in the opener and that says a lot.
The roster must be cut to 53 players by 4pm EST on Saturday August 31st. Stay tuned to Patriots.com for analysis all weekend as the official roster takes shape.