FOXBOROUGH – Which do you want first: the good news or the bad? Okay, the good.
After giving most of their stars a rest in the preseason opener last week, the Patriots trotted out most of them, including QB Tom Brady, for the first half against their second opponent, Philadelphia. The Eagles also used a majority of their best players throughout the first half.
Defensively, the Patriots (without LB Dont'a Hightower, who appeared to have been given most of the night off) turned in a performance that was six months too late. Against the Nick Foles-led Philadelphia offense, New England's (mostly) starting defenders produced three sacks and a fumble return for a touchdown in less than 20 minutes.
Rookie LB Ja’Whaun Bentley continues showing a nose for the football. After his team-leading, six-tackle effort (five solo and tied with Elandon Roberts) in his debut against the ‘Skins last Thursday, Bentley recovered an Adrian Clayborn-produced strip-sack fumble of Foles and rumbled more than half the field to the Eagles’ end zone with it. He’s still green, but the 2018 draft choice is looking more and more like a player who belongs out there.
“One day at a time,” Bentley said afterward about the progress he believes he’s made this summer. “Just looking to go out there and make a play. All the guys are depending on me. Got to take care of business.
“I feel like, as a team, we came out and wanted to accomplish all our goals in today’s game. I felt like we did those today. We played well. We’re just looking to take the next step.”
By halftime, the D added two more sacks of backup Nate Sudfeld, who spelled Foles after he was injured on the Clayborn strip-sack. New England went into intermission with a 27-7 advantage.
“We definitely have a lot of guys that can do different things,” remarked Clayborn. “This defense needs that, and I think we’re all chipping in. The preseason’s good for that, to finally get to wrap up a quarterback. I slipped off one, but that’s what preseason’s for.”
Now, the bad.
Yes, Brady guided the O (minus TE Rob Gronkowski, also a non-injury night off) on a nice, efficient scoring drive right off the bat. He found WR Chris Hogan for a short TD pass to open the scoring. Overall, in his first preseason game appearance, TB12 looked like his normal self.
Yet, 15 of Brady’s 19 completions went to the trio of Hogan, RB James White, and WR Julian Edelman – guys with whom Brady already has a comfortable rapport.
“It was nice. I like working with Tom,” Edelman grinned later at his locker.
It would have been nicer, though, to see Brady try to incorporate more of his less-familiar targets, like newcomers Cordarrelle Patterson (one grab from Brady) and Eric Decker (none), or emerging TE Jacob Hollister (one catch).
Perhaps that can be considered nick-picking at best and negative at worst. What’s not an overstatement, however, is what happened to rookie Isaiah Wynn. The team’s top first-round pick this year, a healthy Wynn was held out entirely a week ago versus Washington. He made his debut this Thursday when he subbed for starter LaAdrian Waddle at right tackle on the second Patriots drive of the night.
However, on just his second series in the first quarter, Wynn limped off the field with a left ankle injury. It occurred while Wynn was blocking defensive end Michael Bennett. The rookie was ushered directly into the blue medical tent behind the Patriots’ bench and spent several minutes being evaluated therein. He was later seen being taken to the locker room on a cart. Waddle was inserted back at right tackle.
In the few plays he appeared on the field with Brady, Wynn did a good job, but the fact that he couldn’t make it inside under his own power leads us to conclude that his injury is a serious one.
Already without fellow first-rounder Sony Michel for an extended period (the rookie running back has been nursing a knee injury), the Patriots might not have their versatile blocker for the foreseeable future. He was being counted on, at the very least, to provide depth at maybe three positions (left tackle, left guard, right tackle), if not a starting role at one of them. We’ll have to wait and see what media reports leak out about Wynn’s condition.
Meanwhile, the second half of this game was essentially an open audition for the players who are mostly on the lower end of the depth chart. Few, aside from Patterson (lightning quickness and a memorable touchdown reception), did anything to stand out in a positive way. In particular, the backups in the defensive backfield left much to be desired.
Next week’s third tune-up game will be against the Panthers in Charlotte and will tell us most of what we need to know about who’s going to make this team, but as we reach the halfway point of the preseason, we’re starting to see the makings of a 53-man roster.
“It’s always nice to put points on the board,” observed Edelman. “There’s a lot of things we could have done a lot better. It’ll be a big week for us coming up to practice that and learn from that. It’s just another step in the direction toward playing regular season football.”
“Time will tell,” Clayborn concluded. “I’m not putting predictions on it, but if we keep working hard, doing what we have to do, hopefully we’ll look as good as we looked tonight… It’s just a start.”