As Bill Belichick pointed out several times during his postgame press conference, not much went right for the Patriots in the preseason opener. Right from the opening kickoff, soon after which the Patriots committed their first of nine penalties, New England was outplayed thoroughly on both sides of the ball.
Here's a look at some of the things that stood out to Andy and I in tonight's 23-6 loss at Washington.
Ryan Mallett - This was a big game for Mallett, who got a chance to start as Tom Brady was reduced to spectator status. Aside from a couple of solid throws, the fourth-year veteran failed to generate any offense and the Patriots were blanked during his half of work. Mallett finished 5 of 12 for 55 yards and a passer rating of 55.9. The most troubling aspect to me was his inability to accurately throw the ball with any consistency. He converted a nice third down on the first drive of the game that was negated by a holding penalty, then he opened the second drive with a horrific low pass at the feet of Brandon LaFell that turned a potential second-and-four into second-and-10. It was the kind of throw Brady never misses and one that is integral in the Patriots offense. Until he proves he can hit the short and intermediate stuff more regularly, Mallett will have a hard time becoming a legitimate starter.
Offensive line - The Patriots had three starters - Dan Connolly, who played center, and tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder - in for much of the first quarter. Marcus Cannon actually started for Vollmer but was replaced during the first series. Josh Kline and Jordan Devey were the guards, and that group had a difficult time. Mallett was under fairly significant pressure and there was nothing resembling a ground game. Solder was beaten badly by Brian Orakpo for a sack, Kline was called for holding to negate an early third-down conversion and New England averaged 2.6 yards per carry on 24 attempts. The one area where Washington had success during the joint practices in Richmond, Va., was winning the one-on-one matchups up front and that was the case come game time as well.
Sloppiness - Nine penalties, three fumbles (one of which was negated by a Washington penalty) and poor run defense. Overall not the kind of disciplined performance that Belichick teams are known for. The penalties are obviously going to take some getting used to as the players learn the new levels of contact they can get away with. (The Redskins committed 10 penalties themselves). Rookie Roy Finch put the ball on the ground twice, once while carrying it quite loosely on a kickoff return. Stephen Houston, another rookie, also coughed one up. But the worst sight of all was the poor play of the front seven, which was consistently knocked around to the tune of 177 yards on 46 carries for a solid 4-yard average. Steve Beauharnais made nine tackles as the starting inside linebacker but too many of those came well beyond the line of scrimmage. The Patriots need to get more stout up front on both sides of the ball.
Jimmy Garoppolo - While the second-round pick has struggled quite a bit through the first two weeks of camp practice, he looked much more like a potential-filled prospect on the game field in Washington. The rookie completed 9 of 13 passes in the second half for 157 yards and one touchdown for a 135.7 passer rating. He could have had another score on a deep ball that might have been overturned on review, but at the very least drew a pass interference call. Garoppolo may have only been playing against second- and third-team defenders, but those are the same guys he's been having issues with in practice action. Garoppolo not only was playing in his first NFL game, it was the first NFL game he'd ever attended. He brought an energy and confidence to the field and the offense that was almost palpable. On a night when a lot of things looked sloppy and disjointed, Garoppolo was a primary bright spot.
View photos from the Patriots preseason game against the Washington Redskins on Thursday, August 7, 2014.
Brian Tyms** - A free agent signing after camp was already underway in New England, the first-year receiver Tyms has shown up on the practice field and made plays against the Redskins. He tied a game high with five catches for 119 yards and a touchdown. He had another potential score on a diving catch in the end zone on which he showed great concentration to haul the ball in after it popped in the air as he was rolling on the turf. Although the play was incomplete (it may have been overturned had it gone to replay), he did draw a 34-yard pass interference call. Tyms probably faces a steep uphill battle for a roster spot, but for one night he was one of the few Patriots playmakers.
Malcolm Butler - Butler is a rookie free agent corner out of Division II West Alabama who's gotten a lot of run early in training camp. That continued in the preseason opener when he earned the start and saw action well into the fourth quarter. He had impressive coverage for most of the night, maybe none better than an early pass defense on a potential interception when he ran stride-for-stride with Aldrick Robinson across the field. The Patriots have a crowded depth chart at cornerback but Butler is making a strong early bid to impress, at the very least with an eye on a practice squad spot.