NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Normally, regular starting players would get a little bit of work in this second preseason game. However, after a spirited week of work with the Titans at Tennessee's training facility, the Patriots elected to rest most of their high-profile players yet again Saturday night in Nashville, as they had a week earlier in Detroit.
The fact that this was a rare weekend preseason contest might also have had something to do with the thinking behind this. New England will have a shorter week to prepare for their third game, next Thursday night in Foxborough – the preseason game that usually matters most in terms of playing time for starting players.
With Tom Brady being given the night off Saturday, veteran Brian Hoyer started at quarterback for New England for the second consecutive week. Presumably, Brady got plenty of work in during the past week of joint training camp practices with Saturday night's opponent, the Tennessee Titans.
Hoyer went to work with an o-line made up predominantly of reserve players, with one notable exception.
Isaiah Wynn saw his first action in the preseason since last year's second exhibition contest, when he tore an Achilles heel in his rookie debut. The left tackle, who is projected to be the starter at that spot come Week 1 of the regular season, saw his workload increase in practice this week as he continues to get back to full strength. It wasn't entirely surprising to see him take snaps in the game against Tennessee.
"Yeah, I felt like I was into it," Wynn told reporters afterward. "Of course, you can always get better… but it was good to get back out there, compete, and be with the team. It gives me a lot of confidence. I was good practicing against those guys all week, so, it wasn't too much of an adjustment, but I was excited, very excited. Overall, I was pretty happy with the performance I put out there today."
"Yeah, I think Isaiah did a good job," Hoyer observed. "For him to get out there, it's great to see him out there."
In a quarter-and-a-half of action, Wynn was effective both in pass protection and run blocking. He even led the way on Brandon Bolden's uncontested 1-yard touchdown run in the early second quarter.
"It felt good," Wynn remarked about that play, "but it wasn't only me, it was the rest of the guys on the offensive line. We all did a good job on that play to allow Brandon to score."
If all goes well over the next few days of practice back in Foxborough, expect Wynn to get more snaps against the Carolina Panthers Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.
Wynn's performance wasn't the only highlight of the night in Nashville from a Patriots perspective. Rookie Jarrett Stidham took over early on for Hoyer and overcame a shaky start to guide New England to a come-from-behind victory, the teams' second in as many games.
Damien Harris saw no snaps versus Detroit a week earlier, but the 2019 third-round draft choice looked good in his preseason debut. Much like he has in practices, Harris showed good patience in reading his blocks and ran decisively when he picked his spots. He also exhibited a combination of power, speed, and elusiveness.
"It felt good to be out there competing with the team," the rookie acknowledged in post-game comments to the media. "I think our objective is to get better throughout the course of a game."
By halftime, Harris had amassed 41 yards on seven carries, and doubled that output by finishing with 14 carries for 80 yards on the ground to lead all ball carriers on both teams.
"I just looked at it as my first opportunity to play with this team. So, that's what I was excited about," Harris continued. "Last week is in the past, I was focusing on this week. It was a lot of fun, obviously, we were able to get a win and play well as a team."
While undrafted rookie Nick Brossette found the end zone for the second straight week, it was Harris who set up the short scoring run for Brossette with his hard-won yardage gained earlier in the drive.
Rookie Chase Winovich had a couple tackle-for-loss and QB pressure in mid-second quarter action. He followed that up with a run-down of backup QB Ryan Tannehill that led to Tannehill throwing the ball away for an incompletion. Just before the two-minute warning of the first half, Winovich registered a sack of Tannehill.
He found himself in the Titans backfield numerous times during the second quarter as he continually beat his opponent off the line of scrimmage. This marks the second straight week that Winovich has shown up in a positive way. He finished with five tackles (four solo).
What's more, he was inserted into the lineup earlier in the game, which could be an indication of the progress he's making in practices.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Derek Rivers injured his right knee during the first quarter and was immediately taken for further evaluation inside the pop-up blue medical tent behind the team's bench. A short time later, he walked to the locker room under his own power, but with a pronounced limp. He did not reappear on the field.
This is obviously a potential concern for Rivers, the third-year player who lost his entire rookie season due to a knee injury.
Elsewhere, Shilique Calhoun, a player who's been a somewhat pleasant surprise this summer, also injured his right knee just a few plays after Rivers. He, too, went for inspection inside the medical tent, but upon surfacing from it spent some time riding the exercise bike on the sideline. Calhoun remained on the bench in uniform with his teammates for the remainder of the game, albeit with a light brace covering his right knee.
While the passing game overall wasn't as prominent as it was for New England against Detroit, undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers continues to impress. Against Tennessee, he led all pass-catchers on both teams, snaring all six passes thrown to him, totaling 82 yards, plus a two-point conversion reception in the second quarter.
Meyers continues to display solid route-running abilities and reliable hands, along with a confidence of knowing where he needs to be in this offense.
"He's just done a great job, even going back to OTAs [in the spring]," Hoyer said of Meyers, "I remember him making some big plays. He's continued to build on that. He's worked really hard and it's paying off for him."
Stephen Gostkowski resumed his customary kickoff chores, a responsibility he yielded last week to rookie punter Jake Bailey, and handled them well. Meanwhile, incumbent veteran Ryan Allen also took New England's first punt of the night.
Bailey, though, was called on to take the free kick following New England's surrendered safety in the late second quarter. He uncorked a solid boot of 67 yards, then let loose a 54-yard effort on a traditional punt just before halftime.
The rookie Bailey also served as Stephen Gostkowski's placekick holder yet again (he did so in Detroit last week). Gostkowski pulled his 40-yard field goal attempt wide left, but there appeared to be no problem with the hold by Bailey, who's keeping the pressure on Allen in their ongoing competition.