The action that takes place on the preseason game field isn't necessarily about winning and losing. The final 23-6 loss for the Patriots in Washington is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
But some of the things that transpired at FedEx Field could be precursors to things that will matter when the regular season rolls around.
Here are a handful of blogservations from the four quarters of sloppy, sub-par play that the Patriots put together in Washington:
Browner gets flagged – Brandon Browner has been all over the receivers he's faced this summer in training camp practice. Of course that physical play came without consequence given the lack of officials on the practice fields. Thursday night, the big-bodied veteran corner was flagged for one illegal contact penalty in limited early action against Washington. Browner has average a little more than a penalty per game over his career, and that may only rise moving forward with the NFL making illegal contact with receivers (and receivers pushing off defensive backs) a point of officiating emphasis in 2014. Browner's game is clearly based on his physical style and getting his hands on receivers. If he can't do that it might limit his success. Though many have seemingly anointed him the starter across from Darrelle Revis – even with a four-game suspension to open the new season – Alfonzo Dennard may have something to say about that when he gets on the field practicing again. And if Browner can't keep flag-free often enough, that could hurt his chances of being a mainstay in the back end. It's still early, and how the flags will be thrown remains a mystery, but Browner's physical style certainly seems to go up to and across the line at times.
View photos from the Patriots preseason game against the Washington Redskins on Thursday, August 7, 2014.
Big backs fail to impress** – The loss of LeGarrette Blount this offseason left a void in the Patriots backfield committee. The big back was the centerpiece of the offense late last season. If New England was looking to fill that hole, young backs Jonas Gray (225) and Stephen Houston (225) are the top two candidates. Gray did not run well against the Redskins, seemingly struggling to get any momentum going toward the line. He finished with just 12 yards on nine carries. Houston not only had just 7 yards on his three attempts, but he also lost a fumble. Neither big back has made all that much noise on the practice field over the first two weeks of camp. That not only could mean the team will be without a true big back and maybe without a workhorse type backup to Stevan Ridley, but also that Brandon Bolden may have a better shot at holding onto his roster spot despite a tumultuous time over the last year or so.
Tight end MIA – A year ago the tight end position was a non-factor in the offense when Rob Gronkowski was out of the lineup. With Gronk back in New England continuing to rehab his way back from a torn ACL, the position was once again of no real value to the offense against Washington. Granted, both veteran backups Michael Hoomanawanui and D.J. Williams were also sidelined to injury, but the Patriots did not complete a pass to a tight end all night. There continues to be a real lack of depth or legitimate pass catchers on the depth chart behind Gronkowski at a spot that was once the focal point of the New England offense.
Injury concerns -- It was good news/bad news when it comes to the health of the defensive tackles. Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, both coming off significant injuries, started and appeared to come out of the game unscathed. The same could not be said of some of the guys expected to back them up. Sealver Siliga injured his left hand during Tuesday's joint practice session with the Redskins and didn't play in the game. Chris Jones appeared to have his left leg rolled up on by teammate Marcus Forston and left the game with what the team described as an ankle injury. Both played significant roles on the Patriots defensive line a year ago and if their injuries are serious it could be a blow to the group's overall depth.
Hawkins' speed intrigues -- Travis Hawkins has been a staple returning kicks during the camp practices all summer long and he got a chance to handle one in the second half Thursday night. His 47-yard return was negated by a holding penalty against Michael Buchanan but the rookie showed exceptional speed as he shot through a hole after taking the kick out from 8 yards deep in his end zone. Color analyst Christian Fauria described the play by citing Hawkins' 4.3 speed. Hawkins, a safety out of Delaware, is a long shot to make the roster but with fellow rookie Roy Finch showing some ball security issues perhaps he can make a bid to stick around based on his return ability. At the very least I'm intrigued to see him get some more opportunities.
LaFell coming on -- After fighting through some periods of inconsistency Brandon LaFell appears to be turning the corner. LaFell had trouble catching the ball early on in camp but has shown better concentration of late and was a frequent target of Tom Brady during the joint practice sessions with Washington. He finished the night with two catches for 16 yards and was open on a couple of other occasions when Ryan Mallett failed to deliver an accurate pass. He also had a 15-yard grab to convert a third-and-seven that was wiped out by a holding call. While LaFell projects as a secondary target behind Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski, his recent emergence is a good sign and perhaps an indication that Brady will have a viable outside threat with size – something the quarterback alluded to during the week – to work with.