The Patriots opened the preseason with a 31-24 loss at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Big plays were the difference as the defense allowed three touchdowns of more than 40 yards, including a 97-yarder.
Here are some random thoughts from tonight's game.
-The only place to start is at quarterback with Jimmy Garoppolo. There were some highs and lows for the backup, but overall it was a pretty solid start. Things weren't great early as Garoppolo was late getting the ball out on his first third-down attempt and took a sack to end the first drive. He later missed a couple of open receivers, most notably Dion Lewis and Jacob Hollister. With less than two minutes left in the first half the Patriots had managed just three points. But at that point things changed dramatically. Garoppolo heated up in the two-minute drill, completing all seven of his passes for 53 yards and a touchdown. He then opened the second half by going 3-for-3 for 60 yards and another touchdown. In all he completed 11 straight and finished 22 of 28 for 235 yards and a pair of touchdowns for the game. After an uneven start to camp it was a nice step forward.
-Continuing the quarterback theme, Jacoby Brissett had his share of struggles. He did lead one scoring drive but was late in recognizing coverages and was forced to avoid pressure before throwing as a result. He finished 8 of 13 for 88 yards and failed to finish a late drive that ended inside the Jags 10. Brissett's accuracy continues to be an issue, particularly when he asked to stepped into a throw and fire, in which case the ball tends to sail high. That happened on at least four occasions Thursday night and he remains a work in progress.
-On the flip side, Lewis was more reminiscent of his 2015 version than last year's. He consistently made the first tackler miss throughout the game and showed his normal toughness and quickness. He spoke prior to the game about feeling more explosive than last year and he showed that against Jacksonville. He finished with seven carries for 32 yards and four catches for 23 more.
The New England Patriots take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in a preseason game at Gillette Stadium on Thursday, August 10, 2017.
-Hollister has the look of some young pass catching tight ends the Patriots have featured in the summer in recent years. Zach Sudfeld and AJ Derby would be two examples of players who flashed pass-catching ability in the preseason, and Hollister had a similar look Thursday night. He caught seven passes for 116 yards while absorbing some big hits while holding onto the ball. There won't likely be a roster spot available for the rookie out of Wyoming but there's definitely some ability there.
-Big plays were a huge problem throughout the night and there seemed to be a few players involved in all of them. Cyrus Jones kicked things off when he was beaten badly off the snap and eventually trailed Jags wideout Keelan Cole down the field on a 97-yard touchdown catch. Cole avoided Jones' jam and had a step immediately before separating further as the ball came down. Jones' technique on the play was off from the start. Later Corey Grant ripped off a 78-yard touchdown run when he eluded Elandon Roberts in the middle and then forced Jordan Richards to take a poor angle, which ultimately led to the touchdown. The last play again involved Jones and Richards as Dede Westbrook raced down the left sideline for a 42-yard touchdown catch. It appeared to be a zone coverage as Jones passed off Westbrook but Richards was very late getting into position, and it wound up being an easy touchdown. All three Patriots played well into the second half and won't be pleased with their performances. Jones also struggled in the slot, and although he handled all of his return chances without incident he also didn't turn in any memorable plays.
-A lot of eyes have been on Stephen Gostkowski this summer after the kicker struggled through the worst season of his career a year ago. His missed PAT in the Super Bowl forced the Patriots to convert a pair of two-point conversions, and his missed PAT a year earlier in Denver in the AFC title game was the difference. So, it was a mild surprise that Bill Belichick chose not to bring in a kicker to provide at least some level of competition in camp. Gostkowski has missed some kicks during training camp practices, including a pair of long ones in joint practices against Jacksonville. He missed again Thursday night when his 56-yarder went wide left. It was obviously a long attempt but it hooked badly and it appeared as if the kicker did not strike the ball in the normal manner. If Gostkowski gets off to a shaky start this season, it will be interesting to see if Belichick looks at potential options. Overall Gostkowski has generally struck the ball well and his kickoffs against the Jags were strong as usual.
-D.J. Foster rode a roller coaster of emotions on one play in the third quarter when he caught a short pass and made a nice move to pick up the first down. But before the play ended he took a hit and wound up coughing up the ball and the Jags recovered. Foster had some issues with ball security a year ago as well, so losing the ball was about the last thing the young back was looking for. He caught three passes for 33 yards and added a 3-yard touchdown run on fourth down, but the fumble was the thing that unfortunately stood out.
-The most disappointing development of the night may have been rookie Deatrich Wise going down with an apparent head injury early on. After receiving plenty of reps with the first group in camp, Wise started but was forced to leave during the third series when fellow rookie Adam Butler inadvertently kneed him in the back of the head. Wise did not return, and if he suffered a concussion it would be an unfortunate turn of events. Wise needs the work in the preseason and any lost time would be damaging to the rookie's development.