The Patriots perfect preseason came to an end in a 17-9 loss to the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Here are some random thoughts from the game as New England's prepares for the season opener on Sept. 11 in Arizona.
Midseason form – The Patriots starting defense opened the game against a host of backups from the Giants and predictably enjoyed the better of the play. One guy who matched up with a front-line player was Malcolm Butler, who drew Victor Cruz on the game's first play when the corner matched him stride-for-stride down the sideline on a deep ball. Butler made a terrific play on the ball by getting his hand up right as the ball arrived. On the next series the Giants tried to beat him deep again and Butler dominated once again. This time he blanketed Sterling Shepard, forcing the rookie out of bounds. Butler looks to be ready to go.
Inside job – Anthony Johnson got off to a slow this summer, missing some practice time and the first preseason game due to an undisclosed injury. But he's since made up for lost time as he's been impressive over the final three games. He's been effective both as an interior sub rusher as well as an every down defensive tackle. On Thursday he continued his solid play with a pair of tackles and a half sack, working well both as a rusher and against the run. The Patriots often use defensive ends inside as rushers in sub situations but Johnson appears to be more effective with his size in that role. By no means is he a roster lock but he's enjoyed a strong preseason.
Missed opportunity – The Patriots defense forced a punt on the second series of the game after the Giants had marched into New England territory. With New York in a plus-50 punting situation, it appeared to be an opportunity for Bill Belichick to get a situational rep for one of his rookie punt returners – Cyrus Jones or D.J. Foster. Instead he opted to trot Julian Edelman back deep and the veteran executed the fair catch inside the 10 without incident. I felt Jones or Foster, the latter of which got some opportunities to return punts during the last two preseason games, could have benefitted from the experience of making the decision to call and execute a fair catch or to determine if the kick should be allowed to drop. Such experiences under game conditions are rare, and given the nature of the preseason seemed to be a missed opportunity.
Things getting tight – I have no idea how many tight ends Belichick will opt to keep but it would seem AJ Derby has done about all he could to stick around. He finished with five more catches for 51 yards and once again displayed strong hands in traffic. Veteran Clay Harbor joined him in many of those formations and did a nice job blocking and got himself open a couple of times but didn't get the ball thrown his way. James Develin, a fullback by trade, has spent the entire spring and summer working with tight ends so Belichick might include one of the pass catchers (Derby) and Develin as a blocker. It will be one of the more interesting roster decisions over the weekend.
Gutting it out – Give rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts extra credit for toughness for playing much of the night with what looked like a painful ankle injury. Roberts was rolled up on in the first half and went to the sideline but after receiving some treatment he returned and played the majority of the second half. Roberts was clearly compromised physically but given the desperation of facing the final preseason game and perhaps his final opportunity to stick around he gutted through the pain and remain on the field. Roberts looks like an ideal practice squad candidate.
Coaches call – It was interesting to see tight ends coach Brian Daboll calling the plays for the offense throughout the night against the Giants. Josh McDaniels was still heavily involved on the sidelines and was active in the calls but it was Daboll wearing the headsets and making the final decisions. The Patriots have done similar things during camp when they've conducted scrimmages and had Daboll running the offense for one of the teams. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia appeared to remain in his normal role calling the plays for the defense.
Snap decisions – Josh Kline took some reps at center late in the first half after David Andrews got the start. Kline moved from his right guard spot and worked with Tom Brady for a couple of series, and although there were no mishaps on his snaps there were some hairy moments. Kline's shotgun deliveries appeared to lack the velocity of Andrews' and that at times seemed to cause some problems for Brady. The change-ups looked like they caught Brady off guard and perhaps led to some pressure as he was forced to wait for the ball to arrive.
Kick start – Belichick discussed the new touchback rules at length this summer and he mentioned the possibilities of having Stephen Gostkowski try some different styles when kicking off. The idea is to determine if having Gostkowski hang his kicks high and short will allow an opportunity for the coverage to get downfield and make a play, perhaps pining the opponent inside their 20 – well inside the touchback spot of the 25. At this point that appears to be very much a work in progress. Gostkowski tried to pop one up inside the 5 against the Giants and Bobby Rainey returned it 32 yards out to the 35. Similar results have followed this summer when Gostkowski has attempted to kick short of the end zone.
Extra points –Brady saw action in the preseason finale for the first time since 2011, playing the entire first half. He completed 16 of 26 passes for 166 yards with a touchdown and an interception. … Barkevious Mingo made his Patriots debut and finished with six tackles and a sack. … Jacoby Brissett completed his first three passes of the night, giving him a streak of 16 straight without a miss dating back to Week 2. He finished 13 of 21 for 152 yards. … Cyrus Jones turned in another long punt return, taking one back 34 yards in the fourth quarter. He had a 60-yarder in Carolina last week and certainly looks dangerous with the ball in his hands.