A week after Bill Belichick lamented his team's mere 38 seconds of good play in the first half of the preseason opener, the Patriots came out of the gates firing on all cylinders in a 37-20 win over the Eagles in the second game of the preseason on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.
Clearly Tom Brady's summer debut keyed the early improvements but so, too, did an aggressive, playmaking defense that picked up eight sacks and lit the scoreboard with a 54-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
There was energy and playmaking on both sides of the ball, even with key players like tight end Rob Gronkowski and linebacker Dont'a Hightower sitting out the second week of preseason action.
"I thought our guys came out and played really competitively tonight," Belichick said to open his postgame press conference. "We got off to a good start and were able to play from ahead and made plays in all three phases of the game. I like the energy we played with and had some good, productive plays.
"Just another step in our preparation for the season and opening day. Hopefully we can keep making progress."
Before moving forward toward next week's trip to Carolina for the all-important third preseason game against the Panthers, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from an impressive effort against the Eagles.
Tom Brady – Funny how the G.O.A.T. returned and the passing attack looked infinitely better. Brady completed 19 of 26 passes for 172 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. His 4-yard touchdown throw to Chris Hogan to open the scoring displayed textbook pocket mobility. Brady also debuted his new, modern helmet for a new look with the same old on-field production through nearly the entire first half.
James White – White was a key part of Brady's hurry-up offense on the opening drive and made plays throughout his reps against Philly. White finished catching all six balls thrown his way for 61 yards, including a pretty 20-yard catch-and-run touchdown. White also had four carries for 31 yards, including a 22-yard run. White maximized just about every chance he had and looked like he's ready to be a key factor in the passing game as Brady works through the early-season transition period with the personnel at wide receiver.
Adrian Clayborn – The veteran defensive end has looked good off the edge dating back to the spring. Thursday night his strip-sack of Nick Foles led to a touchdown. Clayborn then had his head on a swivel looking to block someone on the touchdown return, possibly a lesson learned from Ryan Lewis' actions in a similar situation last week. Clayborn brings a veteran, professional presence to the edge of the defense.
Ja'Whaun Bentley – A week after tying for the team lead in tackles in his NFL preseason debut, the fifth-round rookie was again flying around against the Eagles. He recovered the Clayborn forced fumble and returned it 54-yards for the touchdown. He also showed his coverage abilities, blanketing a running back split wide to open the game and later knocking away a pass in the back corner of the end zone. Bentley finished with five tackles, got some pressures as a blitzer and showed a willingness to hit anything that moves.
Keion Crossen – The late-round rookie cornerback had a night he'd like to forget. Crossen was flagged three times, twice for pass interference and once for a hold. He struggled in coverage. Drafted as a raw athlete who got noticed via a splashy Pro Day, Crossen got noticed for all the wrong reasons on Thursday night in high-end reps on defense. It was a long night of learning.
Jason McCourty – The veteran cornerback made his preseason debut with reserve action against Philly. He allowed a touchdown in the left side of the end zone when he overplayed the quick inside move by Shelton Gibson and got beaten badly back to the outside. McCourty's status and potential role with the team don't appear to be any clearer today than has been the case throughout the offseason of his somewhat limited practice reps. Even if McCourty isn't on the roster bubble, he clearly needs to tighten some things up.
Kickoff coverage – On a night where so many things went right, even on special teams, the kickoff coverage was not good. Philly got the ball eight times via kickoffs, six times taking over at the 25 over beyond. That included a return to the 47-yard line. There may be new rules and preseason special units sometimes have different mixes of personnel, but the kickoff coverage certainly has room for improvement.
Isaiah Wynn – After sitting out the preseason opener, the top pick saw early reserve action at right tackle against the Eagles. Unfortunately his night ended early when he was carted off with an ankle injury. Though the severity of the injury is not immediately known, missing any reps at this point in the process will certainly put the rookie behind. In conjunction with Marcus Cannon already dealing with an injury, it also adds to depth concerns at the tackle position.
What do you think of our lists? Alterations or additions?