While it took a bounty of big plays, turnovers and defensive scores for the Patriots to get the job done in the preseason opener against the Saints, Thursday night's 23-22 victory over the Bears at Gillette Stadium was a more balanced, consistent affair.
Though he didn't get off to the fast start he was hoping for, Jimmy Garoppolo guided an offensive outburst in the second quarter as he led an impressive two-minute drive to a pretty touchdown to AJ Derby for what was a 17-11 lead on the ensuing two-point conversion throw to Chris Hogan.
Garoppolo finished completing 16 of 21 throws for 189 yards with the one touchdown. He worked into the third quarter and certainly stepped up from his performance against the Saints. He also stepped up on a night when Tom Brady was supposed to play – and presumably start. Garoppolo stepped up to the plate when TB12 went home with a reportedly minor thumb cut due to an incident with scissors.
"I made the decision for him not to play tonight," Belichick said when asked about the report regarding Brady.
The coach certainly seemed content with the way Garoppolo took to what may have been a slightly altered role on the night.
"That's part of football. Things happen that are unexpected. He's been prepared for that since the day he got here. In offense, for the quarterbacks, we refer to that as an audile," Belichick said.
"It's a good test," Garoppolo said. "I just kind of got tossed in there."
Overall it was a solid night for the offense that ran and threw with productive efficiency, save for a single turnover. Defensively, after the Bears moved the ball early, the group tightened up and took control.
"Good offense, good defense, good special teams," Belichick said. "Hopefully we can play like that more consistently."
"It's just complementary football," Garoppolo said.
Improvement and consistency are the goal in the summer. The Patriots certainly got the former on Thursday night and will be looking for more of the latter, especially as roster battles come down to the wire in the coming weeks.
Before moving on to a post-training camp week of practice and a road trip to Carolina to take on the Panthers, here's a look at some of the personnel highs and lows from the action against the Bears.
LeGarrette Blount/Tyler Gaffney – Aside from Gaffney's long touchdown run last week, there wasn't much production on the ground. This Thursday affair was much different. Certainly the backs benefited from improved blocking from the offensive line. Blount did a nice job bouncing outside for a couple big runs and found the end zone, finishing with 11 carries for 69 yards and the score. Gaffney also seemed to maximize his chances even though the results weren't quite as impressive, running 11 times for 31 yards. The running game set up the play-action passing game nicely.
*AJ Derby *– The second-year tight end has been making plays on the practice field dating back to the spring. He's brought that to the game field with him the last two weeks. Against Chicago he had a nice touchdown catch and a big play on the sideline. He's a versatile athlete who's showing strong hands. Derby finished with game highs of seven catches for 71 yards and the one score. He's making a very strong run at a roster spot as the third tight end. He even got some chances to show his stuff as a blocker in goal line running situations, an area he'll continue to need to show improvement in.
Cyrus Jones – The second-round pick has had his issues with muffed punts on the practice field, but he's been solid in that area each of the last two weeks on the game field. Thursday night he made a great break on a Brian Hoyer comeback throw for an interception. Jones is in the mix as both a depth cornerback and potentially as the primary punt returner. He looked to make solid progress in both areas against the Bears.
Brandon Bolden – The veteran running back was in the midst of making a nice run to bounce to the outside in the red zone when things took a turn for the worse. Bears veteran cornerback Tracy Porter stripped the ball free and fell on it for the turnover. Bolden had just one other carry on the night. The veteran special teamer and backup is often asked to fill in at a variety of roles. Ball security is stressed in training camp practice. It's the most important thing and Bolden can't be happy in that area after his fumble.
Alan Branch – The veteran defensive tackle has reportedly been suspended by the Patriots for a rules violation. Belichick said after the game that it was "a club matter." Branch could be an important part of a run defense that has the potential to be a strength of the front. Whatever led to his absence Thursday night is clearly far from ideal.
Justin Coleman – The second-year cornerback gave up an early play last week to Brandin Cooks. This week he had relatively tight coverage, but still saw Alshon Jeffrey pick up a chunk of yards coming back for the ball early. Later, Coleman earned a holding flag. There is a pretty tight competition going on for the depth positions at cornerback and Coleman isn't starting the summer quite as well as he finished off a pretty impressive rookie season.
What do you think of our list? Other names worth a mention? Let us know with comment below!