Bill Belichick declared his Patriots as having played about 38 seconds of good football in the first half of Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Redskins.
He made that comment just after Stephen Gostkowski’s 52-yard field goal to close out the first half, sending New England to the locker room trailing 17-3.
The deficit came with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski on the sidelines, while plenty of top-line defenders saw significant action for New England.
Things improved some in the second half with more second-stringers on the field for the Patriots on both sides of the ball. Behind an experienced group of backup linemen New England put up three rushing touchdowns to pick up the 26-17 win.
It was far from pretty and left plenty of work to do, as Belichick emphasized in his postgame press conference. But it was another step in the process, ideally a step in the right direction.
“I thought we gave a good competitive effort in the second half,” Belichick said afterwards. “It was good to see us make some plays there in the second half. We played a lot of people. We have a lot of work to do. We’ll evaluate how things went tonight and then move on to next week.”
Before a return to training camp practice and preparations for the second preseason game against the Eagles, here’s a look at some of the personnel highs and lows from the preseason-opening win over Washington.
Jeremy Hill – The veteran newcomer’s first look in a Patriots uniform was an impressive one. The former Bengal showed nice burst through the hole and also caught the ball pretty well. He finished with 51 yards on 11 carries (4.6 avg.) with a 1-yard touchdown run. His two catches picked up 14 yards. He did lose the ball at the end of one run when he was already down, a ball security issue that’s worth watching. But in a potential battle with Mike Gillislee for a roster spot Hill got off to a nice start. While most Patriots were less than stellar early, Hill had four carries for 30 yards in the first half.
Ralph Webb – Sporting his newly-assigned No. 22 jersey that made him look quicker, the undrafted rookie made an impact in the second half. Though he may face an uphill battle for a roster spot, Webb had 14 carries for 46 yards, including touchdowns of 8 and 1 yard. Webb added a pair of two-point plays, the first of which was an impressive catch on a ball thrown behind him. Webb’s 16 points scored keyed the comeback.
Derek Rivers – The 2017 top pick’s spot on the field early on was a positive in and of itself. But Rivers then flashed a bit in his playing time. He had a nice pass rush that unfortunately ended in a penalty for roughing the passer. He also showed some rush awareness and secondary rush moves. Rivers’ rookie season was a total loss to a torn ACL. The first look at his second season was a positive one.
Ja’Whaun Bentley – The rookie fifth-round linebacker showed up a number of times in his preseason debut. A self-described “thumper,” the 6-2, 255-pound Bentley showed some decent athleticism in his first competitive NFL action. Bentley led New England with six tackles, including five solo stops. His abilities and style are clearly more suited for live game action than training camp practice. Given the questions about depth and roles at linebacker, Bentley took a first step toward a role in New England.
Stephen Gostkowski – The kicker nailed his 52-yard attempt with ease on the warm night. He also drove the ball well on kickoffs. The second-longest tenured Patriots player kicked off his 13th preseason in relatively impressive style.
Jordan Richards – The veteran safety struggled with a number of missed tackles early against the Redskins. Richards then took an illegal crack-back block that sent him to the sidelines with an injury. Richards is seemingly a roster bubble guy heading into his fourth NFL season and the former second-round pick didn’t do himself any favors on Thursday night.
Stephon Gilmore – The No. 1 cornerback has been arguably the best defensive player throughout the first two weeks of training camp practice. That did not translate to the game field as Gilmore gave up three early completions and was chasing receivers around in what looked like both zone and man coverage. It’s way too early to be concerned, but Gilmore certainly could have been more competitive Thursday night.
Chris Hogan – The guy who could be Tom Brady’s No. 1 receiver come September didn’t exactly look the part in the preseason opener. Hogan was targeted twice without a catch. He was flagged for offensive pass interference. He continued what has been a summertime trend of struggling to create separation with defenders. Hogan has a chance to prove himself early in a contract year but needs to step up to the opportunity moving forward.
Tackling – New England struggled in its tackling on both special teams and defense. It’s probably understandable given the limited contact and live tackling in training camp practice, but the tackling will simply need to be better for the Patriots in the coming weeks.
What do you think of our lists? Additions or alterations? Let us know with a comment below!