By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Super Bowl revenge belongs to the New England Patriots.
OK, not really. Not at all, actually. But the Patriots took the field on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium and mostly resembled the New England Patriots. Rob Gronkowski didn’t play, nor did Dont’a Hightower. But Tom Brady did play, and he looked like Tom Brady. The defense put forth a much better showing than the last time they saw Nick Foles. And the Patriots walked away with a comfortable preseason victory.
Here are the Ups and the Downs from the 37-20 Patriots win.
The Pass Rush
It’d be difficult to try to single out one pass rusher for the Patriots, as everybody involved in the effort worked together for a dominant first half.
The Patriots racked up five sacks in that first half. The first came from Patrick Chung, on a third down. The next came from Adam Butler, also on third down.
Next up was Adrian Clayborn, who knocked the ball free from quarterback Nick Foles. Ja’Whaun Bentley recovered the fumble and ran it 54 yards for a defensive touchdown.
Later in the second quarter, Derek Rivers and Kyle Van Noy picked up sacks on consecutive snaps to force a Philaelphia punt.
It was an impressive team showing, one where everybody had the chance to get on the stat sheet.
(If there was one player to single out, it would be Clayborn. He seemed to be involved in every play where Foles or Nate Sudfeld felt pressure.)
If there was any question about potential rust on the 41-year-old quarterback who took it easy this offseason, they went away fairly early. Brady was perfect in his opening drive, going 5-for-5 for 26 yards and a touchdown, all while efficiently running a no-huddle attack.
He ended up playing the entire first half (save for a kneeldown), and he was nothing short of excellent. He completed 19 of his 26 passes (73.1 percent) for 172 yards and two touchdowns. His most encouraging play actually came on an incompletion. Brady avoided a rush, danced in the pocket, stepped up, found a wide-open Chris Hogan and delivered a strike over the middle of the field. Hogan dropped it, but the play showed that Brady’s mobility appears to be as effective as it ever was.
It’s going to take a while to get used to that new helmet, though. That puppy is big.
You know, it’s still unclear if Patterson is going to carve out a role in the offense. But it sure looks like he’s going to get a chance.
Patterson caught a pass from Brady on a play-action screen, a play that faked a run to the right before going to Patterson on the left side. It went for 23 yards before a part of Patterson’s foot went out of bounds, but the 6-foot-2, 228-pound receiver came awfully close to breaking it for a 63-yard score.
Patterson later did find the end zone on a simple quick pass to the left side. Patterson put the juke to end all jukes on cornerback Sidney Jones, and then showed an impressive burst to turn the reception into an 11-yard touchdown.
Patterson ended up with four receptions for 51 yards and the score. He was initially believed to have been brought aboard for his kick return abilities. But his size and athleticism … it’s enough to make you start to wonder if Patterson might actually end up getting regular reps on offense.
After not playing in preseason Week 1, White got the start in Week 2. And that’s putting it mildly.
The Patriots leaned heavily on White on the opening drive, handing or throwing the football to him on six of the first seven plays. He handled it well, too, picking up 28 yards on three rushes and 19 yards on three receptions. It helped set up a Brady touchdown pass to Chris Hogan … but it looked like White was open for the touchdown, too.
White later scored on a perfectly executed screen pass, following his blockers and making the 20-yard catch-and-run look easy.
“I don’t think you could ask any more of a teammate than what James provides us, and the trust everyone has in him,” Brady said after the game. “I feel like he never makes a mistake, and it’s pretty amazing to have that.”
In total, he gained 31 yards on four rushes and 61 yards (and a touchdown) on six receptions. He appears ready to assume a very important role in the offense, especially in the four weeks of Julian Edelman’s absence.
It was a promising sight to see the Patriots’ top pick on the field for the first time. But he didn’t last long. Wynn suffered some sort of lower-body injury after being engaged in a shoving match with Michael Bennett in the first quarter. Wynn needed some help to get to the bench and then required a ride on the cart to get to the locker room, which is never a positive sign.
The rookie cornerback might have felt like he was in a Southwest Airlines commercial for much of the first half. It was … not a pleasant experience for him.
First, he committed a blatant and ugly pass interference penalty against DeAndre Carter. With the ball in the air, Crossen … karate-chopped the receiver in the chest and tripped him up, too — all while not ever looking up to see where the football might be. The penalty gave the Eagles 31 free yards.
Two plays later, Crossen committed pass interference again, this time in the end zone. It was less egregious, but he didn’t display any ball skills, which made it easy for the officials to throw the flag. Later in the quarter, Crossen was trailing in coverage on Carter on a completion that went for 24 yards, and he then took another pass interference penalty in the end zone.
Crossen, a seventh-round pick in April, did technically get credit for a pass breakup on a Nate Sudfeld shovel pass to nobody on fourth-and-goal, and he also broke into the backfield to start a swarm tackle on the game’s opening drive. But overall that was a rough first half for a player who figures to be fighting to earn a spot on the roster.
Crossen does deserve credit for coming back in the second half with a noticeable level of determination. It’s unclear yet if he’s a player, but he doesn’t appear to be a quitter.
The veteran cornerback found himself on an island with receiver Shelton Gibson in the second quarter. It was a chance for McCourty, in his first game action as a Patriot, to put a play on tape that lets everyone know he belongs.
Instead, McCourty tried to jump a slant run by Gibson, but the receiver turned it into a fade route. Gibson was all alone in the end zone on a play that looked eerily reminiscent to a Plaxico Burress-on-Ellis Hobbs play from a game that need not be named. Gibson hauled in the easy touchdown behind a helpless McCourty.
It was just one snap, and corners do occasionally get beaten when isolated in man coverage. But that play probably won’t do much to quell speculation about McCourty’s place on the final roster.
Another veteran trying to make the roster lands on the wrong side of this list. It’s not that Decker did anything especially poorly — though he did drop a pass from Brian Hoyer after drops were a noticeable issue at practice. It was more about Decker not doing much positive to show that he can be an impact player on the Patriots’ offense. The fact that he was on the field with Hoyer running the offense instead of Brady doesn’t help matters.
But basically, Decker’s status seemed to be a little up in the air ever since he arrived. It remains in the same place after this game.
BONUS: The NFL’s Helmet Rule
It came up quite a bit, and it wasn’t always something that made a ton of sense. Most notably, Jordan Richards was penalized for … well … tackling. It was a head scratcher. The hope has to be that most of the kinks get worked out before the real games begin.