LANDOVER, Md. — The Patriots lost to Washington 23-6 Thursday night in their preseason opener.
Here's five takeaways from the team's first exhibition game:
1. Hello Jimmy Garoppolo — First and foremost, wow. (Stands and claps at computer.) In 12 training camp practices, I had yet to see Garoppolo look as impressive as he did on Thursday night against Washington. He showed some escapability, scrambling for opportunities to throw and pick up some yards, and he showed touch on his deep ball, something we knew he was capable of from his time at Eastern Illinois. But he also showed us that he can make anticipatory throws, the kind that NFL starting caliber quarterbacks are required to make on a regular basis. He hadn’t given us a whiff of any of that in practice. He had been struggling in 11-on-11s, operating indecisively, and throwing off the mark way too often. Typical rookie stuff. But Thursday night, he hit the out routes in stride, placed his deep balls with pinpoint accuracy, and found a rhythm that wasn’t apparent before. He was fantastic.
2. Brian Tyms’s chances haven’t changed much — Before everyone wakes up in the morning and starts looking to buy Brian Tyms’s jersey, take note that he still will not likely make the Patriots 53-man roster, barring some unforeseen injury or cosmic disturbance. Tyms was fantastic as Garoppolo’s wingman Thursday night. He caught five of six passes thrown his way for 119 yards, including the 26-yard touchdown he took with him all the way into Washington’s stands. His 53-yard catch was a beauty. But it was the one pass he didn’t get, the 38-yard touchdown that was called off after he was interfered with, that was the gem of the night. Tyms bobbled the pass after hauling it in before catching it again on his way down to the ground with Chase Minnifield all over him. It was a highlight play and likely could’ve been overturned had Belichick been interested in challenging the call. (No need with the pass interference, but still.) But all of his success Thursday night, and going forward in the preseason, won’t mean diddly squat because he has at least seven receivers ahead of him on the depth chart: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce, and Matthew Slater. Somebody has to go for him to make this team. And more than likely, two of those somebodies have to go with the talent on the roster. But hey, he’d be great for the practice squad.
3. Moving parts offensive line — Dan Connolly started at center for the Patriots, playing the entire first half before last season’s starting center, Ryan Wendell, took over in the second half. Connolly, a utility man, last started at center for the Patriots in 2011 in place of the then-injured Dan Koppen. He was projected at that position for 2012 as well before Brian Waters’ disappearance, moving back to right guard. That’s when Wendell emerged. On Thursday, Josh Kline took Connolly’s place at right guard and Jordan Devey played left guard while Logan Mankins rested. Kline has been a fast riser in camp. Devey also rotated in at his natural position, tackle, behind Sebastian Vollmer. It appears the Patriots are still trying to find the right mix of players that will be in their top group. Rookies Jon Halapio (right guard) and Cameron Fleming (right tackle) didn’t play until the second half. And with center Bryan Stork out with an injury, moving Connolly to the position was likely the team’s best way of shoring up its backups.
4. On defense, still a lack of push — Forget the starters for a moment. (Aren’t we supposed to anyway?) Not one defensive linemen showed an ability to get up field on Thursday. The second half mix of Zach Moore, Joe Vellano, Marcus Forston and Michael Buchanan had trouble with Washington’s second and third string offensive line. That’s a continuation of the troubles we saw during joint practices. Buchanan did come down with a 4-yard sack in the fourth quarter, but that appeared to be more of miscue on Colt McCoy’s part than the result of anything Buchanan did well. Once again, the Patriots defensive linemen behind Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich disappoint with their performance. That’s gotta change if the team really wants bring down their number of snaps during the regular season.
5. Defensive backs competition heating up — Patrick Chung and Tavon Wilson got the start at safety and that immediately fed into the notion that Duron Harmon’s starting spot is not guaranteed. The second-year pro was in the game in dime packages and took over at safety later on, but it appears the Patriots are giving extended looks to Chung and Wilson. Chung certainly made some quality plays in the run game, with two strong tackles, and Wilson had a combined eight tackles as one of the team’s leaders. One of those three guys will be starting opposite of Devin McCourty on opening day. Unfortunately it’s still not clear who that person will be.