FOXBOROUGH — The second Patriots preseason game was much more interesting than the first.
Prior to the game’s start, we all wondered how many reps Tom Brady would get with that familiar knee brace (23), what he would say about his knee injury (he didn’t speak), and how much Tim Tebow improved (he didn’t).
The Patriots’ 25-21 win was the backdrop to a sideshow teeming with storylines and position battles. It’s fair to say that the Buccaneers provided better competition than the Eagles, but how the actual game played out meant very little. Here’s five takeaways from Friday’s exhibition:
1. Tom Brady is fine … and then some — Brady was 11 of 12 passing for 107 yards and a touchdown (a phenomenal strike to Danny Amendola on a post route). He completed his first 11 passes, which is pretty amazing considering we were all wondering how much chemistry he has built with his wide receivers. While he may say that there’s always a need to improve, he seems to be where the rest of the NFL craves to be, in midseason form. That’s a far cry from our worries about his knee, which appeared fine. He wore a brace and it didn’t affect his ability to move in the pocket. He made sure to get rid of the ball quickly and was never in any serious danger, thanks to a clean pocket. The AFC should be concerned. Any talk about the injury now is so passé.
“We’re so far past that,” Belichick said. “We’re way beyond that.”
2. James Develin gets the start at fullback — Develin’s start sticks out because it comes as a complete surprise. The fullback has been working with the tight ends group, including as recently as the pregame warmup for Friday’s game, before being inserted into the first team. He hadn’t been getting many reps in practice, let alone with the first team group, until the last few days. So when exactly did he know he’d be the starter? The first snap apparently.
“I went in there and the coaches asked me to step up and I tried to do the best I could,” Develin said. “We’ll check the film and see how I did, but it was definitely a blessing to be out there.”
Develin is competing for that swing spot between fullback and tight end that is currently occupied by Michael Hoomanawanui. Hoomanawanui, for his part, said he wasn’t concerned about it. And Belichick said the team wanted to get a better look at Develin, who didn’t really play against the Eagles. So the mystery is solved.
3. Tim Tebow is regressing — Tim Tebow is not improving. If anything, he is getting worse. Against Philly, he was a mockable 4 of 12 passing for 55 yards, while taking three sacks for 23 yards. He also had 31 yards rushing. But against Tampa Bay, it seemed like he needed a GPS to find his targets, finishing 1 of 7 passing for -1 yard and an interception. While I maintain that Tebow should be viewed as an option quarterback — with an emphasis on the running portion — he simply has not evolved enough as a pocket passer to merit the dual threat status that comes with the job.
“I just feel like I’m fighting to get better every day,” Tebow said.
This was one of those performances that forever changes the way you view a player. For Tebow, that means he’ll have a much harder road ahead from the armchair quarterback club. Luckily for him, that doesn’t matter. But it’s also possible that it is becoming harder and harder for his coaches to remember his game-winning performances of 2011 while a member of the Denver Broncos. I couldn’t help but notice that the team decided to have him take a knee late in the fourth quarter rather than let him use those precious reps. With only seven pass attempts in a whole half, it doesn’t look good.
4. Concerning play in the secondary — It was another rough outing for Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan. Despite a pick-six, he got burned for a 41-yard pass by Tiquan Underwood and he peeled off his coverage of Kevin Ogletree too soon, giving up a 13-yard touchdown. But he wasn’t the only one struggling. Tavon Wilson was having a tough time in coverage, leaving Justin Green on an island at one point with the Buccaneers’ Derek Hagan almost coming down with a 40-yard catch. Their play has been concerning, with each practice and each game having more visible and more treacherous mental mistakes. Ryan definitely needs time to develop, but the worry is that Wilson, a second-year player, is not catching on like he should.
5. Where is the pass rush? — Fans have been asking that same question the past four seasons, wondering who will fill the gap left by Richard Seymour since 2008. Again and again, it appears Seymour’s role will be filled by many. But if you need to make a bet on any single player to become a star on this Patriots roster, it has to be Chandler Jones. On top of a dominant preseason opening against the Eagles, he came out and wrecked havoc against the Buccaneers. His final stat line (two tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss) belies the totality of pressure he’s providing as well as the resources (usually an extra blocker) to deal with him. Right now, the Patriots look really good on the defensive line.