Twenty-six thoughts on the Patriots’ 26-17 preseason win over the Redskins . . .
1. I appreciate the work that goes into the 53-man roster projections that Patriots reporters produce at various stages of training camp, and I devour all of them. But I think we all know — and no one realizes this more than the beat guys — that it’s an exercise in informed guesswork at best. The Patriots are as democratic as a franchise can be in putting together its roster; performance matters more than pedigree, as evidenced by at least one undrafted free agent making the roster for 14 straight years. An unexpected someone — probably multiple unexpected someones — will make this team, and we won’t see the departure coming for a familiar name or two.
2. It’s going to be especially interesting to see how everything shakes out in the defensive backfield. The Patriots have stability with Devin McCourty, Stephon Gilmore, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, and Eric Rowe. But will Jason McCourty, an accomplished but older player, stick? What about former second-rounder Cyrus Jones? Is J.C. Jackson a legit keeper even with the baggage he carries from a transient college career? What about Ryan Lewis?
3. More than anything else, the first preseason game is for adjusting to different players wearing familiar numbers. When Patrick Chung made a third-down hit to stop the Redskins on their first possession, a Patriot wearing No. 21 congratulated him. That was Malcolm Butler’s number, and it’s going to be a while before I stop thinking of it as Malcolm Butler’s number.
4. No. 21 now belongs to Duron Harmon, who gave up his familiar No. 30 to Jason McCourty. At least Devin McCourty is still No. 32. Heck, I still think of No. 24 as Ty Law’s number. I’m not sure Cyrus Jones, who now wears No. 41, should even be allowed to borrow it.
5. After the JV Redskins marched down the field for an early touchdown against the Patriots’ starting defense, color analyst Scott Zolak said, “I know it’s a new year, but that looks like the same old defense from last year.’’ I get that the last memory we have of the Patriots defense is its complicity in turning Nick Foles into a Philadelphia hero for life, but this feels like a different, and better, defense to me.
6. Yes, Butler is gone, and it stinks that it ended in such a bizarre manner, but it’s not like they were unprepared for his departure. Intelligent and versatile Dont’a Hightower is back, and that changes so much. If he had played in the Super Bowl last year, they’d be putting up a sixth banner in a few weeks.
7. Plus, promising pass-rusher Derek Rivers is healthy, and Adrian Clayborn brings veteran quality to the defensive line, and by all accounts, Deatrick Wise Jr. has taken a major step forward after an impressive rookie year. With good health, this will be a good group.
8. Colt McCoy is still in the league? I swear I haven’t seen him since he and Peyton Hillis led the Browns to a 34-14 walloping of the Patriots in November 2008. Yep, that was that long ago. That has to be the most bizarre loss in the Brady/Belichick era, at least among those that didn’t involve the Dolphins.
9. Trent Brown is 6 feet 8 inches, weighs 355 pounds, runs well even by the standards of a lineman of smaller dimensions, has a reputation as a good pass blocker, and reportedly has adjusted well to the Patriots culture and expectations. Either there’s a piece of information that we’re missing, or the Niners made a very, very strange move in giving him up, along with the 143rd pick in the 2018 draft, to move up to the 95th pick.
10. It certainly looks like the job of protecting Tom Brady’s blind side already belongs to Brown. If that’s the case, he becomes the next man up in a fairly unheralded lineage at left tackle for the Patriots. Since 1981, the Patriots have basically had four long-term left tackles: Brian Holloway (1981-86, three Pro Bowls); Bruce Armstrong (1987-2000, six Pro Bowls, though he began his career at right tackle, with Danny Villa playing on the left side); Matt Light (2001-11, three Pro Bowls), and Nate Solder (2012-17, no Pro Bowls, but recipient of the richest contract given to a lineman in NFL history). That’s some excellent company.
11. Julian Edelman didn’t have a catch in his first game since blowing out his knee last preseason, but he probably would have had Brian Hoyer spotted him wide-open down the middle during an early possession. Good to see No. 11 out there again, even if the quarterback wearing No. 2 didn’t see when he should have.
12. As for the quarterback who has worn No. 12 for the last 19 seasons, he didn’t take a snap Thursday. But Brady did get a little more money in his contract Thursday, which is some kind of small justice given that he’s been the best bargain in sports for the vast majority of those 19 seasons.
13. Still, that the a deal is incentive-laden is somewhat bewildering. When has anything Brady has ever done been based on stats?
14. Either Phillip Dorsett or Cordarelle Patterson is going to get some of the downfield opportunities that went to Brandin Cooks last season. I was optimistic that Dorsett was going to take a step forward in his second season with the Patriots, but he had a rough night Thursday, running out of bounds on one deep route and getting alligator arms on a Hoyer pass over the middle later in the first half. He didn’t have a catch.
15. Patterson, meanwhile, had two catches, for 38 yards, including a toughie in traffic. Is it possible that the Patriots are going to find a way to get the most out of his mostly untapped ability?
16. It seems like Jeremy Hill (11 carries, 51 yards, TD) and Mike Gilleslie (14 carries, 43 yards) are battling for one roster spot. Hill had a nice sequence in the second half in which he flattened a Browns pass rusher with a block, then on the next play turned a short pass into 12 yards and a first down. Not sure who to favor in this competition.
17. I’ve been wary of falling for running backs in preseason since being suckered by Sedric Shaw in the mid-90s, but it must be acknowledged that rookie free-agent Ralph Webb made a nice impression with a pair of touchdowns and two two-point conversions.
18. Ju’Whaun Bentley, a fifth-round pick out of Purdue, led the Patriots with five tackles (one assist) from his linebacker position. He looked quicker than he was reputed to be coming out of college.
19. Apropos of nothing, Zolak said this late in the game: “When his head was right, Terry Glenn was the best receiver I ever played with.’’ Amen to that. I’ll always have a soft spot for Glenn, even though he was as enigmatic as he was talented.
20. The most interesting job competition is probably at punter, where Ryan Allen is trying to fend off big-legged rookie Corey Bojorquez. Even though Allen’s contract is up after the season, I do hope he wins the job. He’s been so reliable during his time here that it’s hard to believe Bojorquez would be an immediate upgrade.
21. Of course, I was surprised when Allen beat out Zoltan Mesko in 2013 training camp, and that’s worked out rather well. He’s on the short list of the best punters in Patriots history, though in the Belichick era I’m still partial to Josh Miller.
22. Rob Ninkovich is going to be a very good analyst. He’s still caught a little bit in that weird ex-player vortex where the current players see him and think of him as a teammate first. But he comes across as easy-going, quick-witted, and articulate, and he’s only going to get better. I hope he becomes more prominent on the Patriots media scene.
23. Maybe this is a fairly common term and I’ve just somehow missed it, but I liked how Ninkovich explained that Wise was supposed to “forklift’’ the running back that was half-heartedly attempting to block him before running his route in the first quarter. Vivid way of explaining it.
24. The return of football season is welcome, and it is interesting to some degree to gather live-game intel on the players new to the roster, coming back from injury, and/or fighting for a job. But let’s admit it: These preseason games feel like they last twice as long as a regular-season game.
25. At least last year there was the Jimmy Garoppolo factor to keep them entertaining for a while. Whatever happened to that guy?
26. Belichick is in midseason form, and hilariously so. His obligatory halftime interview with Channel 4’s Steve Burton lasted 26 seconds and consisted of 21 words from the coach. For posterity’s sake, the transcript:
Burton: “Well, Coach, preseason football is not about winning or losing. But what did you hope to get out of the first half?’’
Belichick: “We needed to do pretty much everything better. Not good enough in any area.’’
Burton: “It’s good to see good situational football, scoring at the end of the half, anyway?’’
(The Patriots drove down the field for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal to cut the Redskins’ lead to 17-3 just before the half.)
Belichick, sarcasm dripping from every syllable: “Yeah, about 38 seconds of good football.’’
I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a deader deadpan than that.