The Patriots will play their second preseason game of 2018 Thursday.
Here’s what you need to know before they take on the Philadelphia Eagles:
Tom Brady has said he will play.
He didn’t log a snap during the preseason opener against the Washington Redskins, but quarterback Tom Brady said he “absolutely” plans to play against the Eagles.
Brady — who was reportedly sidelined last week due to a sore back — told WEEI’s “Kirk & Callahan” Tuesday morning he’s “doing really well.”
“I’m doing well,” Brady said. “I’m doing really well. You just always have little things you’re working through, that’s part of football season, but I feel really good.”
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, there is “not much cause for concern” regarding the 41-year-old’s reported injury. Brady’s DNP against the Redskins is not necessarily unusual, sore back or not, as he also sat out New England’s preseason openers in 2017 and 2016. Even if he does play Thursday, backup quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling will likely get some reps as well.
For the Eagles, quarterback Nick Foles is expected to make his preseason debut as well. Foles, Super Bowl LII MVP, had missed a few practices because of muscle spasms in his neck and shoulder area. Fellow quarterback Carson Wentz will not log any reps, as he is still recovering from a torn ACL and LCL. Wentz’s status for the NFL kick-off game is still uncertain.
The wide receiver depth chart is running rather thin in New England.
The Patriots will be without a trio of contributors to kick off their season: Danny Amendola signed with the Miami Dolphins in March, Brandin Cooks was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in April, and Julian Edelman’s four-game suspension was upheld in July. Since training camp began, the team has also released Super Bowl LI hero Malcolm Mitchell, waived former practice squad member Cody Hollister, and parted ways with newcomer Jordan Matthews.
Several fresh faces now have the opportunity to compete for a spot on the 53-man roster. Phillip Dorsett, a dangerous deep threat with tremendous speed, could step into an expanded role — perhaps in the slot — after logging 194 yards on 12 catches last season. Coach Bill Belichick said he’s “already seen a lot of growth” in Dorsett, who the Patriots acquired in exchange for Jacoby Brissett last September.
Dorsett was targeted twice (but didn’t register a catch) in New England’s preseason opener against the Washington Redskins last week. He reportedly will be available Thursday against the Philadelphia Eagles, despite getting shaken up during Tuesday’s practice. The 25-year-old avoided a potentially devastating injury when he slipped mid-route in an 11-on-11 drill. He was helped off the field, visited the medical tent, and later returned to catch a few passes in a stationary position.
The Patriots have not issued an update on his status, but Dorsett told NFL reporter Mike Giardi he is “all right.” The Athletic‘s Jeff Howe also reported Dorsett is expected to be at practice Wednesday and not miss any time.
“I think everybody wanted to go over and see how he was doing because he was doing so well, in the spring and in training camp,” quarterback Tom Brady said after practice Tuesday. “Hopefully, he’s OK. I certainly hope he is. He’s got a great opportunity ahead of him. I hope he takes advantage of it.”
Losing Dorsett would have been a blow to the already fragile receiver corps. Fellow returning player Kenny Britt has been limited in practice and is looking to bounce back after a brief stint on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list with a hamstring injury. Britt signed with the Patriots last December, but his action was limited to two catches in three games last season. He was inactive for Super Bowl LII.
Cordarrelle Patterson, who the Patriots traded for in March, was also limited during practice Monday. Patterson is expected to make the 53-man roster for his kick-returning abilities but could carve out a role as a traditional receiver as well. He and Brady, however, haven’t connected since the second practice of training camp.
Eric Decker will be looking to make a push.
Wide receiver Eric Decker has had a bit of a rough training camp, dropping several catchable passes since joining the team earlier in August.
“The thing about him is I’ve watched him play a lot of football over the years,” Brady said after practice Tuesday. “I think he’s always been on great offenses. He’s got to use his skillset — the one he’s learned and used for a long time. He knows how to get open, and now it’s just learning about what we do and how we do it, which is always a little different than how other teams may do it.”
“He’s worked hard,” Brady continued. “He’s been out here every day. You can tell he’s a real pro. Hopefully, he can add something to the group. Every role is there to be taken. There are different opportunities out there at every position. If you can play a role and be consistent and dependable and make the plays, then I’m sure coach is going to put you out there.”
Decker did not register any catches during New England’s preseason opener, though he was on the field for six offensive snaps. He logged two strong practices Monday and Tuesday and after practice Tuesday he’s feeling “more comfortable” with the Patriots’ playbook. Decker called his tenure “a work in progress” and hopes his preparations will pay off soon.
“We’re all human,” Decker said. “We’re all going to make mistakes, but don’t let it become a habit. Don’t let it happen over and over again. This game is about mental toughness. You’ve got to understand that you’ve got to bounce back. They’re going to be asking you to respond. It’s not really what you do in that moment, it’s how you react to it. I’ve played a lot of football. I’ve had a few drops in my day. I have had many catches as well. I know how to bounce back and get to it.”
Lane Johnson is still talking trash.
Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson — who previously called the Patriots a “fear-based” organization — said he hopes fans “raise hell” Thursday night.
“They can cuss me, they can say whatever they want,” Johnson said “At the end of the day, I’m not blocking them, I’m blocking guys on the edge, so it really doesn’t matter what they say. I know that I’m not going to be well-liked, this team is not going to be well-liked going there, so it’s going to basically bring out our best.”
Johnson said he’s been waiting for this matchup since Super Bowl LII ended. Patriots coach Bill Belichick, however, dodged the question when he was asked whether there was any “extra motivation” ahead of the game.
“We’re really just trying to focus on having a good practice today,” Belichick said Monday. “That’s what we need to do, build off yesterday, correct some mistakes from yesterday and go out and have a good day today.”
When asked specifically about Johnson’s comments, Belichick offered a similar response Tuesday.
“We’re focused on what we’re doing,” he said. “We need to have a good practice today and try to improve our team today. That’s what we’re going to do.”
Jason McCourty’s status isn’t yet solidified.
Why didn’t cornerback Jason McCourty play in the Patriots’ preseason opener?
“The guys we played, we played,” Belichick said Monday. “The guys we didn’t play, we didn’t play. We’ll play other guys this week and see how it goes.”
It is possible the McCourty is dealing with or recovering from an injury of sorts, but he has yet to leave a practice to join rehabbing players on the lower fields. Belichick wouldn’t comment on McCourty’s health.
“I’m not talking about anybody’s injury, so there’s no point in bringing that up,” he said. “We’re not going through that. Can’t look at everybody every week, there’s just too many guys. Some guys will play one week, others will play more the next week.”
It is also possible McCourty was sidelined because the Patriots wanted to see action from some of the younger cornerbacks, including J.C. Jackson and Ryan Lewis. Belichick has had nothing but positive remarks about McCourty, calling him “very professional,” “hardworking,” and “smart.” Though the compliments are encouraging, McCourty’s status with the team is still in flux. He could very well be cut from the roster, depending on how things shake out with the other contending cornerbacks like Jackson, Lewis, Jonathan Jones, and Cyrus Jones.
“I’m trying not to put any thought process into it,” McCourty said Sunday. “One thing I really believe is, ‘Control what you can control.’ So for me, each and every day I get an opportunity, no matter what if I’m with the ones, twos, threes, fours. If your number is called and you get a rep, make the best of the rep.”