Twenty-five thoughts on the Patriots’ 37-20 win over the Eagles. Why 25? Because neither you nor I need 37 for a preseason game, that’s why . . .
1. We’ll forget all about the circumstances and the stats from this one when the real games begin, if not sooner. But there was something cathartic in a way to see Tom Brady’s first touchdown pass of the (pre)season, a 4-yard dart to Chris Hogan in the back of the end zone at 10:19 of the first quarter.
The sappy soliloquies about new beginnings are usually the domain of baseball. But they apply to this years Patriots, too.
We all know the offseason was a drag around here. There was no immediate remedy for the Super Bowl hangover. The Malcolm Butler benching remained a mystery. The drama around Brady’s status and how long he desired to keep playing went from compelling to tiresome before winter turned to spring.
If we don’t exactly need the fall to get here, we do need it to be near. The new season theoretically began with last week’s preseason opener against the Redskins. But Brady did not play, and backups Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling did little to inspire. It didn’t feel like the real thing.
Yeah, the Eagles were in town, a lousy reminder of how last season ended. I’m sure Eagles tackle Lane Johnson, who even in the aftermath of victory still seems to have a case of Patriot Envy, is still yapping about it as you read this.
But watching Brady back out there, throwing strikes and looking annoyed when something didn’t work? It was a welcome sight, all of it. His presence Thursday night finally made it feel like the new season had begun. That’s what it’s all about. The opponent? That didn’t matter.
Oh, yeah, and he was 5 for 5 for 27 yards and a touchdown on the first drive. Perfect. Allow me to reintroduce myself . . .
Saw a few social media yappers complaining that the Patriots put Brady at risk by playing him during the first half. Absurd. Brady is 41, reportedly hasn’t looked as sharp as usual during camp, and hasn’t had any joint practices to gets some reps against defenses other than the Patriots’ own. He didn’t just want to play, and play for a while. He needed to play.
2. It’s encouraging to see Julian Edelman out there doing his Julian Edelman things after missing last season with a knee injury. Edelman had four catches for 26 yards, all coming early in the game.
3. But what you really wanted to see was Brady building a rapport with a receiver with whom he does not already have a connection. Of his first 12 completions, 11 went to Edelman, Chris Hogan, or James White.
4. White, who had a 20-yard catch-and-scamper for a touchdown late in the first half, tends to get overlooked when we talk about the Patriots’ high-end players. But he shouldn’t be. Save for perhaps peak Kevin Faulk, he’s the best pass-catching back the Patriots have had.
5. It was cool to see Cordarrelle Patterson flash his remarkable if somewhat untapped receiving talent on one play in the second quarter, when he caught a little screen pass, turned the corner on two Eagles defenders, and took it all the way to the end zone before it was determined he had stepped out of bounds at the 40-yard-line.
6. That wasn’t his only intriguing play of the night. Patterson got a touchdown that counted in the third quarter, catching a Hoyer pass in the flat, juking an Eagles cornerback to the turf, and taking it in from 11 yards out.
7. What a bewildering career he’s had. He should be the quintessential deep threat, with speed that would frustrate Wile E. Coyote and enviable size (he’s listed at 6 feet 2 inches and 220 pounds). Yet he’s averaged just 10 yards per reception in his career, on 163 catches.
8. That’s what you’d expect from 31-year-old Eric Decker, not a 27-year-old receiver with Patterson’s tools. Decker actually averaged more yards per catch last year with the Titans (10.4 on 54 receptions) than Patterson did with the Raiders (10.0 on 31 receptions). Really curious to see how the Patriots unlock his talent. I believe they will.
9. Patterson has actually averaged more yards per carry in his career (10.3 yards per attempt on 44 carries) than he has per reception.
10. I like this Patriots defense. I miss Butler because he was a good corner and a great story. But Eric Rowe is a competent replacement. And Adrian Clayborn, Derek Rivers, Danny Shelton, the return of Dont’a Hightower, and the random one or two no-names who will end up being significant contributors give them greater quality of depth — and probably a better pass rush — than they had a year ago. They had seven sacks Thursday.
11. Yes, Eagles third-string quarterback Nate Sudfeld is the brother of Zach Sudfeld, a 2013 Preseason All-Pro for the Patriots. He made the team, but never had a regular-season catch on three targets before he suffered the indignity of being released and the greater indignity of being signed by the Jets.
12. Patriots rookie linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley and Christian Sam both had right-place-at-the-right-time defensive plays. Bentley scooped up a Foles fumble and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Sam had a pick in the third quarter that bounced off the facemask of an Eagles receiver.
13. I’m always skeptical about linebackers picked in the later rounds — it often seems like they have one strong skill and one glaring weakness. I’m thinking of Elandon Roberts here.
14. But Bentley, chosen in the fifth-round by the Patriots out of Purdue, looks like a keeper who can both run and hit. At least so far, he’s doing justice to Jerod Mayo’s old No. 51.
15. By the way, the fumble Bentley recovered was forced by Clayborn. Adrian, not Raymond.
16. Jordan Richards made a deft play on the ball to break up a pass in the second half. Don’t believe that sentence has ever been written before.
17. Rookie lineman Isaiah Wynn departed on a cart in the first half after appearing to injure his ankle. It would be a bummer if both Wynn and fellow first-round pick Sony Michel aren’t part of the picture for a while.
18. I have absolutely no idea whether Jason McCourty is going to make this team. I’m hedging toward no — he was beaten for a touchdown pass while playing with the starters — but the crystal ball is hazy on this one.
19. Nick Foles completed 1 of his first 7 passes. I thought that might be more incompletions than he had during the entirety of Super Bowl LII, but he was just 28 of 43 in that game, albeit for 373 yards. I’m not sure I can remember more than one or two incompletions. I’ll stop talking about this now.
20. Cornerback Keion Crossen (No. 35 in your program, which for some reason I associate with ‘90s running back Mario Grier) nearly had an interception on a Sudfeld shovel pass/fling near the end of the second half. He couldn’t hold on, but even if he did, it probably wouldn’t have made up for his pair of defensive pass interference penalties in the span of three plays in the first half.
21. Said it last week, believe it even more this week: Rob Ninkovich is going to be a very good analyst. He’s a little casual now, but that’s the mood of the preseason broadcast for the most part.
22. When Ninkovich said something along the lines of, “The worst place to be as a pass rusher is behind the quarterback,’’ I wondered if I was the only one who had a flashback to Chris Slade at that moment.
23. Am I the only one that thinks Troy Brown should be given more room to talk on the NBC Sports Boston postgame show?
24. You probably heard about the billboard some greased-pole-climbing Eagles fan bought on Route 1 to mock the Patriots for losing the Super Bowl. And you probably saw the plane flying over Gillette Stadium that . . . well, mocked the Patriots for losing the Super Bowl.
25. Gotta admire Philly fans’ trolling efforts. I’d just suggest they should act like they’ve been there before, but then, it would have been just an act.