6 takeaways as Bailey Zappe, Patriots wide receivers show flashes in preseason loss to Giants

"We have a bunch of great guys ... that can do everything that you really dream of for having a receiver."

Patriots Giants
Tyquan Thornton of the New England Patriots celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the preseason game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The intentionally short-handed Patriots opened preseason play against the Giants on Thursday with a 23-21 loss, as Graham Gano nailed a field-goal as time expired to give the Giants a victory.

Here’s what happened.

The big picture

The Giants scored first, marching down the field on a 13-play opening drive that resulted in a field goal. The Patriots answered as the first-quarter came to a close, however — capping off an eight-play drive by Brian Hoyer that resulted in a touchdown by rookie wide receiver Tyquan Thornton whose intriguing preseason continued.

In the second quarter, the Giants wrested control back with a touchdown pass from Tyrod Taylor to Richie James. They took a 10-7 lead into the break.


In the third quarter, rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe came alive, leading an 84-yard drive that included a 32-yard completion to Tre Nixon — one of several connections between the two. Kevin Harris punched in the touchdown on a three-yard run.

The Giants, however, had an answer — a 51-yard touchdown drive capped off by Antonio Williams, and a 29-yard drive jumpstarted by an interception of Zappe that led to a field goal.

Zappe bounced back again — with 7:12 remaining in the fourth quarter, he embarked on a nine-play, 69-yard drive that finished with 2:12 remaining when he connected with Lil’Jordan Humphrey for a tough 20-yard touchdown pass.

The Giants, however, had enough for one more push — they drove 69 yards on 11 plays to set up Graham Gano for the game-winning field goal from 24 yards out as time expired.

Star of the game

Bailey Zappe – 19-for-32, 1 TD, 1 INT, 205 yards

Zappe had an abysmal start, completing just three of his first nine passes and nearly taking a safety on his opening sequence. Afterward, however, he settled in and made several nice throws in the second half as the Patriots took a late lead. He scrambled a few times and delivered several different throws that found their marks.


Presumably Zappe won’t be challenging Mac Jones any time soon, but he reversed what looked a challenging debut.

“I thought he was calm all night,” Bill Belichick said. “Again, we’re all going to learn from things. He’ll learn from things. He made some good plays. There’s some other things that — it’s part of the learning process.”

Zappe acknowledged he got more comfortable as the game went on.

“The more times I come to the sideline, talk to my coaches, talk to my teammates about what they saw, what they’re seeing, and just going back on a drive and just having that next-play mentality,” Zappe said. “That’s kind of what my coaches, my teammates, we all try to communicate to everybody is have that next-play mentality and moving on from what happened prior and moving on to the next one and trying to do our best, do our job.”

What it means

Very little to most of the team’s key pieces, obviously. But several Patriots made intriguing debuts, which was essentially all Belichick wanted.

“There’s a lot of things we’ll learn from tonight and work on this week and try and improve next week in the next game opportunity we have,” Belichick said. “I thought the players responded well to the competition, and it was a pretty evenly matched game, a lot of good situations, and a lot we can learn from, so that’s what we’ll do.”


1. One of the more intriguing players of the evening only played a few snaps — first-round pick Cole Strange, who did not allow a pressure and put together several solid run blocks. He also impressed Mike Golic Jr., who noted the savagery of playing without gloves or wrist tape.


“I mean, I came out clean, so that’s all I know,” Brian Hoyer said when asked about Strange. “They did a great job protecting me and kind of hard for me to see how he’s doing, but all I know is I didn’t get hit very much, so that’s always a good sign.”

Strange later told reporters he felt he has “improved in every possible way” since the start of camp.”

2. Thursday offered very little clarity as to who will be the offensive play caller. Matt Patricia appeared to be calling plays when Brian Hoyer was in the game. Joe Judge may have taken over later. At one point, NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry noted that Patricia was talking to the offensive line while Judge spoke to the quarterbacks.

Belichick was not amused when reporters quizzed him about it after the game, telling reporters not to “worry about it.” One reporter started to ask what he needs to see.

“I don’t need to see anything, just we’re going through a process,” Belichick interrupted. “Simple as that.”

That seems a little unusual.

“What do you want me to do?” Belichick asked.

Maybe provide a little clarity?

“Great. Yeah,” Belichick answered acidly. “Going through a process.”

3. We should note that Belichick didn’t spend the entire evening angry at reporters.

4. The Patriots have quite a few wide receivers. In addition to Devante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, and Jacobi Meyers, Tre Nixon (four receptions, 88 yards) and Kristian Wilkerson (nine receptions, 99 yards) looked promising on Thursday.


Thornton, meanwhile, has reportedly looked great in training camp as well, and he got great separation on a couple of plays against the Giants. He scored his touchdown against starting cornerback Aaron Robinson, who was flagged for holding Thornton’s jersey.

“We have a bunch of great guys that can make plays, that can do everything that you really dream of for having a receiver,” Zappe said. “… Honestly, all of them can do many things, and we have a great receiving corps.”

5. In a new role as a punt returner — which he later said he hadn’t played since high school — Myles Bryant ran back a pair of punts for 46 total yards, including one for 30 yards.

6. Everyone who spoke at the podium postgame made a point to shout out running back James White, who announced his retirement Thursday afternoon.

“He was a tremendous player for us, tremendous person,” Belichick said. “There’s not enough complimentary things to say about James or we’d be here all night and still have time left over. Ultimate team player, huge in big games, as professional as they come, and on and on and on.”

Hoyer made a statement before taking questions.

“I want to start off first and just congratulate James White on an outstanding career,” he said. “We’re going miss him. For me, having known James all the way back to 2017, I can honestly say the most dependable teammate I’ve ever had. You never questioned James’ work ethic, his leadership, even though he was a little quiet.


“We all loved him, and I want to wish him well in the next chapter and just say how much I respect him and how fortunate I feel to have played with him. He’s truly a special player.”

Zappe followed Hoyer’s lead and opened with his thoughts on White.

“I’ve only been here for four or five months and only known him for that long,” Zappe said. “Just to be able to be in the facility with him, be able to see how he carried himself and kind of learned many things from him and how he prepared, it’s really something I’m going to try to carry on.”

The Patriots face the Panthers in Foxborough next Friday.


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