Bill Belichick had some slight of hand under his fully intact sleeves Thursday night.
After Zach Sudfeld, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden coughed up the football, the Patriots’ head coach made all three players disappear. Sudfeld was seen sparingly and Vereen was not spotted again until the fourth quarter, while Bolden stayed on the bench for the remainder of the game. Apparently Tom Brady and Aaron Dobson got off lucky for their turnover.
The Patriots are known to be a team with an incredible ability to limit turnovers. That’s why Sudfeld, Vereen and Bolden’s slippery hands shouldn’t be of much concern. And for Sudfeld, Belichick showed him what will happen if such a mistake occurs again down the road in a game that matters.
Sudfeld has shined all spring and summer, and he actually played a solid game save for his fumble, but that costly turnover changed the tides immediately for the Patriots. Brady was having no problem driving down the field for his third straight game until Sudfeld decided to carry the ball like a fresh loaf of bread he was trying hard not to smush.
Sudfeld has shown occasional ball-security issues during practice, but this was the first time it happened during a game. It’s good to get those fumbling issues out of the way now, rather than later, though. Sudfeld likely won’t lose his starting role due to the miscue, but at least he’ll know the repercussions if it happens again. Sudfeld did not fumble as a senior at Nevada.
Sudfeld has had no trouble staying humble during the impressive start to his NFL career, but this may help him come down to Earth a bit. Sudfeld seemed invincible, and this may help to temper Patriots’ fans lofty expectations in “Studfeld.”
Vereen and Bolden should have known better, but they too were punished. Neither player has had fumbling issues in the past, and once again, it’s good to get those out of the way now in a game that doesn’t matter rather than later.
The Brady interception was actually a little concerning, just not for the quarterback. Dobson wasn’t able to fight through traffic to get to his spot on time, and the result was a turnover. Dobson has his strengths — notably his deep speed and ability to time his jump ball — but strength and route-running aren’t specialties for him at this point.
That interception was a perfect example of Dobson not fighting hard enough for the ball. That may be something Belichick and Josh McDaniels stress to Dobson, but it could also result in a loss of trust in the rookie receiver for Brady. Brady knows Danny Amendola and Kenbrell Thompkins will get to their spots on time, but if Dobson can’t, interceptions will occur.
The Patriots have never had ball-security issues in the past, and they’re not likely to creep up now, even though the team brought in an extraordinary amount of new, young talent this season. Now, at least the young players will know what will happen if they do cough up the football. Belichick will not stand for it, and he won’t be afraid to put them on the bench for a few quarters.