The final night of the New England Patriots’ weeklong Las Vegas trip was one to forget for Bill Belichick’s club.
Here are nine takeaways from Friday night’s 23-6 loss to the Raiders at Allegiant Stadium, which followed two days of joint practices and closed out the Patriots’ preseason schedule:
1. The offense still isn’t right
The regular season kicks off in just over two weeks, and New England’s offense still does not look game-ready.
Operating against the Raiders’ defensive backups, the Patriots opened Friday night’s game with a three-and-out, an interception and another three-and-out. They again struggled to find any success on wide-zone runs — a constant issue throughout training camp — and to project Mac Jones, who was sacked twice and took a heavy hit on a deep incompletion.
The fourth and final drive for Jones’ unit was the most successful, as the Patriots utilized more spread formations and were able to move the ball more efficiently. That drive featured Jones’ best throw of the night: a 16-yarder to Hunter Henry in stride as the quarterback drifted to his right.
That series stalled, though, when Jones was sacked in the red zone and a back-shoulder touchdown to DeVante Parker was called back for offensive pass interference. The Patriots settled for a Nick Folk field goal.
New England’s first-team offense logged a total of seven possessions this preseason, and more of those ended in three-and-outs (four) than scoring plays (one touchdown, one field goal). All seven of those also came against second- and third-team defenses.
The Patriots wouldn’t be the first team to go through a rocky preseason before finding their stride once the real games begin. But it’s clear Jones and company aren’t anywhere close to mastering this new scheme. These next 16 days will be vital.
2. Frustrating night for Mac Jones
Offensive line play has been the biggest problem for New England’s offense, but Jones also looked off in this game, lacking his usual poise.
His interception was ugly — a shot into a party of Raiders defenders that was picked off by a lingering linebacker.
On his final play of the night, Jones got spooked by edge pressure and bailed from the pocket too early, running backward before heaving a throwaway out of bounds. He was visibly frustrated on the sideline after multiple series, according to reporters in attendance.
Jones went 9-for-13 for 71 yards and an interception with a 50.5 passer rating before backup Brian Hoyer relieved him. It’s on Matt Patricia and Joe Judge to get the Patriots’ promising second-year signal-caller back on track before the team heads to Miami for Week 1.
3. Starting defense struggles, too
The Patriots’ defense hasn’t been nearly as problematic as its counterpart this summer. But this was an ugly night for that unit, too.
The Raiders’ backup offense — led by ex-Patriots QB Jarrett Stidham — drove inside the Patriots’ 10-yard line on each of its first two possessions, reeling off multiple big plays against New England’s defensive regulars.
Stidham had completions of 14, 30 and 20 yards. Josh Uche and Jalen Mills lost contain on the final play of Las Vegas’ second drive, resulting in an easy Zamir White touchdown.
The Patriots’ starters played one additional drive — a three-and-out with third-string rookie Chase Garbers behind center — before reserves began rotating in.
4. Ty Montgomery carted off
The Patriots lost an important member of their backfield early in the game. Montgomery suffered an ankle injury on a 4-yard carry and had to be carted to the locker room. He later was ruled out.
It was an unfortunate setback for the versatile veteran, who enjoyed a strong training camp and looked poised to play a significant role in the Patriots’ plan to replace the retired James White. If Montgomery will miss significant time, his injury could create a roster spot for third-year pro J.J. Taylor.
Taylor, who entered Friday night on the roster bubble, had two catches for 22 yards and showed fantastic hustle to recover a Brian Hoyer strip-sack during the second quarter. He sat out the second half, leaving those reps to rookies Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris.
Starting wide receiver Jakobi Meyers also spent time in the sideline medical tent, according to WBZ-TV’s game broadcast, and did not return to the field. His status will be worth monitoring, as well.
5. Rookie returners
Strong and third-round cornerback Marcus Jones were the Patriots’ top kick and punt returners Friday night, respectively. The speedy Strong had one return for 24 yards. Jones bounced off a would-be tackler to pick up 17 yards on his first return but was fortunate to be ruled down after he coughed up the ball in contact.
Jones and Strong both are roster locks who likely won’t have large roles on offense and defense, respectively, to begin the season. Their best chance of contributing early is in the return game.
6. Jabrill Peppers debuts
Limited for much of training camp in his return from a torn ACL, Peppers finally played his first game snaps in a Patriots uniform, working with the second-team defense. He dished out a couple of heavy hits, including a second-quarter run stuff, and saw work as a punt returner. One of those hits did earn him a flag for unnecessary roughness, but that was a questionable call.
Like Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger, Phillips can play safety and linebacker, adding versatility and a layer of unpredictability to the Patriots’ defense. It’ll be interesting to see how they use him this season, assuming he’s not a surprise roster cut.
7. Revenge games for three ex-Patriots
The Raiders’ roster is stocked with New England alums, and several of them flashed Friday night.
In addition to Stidham guiding an offense that looked much more cohesive than the Patriots’ Jones-led unit, edge rusher Tashawn Bower also notched two sacks and a forced fumble, and wide receiver Isaiah Zuber had an interception against third-string Patriots QB Bailey Zappe.
Yes, Zuber evidently is moonlighting as a defensive back now as he vies for a roster spot in Las Vegas. The more you can do.
8. Notable absences
Running back Damien Harris, cornerback Shaun Wade, tight end Devin Asiasi, offensive lineman Bill Murray, wide receivers Tyquan Thornton and Kristian Wilkerson and linebacker Harvey Langi were not available for the Patriots.
Harris, the Patriots’ lead back, left Wednesday’s joint practice and did not return. Wade and Murray were limited in both joint practices, and Thornton (shoulder), Wilkerson (concussion) and Langi (undisclosed) did not participate in any of New England’s three practices in Las Vegas. Asiasi is dealing with a minor quad injury, per a report from the Boston Herald’s Andrew Callahan.
This could prove to be costly DNPs for Asiasi and Wade, who both entered Friday on the roster bubble. Long-shot tight end Matt Sokol caught two passes for 14 yards and was in on two special teams tackles. Lil’Jordan Humphrey also has been pushing for a spot as a receiver/tight end hybrid, though he was quiet Friday (two catches, 7 yards).
9. Assorted observations
— Heck of a game by cornerback Jack Jones, who decked a Raiders running back to force a fumble (that rolled out of bounds) and had two aggressive pass breakups. Jones’ streakiness likely will prevent him from playing a major role early in his career, but he has the talent and edge to be a real weapon in the Patriots’ secondary down the line.
— Rookie running back Kevin Harris had by far the best day — practice or game — of his Patriots tenure, finishing with 54 yards on four carries. But he closed out the night with a lost fumble, which won’t help the sixth-rounder’s chances of earning a surprise roster spot.
— Offensive tackles Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn both started the game after sitting out Week 2 of the preseason. Reserve tackles Yodny Cajuste and Justin Herron later subbed in at right and left tackle, respectively — the reverse of what we saw from them in this week’s joint practices.
Herron has been better on the left side than the right in his career. Cajuste, vice versa. The former was beaten on the aforementioned strip-sack that Taylor recovered.
— The Patriots’ red-zone execution was lacking. We mentioned how the first-team offense squandered its chance inside the Raiders’ 20-yard line. Later, a goal-line touchdown run by Strong was nullified by a Jalen Wydermyer hold, and the Patriots eventually settled for a second field goal.
— Linebackers Jahlani Tavai and Anfernee Jennings started the game but also played deep into the fourth quarter, staying on the field far longer than most of the Patriots’ defensive regulars.
— Undrafted rookie D-lineman LaBryan Ray turned in his daily highlight by straight-up bulldozing former Alabama teammate Alex Leatherwood on a Daniel Ekuale sack. He and UDFA special teamer Brenden Schooler, who got a lot of face time on the Patriots’ game broadcast, both look like strong bets to crack the 53-man roster, which must be finalized by 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
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