Nine Takeaways From Patriots’ Preseason-Opening Loss To Giants

What we learned in New England's preseason opener

by

August 11

FOXBORO, Mass. — While most of their starters looked on from the sideline, the New England Patriots opened the 2022 preseason Thursday night with a 23-21 loss to the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium:

Here are nine takeaways from that game:

1. We learned next to nothing about the Patriots’ new offense
You’ve likely heard about the revamped offense the Patriots have been running (without much success) in training camp. Zone runs. Play-action bootlegs. Tight receiver splits. A heavier emphasis on two-tight end looks. Shanahan, McVay, etc., etc.

Well, we didn’t see much of that Thursday night. The Patriots’ JV team kept things vanilla on offense, spending nearly the entire game in standard 11 personnel with little substitution and no creative play-calling wrinkles.

Part of that was out of necessity, since Matt Sokol was their only active tight end, and part surely was born out of Bill Belichick’s desire to not reveal any more than he needs to in a meaningless exhibition game.

Concerns about the Patriots’ new scheme will persist until we see Mac Jones and the starters run it efficiently in a live-contact setting. Perhaps we’ll see a more representative sample against the Carolina Panthers, with whom New England will hold joint practices next week.

2. We still don’t know who will call offensive plays
Matt Patricia opened the game as the Patriots’ play-caller. That wasn’t surprising; the offensive line coach has been the man on the radio during the vast majority of 11-on-11 periods during training camp.

But when rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe replaced Brian Hoyer after two offensive possessions, the Patriots also made a change on the sideline. Patricia ceded play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach Joe Judge.

What should we make of this switch? Is Belichick still holding an open competition for that vitally important role? Will Patricia and Judge both call plays once the real games begin? How is this still an open question a month before the season opener?

The biggest mystery of Patriots training camp remains unresolved.

3. The “starting” lineups did feature a few notable names
Most Patriots regulars did not play in this game. Every projected offensive starter sat out, with one exception: first-round pick Cole Strange, who played the first two series at left guard. This wasn’t especially surprising, as it’s important to get the Chattanooga product as much experience as possible as he makes the leap to the NFL.

On defense, the most notable starters were outside cornerback Terrance Mitchell and Malcolm Butler. That they played while Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones sat suggested both are a tier down on the depth chart. And if that’s the case at the end of the preseason, it’s unlikely both will make the 53-man roster.

Raekwon McMillan also started at inside linebacker despite consistently running with the first team since the start of spring practice. Mack Wilson, who’s expected to have a sizable role as a sub-package linebacker,

4. One rising rookie earned a night off
The only Patriots draftee to rest with the vets: Marcus Jones. The third-round cornerback has seen first-team reps in the slot in the last several practices, and choosing not to play him in this game suggests the team views him as the front-runner for that role.

Jonathan Jones has been the Patriots’ preferred slot option for years, but they’ve been playing him outside of late, opposite returning starter Jalen Mills. Mills and Jones also did not play Thursday night.

Based on those start/rest decisions, the Patriots’ current cornerback depth chart appears to look like this:

First team: Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones (slot)
Second team: Terrance Mitchell, Malcolm Butler, Myles Bryant (slot)
Third team: Jack Jones, Joejuan Williams, Shaun Wade (slot)

That third trio checked into the game on New England’s fourth defensive possession.

5. Tyquan Thornton isn’t just a speed guy
The blazing fast Baylor product only caught two passes on two targets for 9 yards in his first taste of NFL action. But one of them was a 2-yard touchdown that showed off a less appreciated aspect of his skill set.

Teammates say they’ve been pleasantly surprised by Thornton’s quickness this summer, and he used that to separate from Giants cornerback Aaron Robinson in the back of the end zone.

Thornton also threw his straw-thin body around in the run game. Overall, an encouraging debut for the rookie wideout.

6. Myles Bryant has some punt-return talent
The undersized defensive back entered Thursday with exactly zero career punt or kick returns in the NFL or college. Maybe someone should have tried him out in that role sooner. Bryant picked up 30 yards on his first punt return and 16 on his second, weaving through the Giants’ coverage team and sparking a pair of raucous celebrations on the Patriots’ sideline.

We’ll see if Bryant, who is not a lock to make the roster, can push presumed favorite Marcus Jones for that job.

7. Tre Nixon is your latest preseason superstar wideout
After a quiet first half that included an ugly third-down drop, Nixon opened the third quarter with two deep-ball completions from Zappe, picking up 32 and 36 yards to set up a Kevin Harris touchdown.

He finished with four catches on eight targets for 81 yards.

Nixon was the breakout star of minicamp, but he hasn’t been especially impactful in training camp, repping mostly with the scout team. It’s important to note his big-play receptions came against Giants backups, and that seemingly every Patriots preseason features an under-the-radar wideout who shows out in exhibition games (see: Wilkerson, Kristian; Carr, Austin).

We’ll see if Nixon can make a legitimate roster push in the coming weeks, but don’t overreact to a couple of preseason highlights. Earning a spot in New England’s deep receiver room won’t be easy for the 2021 seveth-rounder.

Wilkerson led all Patriots receivers with eight catches on 12 targets for 99 yards.

8. Tough night for Joejuan Williams
A long shot in the Patriots’ competitive cornerback battle, Williams was beaten off the line for a short touchdown and later was flagged for a facemask, negating a third-down stop and setting up another Giants score.

Barring an incredible late-summer surge, it’s hard to envision the 2019 second-round pick sticking on the roster for another season.

9. Assorted observations
— Zappe was just 3-for-9 for 16 yards in the first half, but he settled in and looked better after halftime. The rookie’s final passing line: 19 of 32, 205 yards, one touchdown, one interception.

Zappe’s 20-yard touchdown pass to Lil’Jordan Humphrey put the Patriots ahead 21-20 with 4:51, but the Giants responded with a last-second chip-shot field goal to win it.

— Linebacker Mack Wilson played with the speed and physicality he’s shown in training camp, tallying five tackles and a pad-popping quarterback hit.

— Rookie defensive lineman Sam Roberts generated multiple QB pressures, including one that led to a Josh Uche sack. Roberts has been mostly quiet in practice, so this performance opened some eyes.

— Offensive tackles Yodny Cajuste and Justin Herron both had second-half injury scares but appeared fine after being checked out by team trainers.

NESN.com’s coverage of New England Patriots preseason is presented by Cross Insurance, protecting your team since 1954.

New England Patriots receiver Tyquan Thornton
Previous Article

Three Studs, Three Duds From Patriots’ Preseason Loss To Giants

Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts
Next Article

Xander Bogaerts Makes History In Red Sox Win Vs. Orioles

Picked For You