FOXBORO, Mass. — Our first look at 2023 Patriots football wasn’t an especially entertaining one.

New England suffered a 20-9 loss to the Houston Texans on Thursday night in the preseason opener for both teams. With backups and roster hopefuls seeing most of the playing time, the Patriots offense struggled behind wretched line play and the defense got pushed around in the second half.

The Patriots only moved the ball once the ultra-athletic Malik Cunningham took over at quarterback and caught Houston defenders off guard. The undrafted rookie completed 3 of 4 passes for 19 yards while adding 34 rushing yards and a touchdown on five carries.

It was a rough game. Does any of it matter? No, not really, but it was ugly nonetheless.

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Bailey Zappe got the start at quarterback with Mac Jones getting the night off and completed 12 of 14 passes for 79 yards while playing into the third quarter. With his O-line struggling so mightily, Zappe could do little beyond check downs and quick-hitting passes. Trace McSorley also played QB for New England.

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C.J. Stroud, the second overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, started for the Texans and completed 2 of 4 passes for 13 yards. Davis Mills and Case Keenum also took QB reps for Houston, with both throwing one touchdown pass.

The Patriots now will turn their focus toward next week’s joint practices and preseason matchup with the Packers in Green Bay. After that, New England will head to Tennessee for more joint practices and another preseason game with the Titans.

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Here are three studs and three duds from Thursday night’s preseason game at Gillette Stadium:

DE Keion White
The second-round pick, who’s been impressive in training camp practices, was everywhere while playing for much of the first half. White finished with three tackles, generated multiple quarterback pressures and generally caused a ton of trouble in Houston’s backfield. His speed and explosiveness stand out, and his arrow continues to point upward.

CB Jalen Mills
Mills didn’t play much, but he came up with an interception and run stuff in limited work. That’s an efficient performance from the veteran defensive back, whose role with this team remains unclear. Mills has played both cornerback and safety during camp.

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WR Tyquan Thornton
It’s no secret that the second-year receiver hasn’t had a great summer. Thornton needs to have a great training camp, and through two weeks, he hasn’t had it. But the Baylor product played well in limited action Thursday night, finishing with two catches for 31 yards — including a great 27-yard reception. Hopefully, it can be a springboard to better things in the second half of August.

Honorable mentions: Malik Cunningham, Bailey Zappe, Daniel Ekuale

Offensive line
It was bad. Like, really bad. New England’s offensive line was a major weakness through the first two weeks of training camp, and that trend continued against the Texans. The Patriots managed just 164 yards of total offense and gave up three sacks along with far too many quarterback pressures. Rookie tackle Sidy Sow and second-year guard Kody Russey had especially tough nights, but tackle Conor McDermott and guard Chasen Hines also struggled. Honestly, nobody on the line played well, and it made the entire game borderline unwatchable.

Backup running backs
This probably isn’t fair, as none of the backs had a chance behind putrid O-line play. Still, with rumors of the Patriots looking to add a veteran to back up Rhamondre Stevenson, someone needs to step up and prove they can handle the job. Kevin Harris (eight carries for 10 yards) and Pierre Strong (six carries for 21 yards) both showed little burst, and J.J. Taylor posted four yards on four carries. It wasn’t an inspiring performance from any of Stevenson’s current backups.

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CB Jack Jones
It wasn’t a terrible night for the embattled corner, but it wasn’t great, either. Jones allowed rookie receiver Tank Dell — who made the play of the game — to get open multiple times and his focus appeared to waver. That Jones repped with the backups deep into the second quarter probably can be viewed as the Patriots sending him a message amid his mounting on- and off-field issues.

Honorable mentions: Shaun Wade, Bryce Baringer, Rodney Randle

Featured image via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images