After a long week of joint practices, the New England Patriots defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 25-21 in their first preseason home game at Gillette Stadium. Here is a quick recap from tonight's affair:
Tom Brady, Danny Amendola connect
Earlier this week the New England Patriots had a scare after Tom Brady was rolled up on during practice, but he showed no signs of pain tonight, connecting on 11-of-12 passes for 107 yards and one touchdown. Brady targeted Amendola seven times, and hit on six passes for 71-yards, including a long 26-yard touchdown over the middle of the field. Amendola lined up in the slot and ran a 15-yard seam before easing towards the soft soft between the hash marks. Brady fired the pass over the top, allowing Amendola to display his ability to stretch the field.
Call him Zach STUDfeld
With Daniel Fells out of the game, Zach Sudfeld and Jake Ballard got the start at tight end. Sudfeld was a star, catching two passes for 32 yards and a touchdown. He also converted on a Patriots two-point conversion attempt early in the game. Sudfeld lined up at both the "Y" and "F" tight end positions (like Gronk and Hernandez, respectively), and excelled in each role. He showed good awareness adjusting on his routes and even more talent in concentrating on high passes and completing the catch. Jake Ballard took advantage of his opportunity with Daniel Fells out, and though he didn't catch any passes, he did a great job blocking. If Fells can't get back on the field, and Ballard continues to improve, the Patriots will once again have a strong set of tight ends once Rob Gronkowski returns to the field.
Kick off coverage, field goal units struggle
Special teams coach Scott O'Brien will not be happy with his crew's performance tonight. Tampa Bay averaged 38-yards on four kickoff returns, including a long 63-yard return at the beginning of the half. The field goal unit was even worse, somehow picking up 15-yards of penalties after Stephen Gostkowski's 35-yard field goal was erased. He eventually missed from 50-yards, dinging his attempt off the right upright. On the other hand, Matthew Slater made a monster play on the punt unit, perfectly timing a hit on the punt returner.
Mixed defensive fronts lead to four sacks
Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich each picked up a sack but it was a surprise to see Brandon Spikes notch two of them. In my opinion Spikes had a monster game, blowing up the interior of Tampa Bay's offensive line. He showed good timing and exceptional strength, but we come to expect that from him at this point. From the defensive end position, Chandler Jones has begun to shown the makings of an All-Pro this season. Jones showed great strength in his hands and forearms, dominating his opponents on the edge. I think Tommy Kelly also had an underrated game up the middle, pushing back the pocket on multiple occasions.
Some ups, some downs for young defensive players
Jamie Collins was a monster tonight; he lined up at a number of different positions and excelled in each of them. One of his best moments came when he was in pass coverage and blew up the wide receiver to cause an incompletion, the other came on run defense when he "suplexed" the running back to the ground. Rookie cornerback Logan Ryan jumped a route and intercepted a pass for a touchdown. It's hard to get a read on pass coverage without watching coach's film, but Ryan seems like he has improved since last week. On the other hand, both young safeties Tavon Wilson and Duron Harmon struggled. Wilson was called for holding in the end zone and was able to cover a tight end on a back shoulder throw for a score. Harmon was late multiple times on coverage down the field, including a long 41-yard reception by Tiquan Underwood, which ultimately led to a field goal at the end of the half for Tampa Bay.
Mallett looks solid, Tebow looks terrible
All you need to know about Tim Tebow's night is that he was one-of-seven passing for only negative one yards. Tebow also threw one absolutely terrible interception to nobody in particular. I have praised Tebow throughout camp -- despite criticizing him his entire career -- but tonight was Tebow at his worst. Even though Tebow was downright awful, I still don't think a performance was like this is enough to get him cut because of his ability running the ball, where he tallied 30-yards on six rushing attempts. In every single way Ryan Mallett was better tonight, connecting on 12-of-20 passes for 137 yards and one touchdown. Mallett had a few passes that lacked touch but had some other very impressive attempts, including his 22-yard touchdown pass to Zach Sudfeld.
- According to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston, Kenbrell Thompkins received 21 snaps while Tom Brady was on the field, compared to only two for Aaron Dobson. Even though Thompkins caught only one ball, it's a sign that Dobson has slipped down the depth chart in the eyes of the coaches.
- Offensive lineman R.J. Mattes was injured in the first half and didn't return. Fortunately for the Patriots, he was the only injury tonight.
- Before last week's matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, I predicted that James Develin would get the opportunity to play a lot of snaps but he was inactive due to a stinger injury. However, Develin got his chance tonight and played a lot in the first half, doing a good job as a lead blocker for Stevan Ridley. Develin also converted on both of his rushing attempts on third-and-short. He received snaps before Michael Hoomanawanui, who could potentially be a late cut this summer.
- Shane Vereen quietly had a terrific game, receiving the ball four times for 46-yards, and carrying it another four times for 29-yards. Even though Vereen did have one drop -- the throw could've been better by Ryan Mallett -- I think he is proving to be far superior to Danny Woodhead. Vereen is more dynamic before and after the snap.
- I need to go back and watch the game again but rookie linebacker Steve Beauharnais appeared to have a very good night. He totaled four tackles and played very good pass coverage against tight ends. More importantly, he seemed to be in the right spot when defending the run, even if it ended up being another player that made the tackle.
- Punter Zoltan Mesko outplayed Ryan Allen once again tonight. I will have more in-depth hang times and thoughts over the weekend, but it was obvious tonight that this is Mesko's job unless Allen turns things around quickly.