My initial thoughts following the Patriots 47-12 win in the team's preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars Thursday night at Gillette Stadium:
Impressive Stuff From the Back-up Quarterbacks. With Tom Brady and the rest of the starters sitting, third year quarterback Brian Hoyer and rookie Ryan Mallett both played a half each; and both quarterbacks really impressed. Brian Hoyer led the team to four straight scoring drives to close out the first half. He completed 15 for 21 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown. Hoyer was accurate on his throws, and looked very poised in the pocket.
Ryan Mallett completed 12 of his 19 throws for 164 yards and a touchdown. He showed a lot of zip on his throws, finding a groove and looking really comfortable for his first professional game. The more impressive stat: the four drives Mallett led (excluding the final kneel downs) all led to touchdowns. And this is with just two weeks in an NFL system.
Patriots Generate a Pass Rush. Although it was mostly the back-ups playing for the Patriots, the team managed to generate a lot of pass rush. On the opening drive, Jermaine Cunningham came up with a sack, which was certainly a welcome sign for the Patriots. Darryl Richard showed some ability, stuffing a run and coming up with a pair of sacks.
I was most impressed, however, by the play of Mark Anderson. In the first half, Anderson saw most of his snaps at right end. According to my numbers, Anderson came up with eight (count it, eight) pressures on the quarterback that significantly affected the play. Most of those came off the right side, but one came off the left. He recorded two quarterback hits. And while he didn't record any sacks, I really liked what I saw from him as a speed rusher.
Stevan Ridley Leads the Way. Stevan Ridley was really effective tonight for the Patriots. He picked up 64 yards on 16 carries, and wore the Jaguars' defense down as the game went on. He looked powerful, picking up two goal line touchdowns on second-effort plunges. However, somewhat surprisingly, Ridley also looked pretty nimble in space. He also proved capable as a pass catcher, something that wasn't on his resume coming out of college. He recorded seven receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown. While one preseason game isn't any real indication, if Ridley can translate this type of play to the regular season for the Patriots, he will certainly be an impact player.
Taylor Price "Catching" Up. People had pretty high expectations for second year receiver Taylor Price heading into tonight's game. Price didn't disappoint. He picked up 105 yards on five receptions, including a beautiful touchdown in the back of the end zone from Brian Hoyer. He caught a couple of slants from Mallett in the second half, and also had a 50 yard catch and run on a pass to the left sideline. Price certainly made a case for himself as the 4th receiver this game.
Dane Fletcher All Over the Place. Dane Fletcher, starting at middle linebacker, was ferocious out there. He was running over backs and blockers, making plays in the backfield, crushing ball carries. He finished with five tackles (all during the first half), and also had a quarterback pressure. I think there's a chance that Fletcher could start as a strong-side linebacker for the Pats over Rob Ninkovich this year.
Just a preseason game, but it's good to have football back. Patriots fans shouldn't be too excited about the blowout victory. It was the first preseason game, and the starters, for the most part, didn't even see the field. Nonetheless, it was good to see the Patriots' players get out there and get some work done, especially in the convincing fashion that they did, looking impressive in all facets of the game.