They say that there are no certainties in the NFL, and for the most part, that's 100% true: you never know when a career will take off or be cut short, the winner of any particular game is never a sure thing, and one season is usually drastically different from the next. And as fans, we accept that. It's a very big part of what makes football so great. However, amid all the chaos and unpredictability and excitement of NFL football, one absolute and infallible truth that exists across all facets of the game stands out like Tom Brady dancing at Carnival. And that, my friends, is preseason fan logic. We all know how it goes:
When my team does well, it's a great sign and reason for plenty of optimism for the upcoming season.
When my team does poorly, there's absolutely nothing to worry about, as it's only the preseason and most of what you see in these games is completely meaningless.
It's as certain as the changing of the seasons.
We all find ourselves staunchly in the latter category this morning, as the New England Patriots didn't do a whole lot of things well last night against the Washington Redskins. After a great week of practice that saw the 1st unit get a lot of reps, the Pats went out there and, for the most part, stunk up the joint. We can add all the caveats we want about most of the starters not playing and the complete lack of gameplanning and shifting players around to experiment with different formations and all of that, and those caveats are 100% true; however, that doesn't change the fact that the Patriots didn't look too good out there, and since that's the product we got, that's what we'll be discussing over the next few days.
What follows are more meaningless observations rather than my usual Fan Notes. But I just didn't think that "Meaningless Observations from the Preseason" was as catchy a title, so I'm going to stick with what works.
- Let's just get it out of the way now and talk about Ryan Mallett. He had a chance to come out and show both the Patriots and the rest of the NFL that he was a starting caliber player, and instead he looked hesitant, indecisive, and finicky back there, finishing his day 5 for 12 with 55 yards and a sack. He felt pressure when there wasn't any, he wasn't stepping into his throws, and on the whole he wasn't overly accurate. If this game was an episode of Full House, Mallett was undoubtedly Kimmy Gibbler.
- I will say this, though: Mallett wasn't as awful as everyone is saying he is. He spent most of last night getting absolutely destroyed on Twitter and most Boston-based radio shows, and to a degree, they were justified in their vitriol. However, he had a few passes where he absolutely zipped it in there, right on the money, into fairly tight windows (third down completions to Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce come to mind). Plus, at least a fair share of the blame has to go to the offensive line, which played like five guys who spent their entire offseason at Five Guys. Out of sync, letting rushers through, negating plays with holding calls, and failing to let an already tentative QB settle in.
- I know it's completely unfair to blame new O-line coach Dave DeGugliemo for this one; the starting five weren't even in and there was zero cohesive structure. But with All-World coach Dante Scarnecchia retiring, I was hoping that our new coach would show that he has more in common with Dante than an elaborate last name.
- Ultimately, you know it's bad when the most memorable play you get from your backup quarterback is a three yard scramble that ends in an awkward, knee-slamming slide that looked more like someone had tied Mallett's shoelaces together more than anything else.
- While it's also a testament to the O-Line, I wasn't overly impressed with the running game either. I was hoping to see a little more out of James White, who looked good at times but spent a little too much time stutter stepping once he broke through the line into the next level. He's already better than Laurence Maroney, as he did all he dancing in the backfield, but I'm hoping that White learns to make his cut and then take off.
- Jonas Gray is a likely a longshot to make the roster, as he doesn't seem to have a second gear. Attacked the hole well, but couldn't do much with himself afterwards. Kind of like me and a box of Munchkins.
- Curious to see more of Roy Finch. He needs to learn to hold onto the ball better, and he tends to try and take it outside too much, but he might be a nice player to stash on the practice squad.
- Glad to hear that the Chris Jones injury was an ankle. Usually when a player injures an ankle and he walks of without too much of a limp, he'll be OK. We may not see Jones for a while, but I bet he'll be back for Week 1.
- I really, really hope that the refs are just trying to send a message with the amount of flags they have been throwing so far this preseason. All across the league last night, flags were flying like training bras at a Justin Beiber concert. If these past games are any indicator of how it's going to be once games start to matter, it's going to be a long season.
- It also might not bode well for Brandon Browner, who looked every bit as physical and intimidating as advertised. However, he was flagged for an illegal contact penalty early on, and if the rules continue to shift to further favor the offense, Browner might be in trouble.
- While I'm in the secondary already, I should mention rookie Malcolm Butler. Butler was one of the few bright spots in yesterday's game - instinctive, fast, decisive, and right around the ball. Even though he gave up a few completions, he didn't allow many YACs and seemed to do most things right. I don't know if there's any room for him on the roster with the depth New England already has, but he's doing everything he can to prove he's worthy of a spot.
- OK, we can talk about Jimmy Garoppolo now. Jimmy G was hands down the star of the game for New England and has been generating about as much excitement as a rookie quarterback who played in a preseason game against a bunch of third stringers can possibly generate. We all heard about his recent camp struggles and how lost he looked out there, so for him to come out and play the way he did was encouraging for sure. He was decisive, he got rid of the ball quickly, he was accurate, and he showed tremendous touch on the deep passes.
- And speaking of the deep ball - we may have seen the greatest play of the entire NFL year last night and absolutely nobody is going to remember it by this time next week. Garoppolo hit Brian Tyms - another standout from last night, albeit a longshot to make the roster - right in the hands on a beautiful, arcing spiral from 40 yards out, where he initially caught it but the play was broken up by Chase Minnifield. However, as Tyms bobbled the ball, it bounced into the air, floated for a moment, and then Tyms was able to dive for it from the ground as he wrestled with Minnfield after the play. Further review showed that the ball didn't touch the ground at all and it should have been a score. Belichick didn't bother challenging, because honestly, who cares, but had that been a regular season play it would have been on highlight reels for months.
- Plus, he ain't too hard on the eyes, either. Not sure where he ranks on the MCPS, the Marima Cutie Patootie Scale, but I'll leave that to the experts.
- Backup QBs can't root for each other, right? I know they all say the right things when the cameras are on, but there's absolutely no way that Mallett was happy with Jimmy G's play. If this keeps up, Mallett could drop down to #3 and Garoppolo will assume the 2 spot behind our clear cut number 1.
- That, while I'm on the subject, would also be how I'd rank our QBs in terms of attractiveness.
- It's obviously way too early to make any real judgments, and I'm going to hold off before crowning Garoppolo the official backup or take anything more from his performance as a great first step, but I will say this: in all the years of watching Mallett, at no point have I ever said "wow." I said that three times last night, and two of them were because of Garoppolo's play. The third was when I remembered that I always keep an emergency beer in the vegetable crisper.
- Although I should remind everyone of the 2008 preseason, where Matt Cassel couldn't string two completions together to save his life and third stringer Matt Gutierrez looked crisp and in control. And we all know what happened there.
- Didn't like what I saw out of James Anderson. I thought he'd do well as a coverage linebacker, but he looks slow and a few steps behind the ball.
- There has been a lot of talk about unwritten rules this offseason, much of that talk centering around Belichick. Well I'd like to propose another unwritten rule: players who are not directly involved in falling on a loose ball are obligated to automatically point in their team's direction. A big pile of guys, and a bunch of people standing around pointing in opposite ways. Mark it up.
- Stephen Houston was lauded as potentially the guy to replace LeGarrette Blount as the power/short yardage back. Looks like he has been learning a little to extensively under Stevan Ridley instead.
- The lone TD pass of the night was yet another beautiful throw by Garoppolo. Hit Tyms in stride, nice touch, and a good read. Looking forward to seeing what Jimmy will do next game.
Overall, not a great night, but not an awful one. I personally would much rather have the team play like crap in these games than play well, because that gives Belichick plenty of fodder to ride his guys hard in practice. I don't envy anyone in that New England locker room today.
Well, except for Tommy B. I have a funny feeling that his absolute worst day beats the hell out of the best dream I have ever had.