Yesterday, the New England Patriots played their second preseason game of the 2017 season. The team lost the contest against the Houston Texans 27-23 and fell to 0-2 so far this year. At times, it was a sloppy performance by the defending world champions but one that will give the coaching staff more information about its players.
That being said, not all was bad as a closer look at this week's winners and losers shows.
Winner: RB Rex Burkhead
After sitting out last week's preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Rex Burkhead delivered a very good performance in his Patriots debut. The offseason acquisition finished with 10 touches – three catches and seven runs – for a total of 70 yards and one touchdown. Displaying power and solid route running, good chemistry within the offense and blocking skills, Burkhead proved that he has the skills to be a productive player in New England's system.
Winner: K Stephen Gostkowski
The Patriots' kicker badly missed a field goal last week but bounced back with a very good performance against the Texans. Overall, the 33-year old made all of his kicking attempts: Gostkowski was three-on-three on field goals and also converted both extra point attempts. And given that he was also his usual stellar self on kickoffs, yesterday's game can be seen as a successful one for Gostkowksi.
Loser: LB Elandon Roberts
The second-year man had a rough preseason so far. Last week's contest against the Jacksonville Jaguars was marked by inconsistencies and yesterday's contest was no better: Roberts was inconsistent when it came to tackling, attacked the opposing gaps too aggressively at times and ultimately limped off the field with what later turned out to be a rib injury – the second time in two weeks that he was unable to finish a game. In short: Roberts has had yet another bad exhibition contest.
Winner: CB Cyrus Jones
One week after struggling big time on both defense and special teams, Cyrus Jones delivered one of his best performances in a Patriots uniform. The former second round draft picks was serviceable in coverage and looked especially good in the return game: Jones had four punt returns for 58 yards (14.5 yards per kick) and displayed good hands, moving skills and situational awareness in the process – a vast improvement from last week's game.
Loser: CB Malcolm Butler
While one cornerback is listed as a winner, another one has to be named a loser: Malcolm Butler. The Patriots' starting defensive back gave up two big plays during his preseason debut – one of which a touchdown – and looked a step slow at times. Still, one sloppy exhibition performance will not change his standing on the team. Butler will still be one of New England's starting cornerbacks come the games that matter.
Winner: DE Kony Ealy
Yes, he rushed too aggressively on a Deshaun Watson touchdown run in the third quarter. Overall, though, Kony Ealy had a solid performance against the Texans after a mostly quiet offseason. The former Carolina Panther, who started the game on the defensive right side, was able to set the edge well in the run game and produced some solid push in the passing game. It was a clear improvement when compared to his last few weeks – an important development considering Derek Rivers' season-ending injury.
Loser: CB Justin Coleman
Coleman did not stand out in coverage one way or the other. The play that lands him on this list as a “loser” happened on special teams: The 24-year old miscalculated a third quarter punt and was hit by the football without noticing. The result was a fumble – one that was recovered by the Patriots but might very well hurt Coleman's chances of making the team. After all, New England is rather deep at the cornerback position and special teams might could make a difference between staying on the team or getting released.
Loser: Backup offensive line
After re-watching the game, the backup offensive line also has to get added to the list of losers. While the first-stringers played a mostly solid game, the second-team unit struggled to create a consistent push in the run game and was uneven in pass protection: Backup quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett were each sacked twice, with Garoppolo losing a fumble on a takedown. All in all, it was not the kind of performance you would like to see your blockers have in an exhibition game.