The New England Patriots bolted out to a 24-0 lead over the Detroit Lions in the first quarter, but sloppy play and poor execution allowed the Lions to score 28 unanswered points over the next 40 minutes.
It wasn’t until the final 7 minutes of the game that Jimmy Garoppolo led the Patriots on back-to-back field goal drives as the Patriots recaptured the lead with 2 seconds remaining in the game. Here is the recap of the Patriots player performances of note, and here is what we learned from the game.
Mike Gillislee hasn’t won the starting job
Gillislee carried the ball 8 times for 38 yards (4.8 yards per carry) and a touchdown, in addition to a two point conversion. He ran for a long of 27 yards, which means that when you remove his long run and his touchdown run, Gillislee rushed a Blount-ian 6 times for 10 yards.
Still, he always fell forward with the ball and his short runs were usually due to poor blocking up front. Gillislee is competing with Rex Burkhead for carries on early downs and I don’t think Gillislee did enough to pry away the starting job.
I do think that Gillislee is a more physical runner, though, and that why I think he’ll assume the role of “closer” in the fourth quarter to drain the clock.
Chris Hogan is a force to reckon with
Hogan collected passes for 7 yards (touchdown), 32 yards (touchdown), 6 yards (broken play), and 25 yards (drag route). What’s impressive about Hogan is how he beat the defense on so many different types of routes and depths.
He read the middle of the field and sat down in the flat for the seven yard touchdown. He caught the 32-yard touchdown over a pair of defenders. He kept the play alive on a hitch route for 6 yards. He crossed the field and picked up 22 yards after the catch. He made plays deep and shallow, inside and outside. Hogan is showing that he’s much more than a one-trick pony and he should have plenty of opportunities to showcase his abilities in 2017.
D.J. Foster is ahead of Brandon Bolden
James O’Shaughnessy is ahead of Jacob Hollister
Trevor Bates is ahead of Jonathan Freeny
These are some of the roster battles that have played out so far. Foster, O’Shaughnessy, and Bates are the next defenders on the active roster if the Patriots choose to keep a fifth running back, third tight end, or a sixth/seventh linebacker.
Bates is a curious choice because he could make the team if Elandon Roberts does not, or if...
Kyle Van Noy is competing to start as an edge defender
Van Noy was an edge defender in college, but was moved to weakside off-the-ball linebacker by the Detroit Lions in the NFL. Van Noy is always at his best closest to the line of scrimmage and his ability to drop back into coverage was always a bonus, not a core part of his skill set.
Van Noy did a great job playing on the line of scrimmage opposite of Trey Flowers and, for my money, he has made the best case to be the starting edge defender, over Kony Ealy, Deatrich Wise, or Harvey Langi.
The Patriots might have been interested in using Dont’a Hightower on the edge and they still could, but Van Noy looks at home on the edge and Hightower might be needed in the middle of the field because...
David Harris might be too slow to cover all running backs
I still think Harris did enough to win a starting job, but there’s a clear weakness in his game and it’s worth highlighting. Harris is solid against the run. He showed some flashes as an interior blitzer. He can cover some running backs and tight ends.
But he can’t cover all of them. Harris struggled to keep pace with Ameer Abdullah and his 3.95s shuttle time and 6.79s three cone drill. Fortunately, there aren’t many players with Abdullah’s quickness in the NFL other than Patriots WR Brandin Cooks, Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr., and Texans WR Bruce Ellington (the guy who faced Malcolm Butler last week).
Harris (#45) looked good covering the Texans running backs in week 2, so perhaps Abdullah was an aberration, but it’s something to note and file away.
Patrick Chung hits with the fire of a thousand suns
Chung was one of the lynchpins of the Patriots defense in 2014 and 2015 as a safety/linebacker/slot defensive back. He played all three at an extremely high level and that gave the defense a lot of freedom to be versatile. Chung appeared to take a step backwards in 2016 as he was beaten in coverage more frequently.
Chung has a new level of energy now and looks to be back in that 2014-15 form. The Patriots defense goes to a whole other level if he can play like that.
Malcolm Butler is struggling
I’m not sure what the deal is with Malcolm Butler, but he’s been playing very poorly this preseason. One week after getting torched by Bruce Ellington and Tom Savage, Butler struggled against Marvin Jones and Matthew Stafford.
Now there are some questions as to why Butler is looking back for the ball if Jones isn’t making a move with his hands. Some defensive backs are taught to look for the ball if they believe they are “in phase” or running stride for stride with the receiver so they might possibly record an interception.
The problem is that Butler loses track of Jones after Jones blows by him and now Butler is really “out of phase” without a chance to recover. Defensive backs that are “out of phase” are the ones that try to play the receiver’s hands.
Is Butler overconfident in his physical ability, assuming that he could stick with Jones while looking backwards? There’s something going on with Butler and he needs to figure it out quickly.
Stephen Gostkowski is just going to miss kicks now
Gostkowski hit a 46-yarder, a 25-yarder, and a 45-yarder in addition to making two extra points (one called back due to penalty). He was great on kickoffs.
And yet Gostkowski missed his second extra point attempt of the day and that seems to put a damper on everything else. I guess we just have to accept this. Gostkowski can’t be expected to be perfect anymore.
He is still one of the top five kickers in the league, don’t get me wrong, but he shouldn’t be expected to be automatic.