The Patriots’ starting units stepped up tonight, with Brady throwing for 2 touchdowns and the starting defense allowing only 7 points. The Patriots defense saw rookies Ja’Whaun Bentley and Keion Crossen in the starting lineup as well as 2nd year player Keionta Davis, who missed 2017 with a neck injury. The Patriots’ front 7 looked faster and more active
The Biggest Winner: EDGE Adrian Clayborn. The Patriots signed Clayborn to a 2-year deal in the offseason and very much looked like the guy who sacked Dak Prescott 6 times last year. His presence was felt on a pair of 3rd down plays in which he hit Nick Foles to force an incompletion and another pressure to force Foles to step up into an Adam Butler sack. His best play of the night was when he beat Eagles LT Halapoulivaati Vaitai soundly and stripped Foles of the football before Ja’Whaun Bentley scooped it up and ran it back for 54 yards and a score. A healthy Trey Flowers, Derek Rivers, Adrian Clayborn, and a 2nd year jump from Deatrich Wise Jr. could be the boost the Patriots pass rush needs for 2018.
Winner: LB Ja’Whaun Bentley. Bentley got looks with the starting defense and continued to stand out. Bentley recorded 5 stops, broke up a pass in the end zone, and had that fumble return TD that put the Patriots up 17-0. Another solid game helps in trying to take a roster spot, although I think he starts as the 4th or 5th linebacker on the depth chart at the beginning of the season.
Winner: Starting Defense. Patriots held Foles to 3/9 for 44 yards and stopped all the Eagles’ 3rd down opportunities while Foles was in the game. The defense tallied 3 sacks and a force fumble on Foles, the fumble leading to a defensive touchdown. After Foles left the game for injury (on the Clayborn strip sack play), the defense turned it sights on Nate Sudfeld. After allowing a TD thanks to a pair of pass interference penalties, the defense on the next drive sacked Sudfeld on back-to-back plays. On the final drive of the first half, the Patriots held firm at the goal line, swatting away 3rd and 4th down passes.
Winner: RB James White. With Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel out of action, James White had a big drive to set up a Chris Hogan TD. White had 92 scrimmage yards and a touchdown on 10 touches (4/31 rushing, 6/61/1 receiving) for the game and very much looks to once again be a big part of the Patriots offense.
Winner: QB Tom Brady. Brady looked good in his preseason debut and continues his age-defying run of success. To Brady, 41 is just a number. Brady played the entire first half aside from 1 kneeldown at the end. Overall he completed 19 of 26 passes for 172 yards and 2 touchdowns, carving up the Eagles defense along the way.
Winner: EDGE Keionta Davis. Davis may be an underrated part of the Patriots’ front 7. Davis is very much similar to other edge rushers the Patriots have picked up recently in Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise Jr., where they are effective rushing inside and outside while not holding a true position on the defensive front. Davis got the start with the first team defense in this game and on his 2nd snap of the game combined with Keion Crossen for a massive TFL on Jay Ajayi.
Loser: Kickoff Coverage Unit. This unit had a poor day covering kicks and nearly had 2 returns break loose on them. One of those returns, Gostkowski was dinged up after making the tackle although he was able to return to the game and made all 3 kicks since the injury. On that return, Jason McCourty was beat to the outside after taking a bad angle instead of maintaining his lane integrity. The Eagles averaged 30 yards per return and I’m sure Belichick is not happy about that.
Loser: OT Isaiah Wynn. Wynn came in later in the first half, but was carted off the field with a leg injury. The Patriots announced it as an ankle injury, which would be obviously best case scenario. The worst case scenario would be a ruptured Achilles tendon, which is what former Chargers doctor David Chao is guessing based on the video. Stay tuned for updates when the injury news drops whether it’s an ankle sprain or ruptured achilles. Either injury will keep him out for a significant period of time, although an Achilles tendon injury would require season-ending surgery.
The Biggest Loser: NFL Officials. The lowering the head to initiate contact rule is stupid and can be arbitrarily enforced on any given play. I’m hoping it’s like other rule changes where the enforcement is strict early on to condition the players before easing up in regular and postseason play. However, it seems like when the NFL makes rule changes with a short-sighted goal in mind it goes bad. Given that the penalty is 15 yards and an automatic first down, a lot of money hinges on these type of calls.