The New England Patriots had plenty of success against the Tennessee Titans during this week’s pair of joint practices. The two teams’ preseason meeting was therefore more of the same for Bill Belichick’s team: while they were not as impressive as they were during the preseason opener a week ago, the Patriots still found a way to rally in the second half and ultimately emerge as the winning party with a score of 22-17.
We will have plenty of analysis over the next few days, of course, but let’s kick things off tonight with five initial observations from a successful trip to the Music City.
Isaiah Wynn sees his first in-game action in more than a year
While the rest of New England’s starting offensive line sat out the game, left tackle Isaiah Wynn participated in the contest — it was his first in-game action since he tore his Achilles tendon during last year’s preseason. Needless to say that this is just the latest positive development for Wynn this week: he already saw more action in practice over the last few days than at any previous point this summer.
Today’s game was a continuation of that as Wynn started the contest at left tackle and played three offensive series. Overall, the second-year man was on the field for seventeen offensive snaps and generally looked good as both a run blocker (nine snaps) and a pass protector (eight snaps, plus a two-point conversion). While it was a small sample size, the Patriots should feel good about the 23-year-old and his outlook.
New England’s defensive edge suffers a pair of injuries
Derek Rivers and Shilique Calhoun battled for practice reps and ultimately a roster spot on the Patriots’ defensive edge all summer, delivering some impressive practice performances along the way. This week was no different, as both saw regular action with the starting defense during joint practices and looked good no matter the situations they found themselves in. Today’s, however, might be their most difficult to date.
After all, both left the game against Tennessee because of injuries suffered on the very same defensive series. Rivers went down first, after trying disengage from a block through a spin move. He slowed down, went down, and stayed on the ground before later walking off the field under his own power but rather slowly. Rivers then went straight into the medical tent and afterwards left the game for the locker room. He did not return.
Shortly thereafter, Calhoun also went down after getting tangled up with Deatrich Wise Jr. The first-year Patriot also walked off the field under his own power, but with a noticeably bigger limp than Rivers. However, early reports appear to be positive: Calhoun told Nick Underhill of The Athletic that he will be fine and is “still living the dream.” If Calhoun’s confidence is justified, the Patriots may have dodged at least one bullet.
Whether or not the same can also be said about Rivers, who already missed his entire 2017 rookie season because of injury, remains to be seen. A longer-term injury would certainly be another blow to the former third-round draft pick who is in the middle of his best stretch with the team.
Damien Harris emerges...
After not appearing in the preseason opener and seeing limited practice reps recently, Damien Harris had an impressive performance against the Titans. The third-round rookie was the most productive running back on either side, and finished the day with 80 rushing yards on 14 carries. Furthermore, he also caught 4 passes for 23 yards and proved himself capable of contributing in the passing games as well.
While Harris appears to be clearly behind the Patriots’ top-three at running back — Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead — today’s outing certainly was an encouraging one.
...and other Patriots rookies look good as well
Last week, New England’s rookies played a big role in the team’s blowout win against the Detroit Lions. Today, the first-year players also had their moments even though not all of them contributed in the same way. Harris we already talked about, but he was far from the only impressive rookie against Tennessee: Jakobi Meyers, for example, again showed his value and why he deserves to be on the Patriots’ 53-man roster this fall.
Catching 6 passes for 82 yards, the undrafted wide receiver was again the most reliable pass catcher on the team. Meanwhile, quarterback Jarrett Stidham also had his moments. While he came close to throwing multiple interceptions and also was responsible for a safety after not getting rid of the ball sooner, he also again delivered accurate passes at all levels of the field — with his game-winner to Damoun Patterson a perfectly executed back-shoulder throw.
On the defensive side, Byron Cowart and Chase Winovich both registered sacks while Joejuan Williams looked good in coverage and finished with a team-high two pass breakups. Rookie punter Jake Bailey also performed well: he had only one punt, but it went for 54 yards; he also had a 67-yard free kick following the safety and served as the holder on place kicks. The rookie contributions were plenty on Saturday night.
Bill Belichick needs to find a way to decrease his team’s penalties
While there were plenty of positives to take away from the game, one big negative was the Patriots’ number of penalties — again: one week after getting flagged twelve times for 135 yards, the team had twelve more penalties resulting in 99 lost yards. Needless to say that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick cannot be happy with this, and that he needs to find a way to bring this number down once the regular season gets underway.