The preseason is over, and the New England Patriots can now look forward to this weekend’s roster cutdowns and the upcoming regular season opener. Before we do that, however, we shall take a look at that final exhibition game that the Patriots lost 31-29 on a buzzer beater to find out who delivered some noteworthy performances against the New York Giants— for better or for worse (and without the benefit of a film review).
Winner: WR Gunner Olszewski
It was a Julian Edelman-like performance for Gunner Olszewski. On paper, it did not particularly stand out: two catches for 35 yards, three kickoff returns for an average of 25.7 yards, and a 7-yard punt return. However, the undrafted rookie showed that he would not go down without a fight and looked energetic and physical no matter how he was used — from offense and special teams, even to defense. After all, the Patriots also had him line up as an emergency cornerback late during the contest. He looked good in all three of his roles.
Winner: WR Demaryius Thomas
Just eight months after tearing his Achilles tendon, Demaryius Thomas was back on the field against the Giants — and he was the best offensive player on either side. Catching seven of his eight targets for a combined 87 yards and two touchdowns, the veteran showed why he should be expected not just to survive roster cutdowns but also to play a considerable role as an X/Z-receiver hybrid for the Patriots this year. If Thomas can build on his performance and not suffer any setbacks, he should be fun to watch alongside Tom Brady.
Loser: DE Deatrich Wise Jr.
Third-year man Deatrich Wise Jr. did not have a bad performance: he registered a three-yard sack and also had a pair of quarterback hits on the night. However, his usage makes him a loser. Expected to be a roster lock entering training camp after two promising years in the NFL, the former fourth-round draft pick played deep into the game which is usually not a good sign for a veteran like himself. While Wise should have the experience and physical skill to succeed as a defensive end in New England’s new-look 3-4 defense, he has failed to consistently do so.
Winner: CB Joejuan Williams
The progression of Joejuan Williams has to be one of the feel-good stories of the summer from the Patriots’ perspective. After struggling early on during training camp, the second-round draft selection was able to string together some solid performance during the preseason — and yesterday’s may have just been the best: playing both cornerback and safety, Williams’ length and physicality were on full display throughout the game. While he won’t be a starter this year, he projects to become a valuable role player.
Loser: SS Malik Gant
Already facing an uphill battle to make the roster, Malik Gant did not have his best day against New York. The undrafted rookie, who was seen as a potential depth option at strong safety behind Patrick Chung in spring, was inconsistent in the backfield and made some noteworthy errors: he dropped an easy interception in the second half, and was later beat rather cleanly on a seam route for a touchdown. To make matters worse, his night ended when he had to be carted off the field.
Loser: OT Tyree St. Louis
New England’s offensive line did not have the best of performance — the unit surrendered three sacks, in part because of quarterback Jarrett Stidham seemingly not reading the defense correctly — and Tyree St. Louis stood out among the group. Playing at right tackle, the undrafted rookie surrendered one of the sacks when he was easily overpowered and also allowed a quarterback hit when he was quickly beat as well. For a player fighting for a practice squad spot or role on another team, Thursday was not the best performance.
Winner: WR Josh Gordon
Statistically, Josh Gordon’s game did not stand out. He was targeted a combined six times but caught only two passes for a total of 30 yards. However, Thursday was still big for the second-year man: it was his first in-game action since getting indefinitely suspended by the NFL last December for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Seeing him back on the field is not just great news for the Patriots — Gordon showcased the skills that made him a key weapon last year — but for the 28-year-old himself.
Winner: CB Keion Crossen
No defensive back on the Patriots’ roster had as active a game as Keion Crossen. The second-year man, who is fighting for a spot on the team against fellow cornerbacks Duke Dawson and Ken Webster, was not perfect — he did allow a 35-yard touchdown — but also had some outstanding moments: Crossen registered an interception as well as five additional pass breakups, and looked competitive in one-on-ones. He won’t make the 53-man squad based on his coverage abilities but rather his special teams skills, but he still looked serviceable as a defender against New York.
Winner: LB Scooby Wright III
Playing as an inside linebacker, Scooby Wright had two sacks for a combined loss of 13 yards, and also was regularly used in the kicking game. While the 25-year-old is unlikely to survive roster cutdowns, the first-year Patriot, who was signed just earlier this week, showed that he can have a future in the NFL. He could find his way on a practice squad or even an active roster — either in New England but more likely elsewhere — after a solid performance versus the Giants.
Loser: WR Braxton Berrios
Braxton Berrios entered preparations for the 2019 season with plenty of promise to potentially take over the primary slot receiver/punt return role previously held by Danny Amendola. However, four weeks into preseason his fate appears to be sealed: after not playing last week and registering no statistics on Thursday, it would be a surprise if the second-year man was able to survive roster cuts. Either that or the Patriots have tried quite successfully to keep him under wraps this summer. Probably not, though.