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Instant analysis from Patriots’ 22-13 preseason win over Washington

Observations from the 2021 preseason opener at Gillette Stadium.

NFL: Washington Football Team at New England Patriots Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots opened the 2021 preseason with a 22-13 win over the Washington Football Team on Thursday night.

Here’s an initial look through what went into it at Gillette Stadium.

Patriots open with Newton, follow with Jones under center

It would be Cam Newton getting the start at quarterback for New England after a 2020 preseason without games. And against the ominous clouds, the humidity as well as the Washington defense, the 32-year-old stayed in for two series. Those series brought a 4-of-7 passing line with 49 yards through the air.

Newton was nearly strip-sacked once off the left side by reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young on third-and-8. But he connected with tight end Jonnu Smith, wide receiver Jakobi Meyers and running back James White on the following drive en route to points.

Then rookie first-round pick Mac Jones made his NFL debut with 55 seconds to go in the first quarter. The Alabama product did so in a blue No. 10 after wearing a red No. 50 from organized team activities into training camp. Jones completed 13-of-19 attempts for 87 yards. He showed a quick release on a play-action dig, as well as accuracy downfield on an almost-touchdown in the bucket. Along the way were five-wide sets, hurry-up situations and a scramble by Jones that officials ruled short of the chains. Veteran Brian Hoyer, now in his third tour with the Patriots, closed out the game as the third quarterback.

Top target share for New England belongs to Wilkerson

A total of 30 passes were thrown by the Patriots, and it was a January futures signing leading the way in targets.

Kristian Wilkerson drew nine and caught six for 39 yards versus Washington after spending last campaign on the practice squad. The Southeast Missouri State standout missed what had the makings of a fading, 34-yard TD and later had another pass slip by. Yet chemistry with New England’s rookie QB was displayed as Wilkerson continued through the third quarter as part of a wideout trio comprised of N’Keal Harry and 2020 first-team All-Pro returner Gunner Olszewski.

Neither tight end Hunter Henry nor wide receiver Nelson Agholor were in uniform as both Patriots newcomers managed recent ailments.

Setting the offensive line’s starting five

The 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff began with an offensive line of familiar faces for the Patriots.

Isaiah Wynn, who conceded one hard hit, started at left tackle against Washington. And next to the 2018 first-rounder stood Mike Onwenu at left guard, followed by James Ferentz at center, Shaq Mason at right guard and Trent Brown at right tackle.

Captain David Andrews would not be spotted in the middle of a starting five that otherwise matched the September projection.

Taylor, Stevenson work their way through crowded backfield

Damien Harris started. The aforementioned White got the early passing downs. And fellow Patriots running back Sony Michel saw the field, too. But so did J.J. Taylor and Rhamondre Stevenson.

Undrafted out of Arizona last spring, Taylor returned a kickoff for 29 yards prior to halftime and was back deep to field a punt in the fourth quarter. The 5-foot-6, 185-pound back handled two carries for 10 yards in between, making the most of his low center of gravity while spinning off safety Darrick Forrest. Taylor showed his hands when New England took an up-tempo approach, as well, securing five passes for 31 yards.

And Stevenson, drafted in the fourth round out of Oklahoma, plunged into the end zone in the final frame for the Patriots. He then did so again on a toss up the right sideline from 91 yards away. The 6-foot, 227-pound rookie tallied 10 carries for 127 yards altogether.

Judon, Uche make an early dent at linebacker

Taking center stage for a new-look Patriots front was Matt Judon. Through two defensive series versus Washington, the red-sleeved outside linebacker proved hard to miss. Judon closed down the backside to halt a third-down run by Peyton Barber, pressured quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and also dropped back to knock down a pass.

Judon exited for the blue medical tent after taking a cut block to the left knee. But the four-year, $54.5 million arrival missed only two snaps before getting clearance to return to the field, and he tried to make it only one snap.

During Judon’s brief absence, Josh Uche was the one who stepped in for New England. The fleet-footed NFL sophomore showed an ability to cover ground to the flats and the backfield from there. That was showcased during a sequence in the second quarter that included a tackle versus running back J.D. McKissic and a pressure versus quarterback Taylor Heinicke. Uche flipped between inside and outside roles. He went directly to the locker room after Washington made it a 7-6 score down at the goal line and returned to the sideline for the second half.

Williams corrals the first interception of New England’s preseason

The third Washington quarterback to check in Thursday evening would be picked off once. New England defensive back Joejuan Williams would be the beneficiary.

Williams found the football in the fourth quarter on a tipped pass from Steven Montez that was intended for receiver Dax Milne with cornerback Michael Jackson defending. And Williams, in zone coverage and on the roster bubble, returned the ball 36 yards into the red zone. A 15-7 game it became soon after.

A pass deflection was tacked on by the 2019 second-round pick from Vanderbilt in the final minutes. Williams then outlasted a two-point conversion catch by Washington wideout Antonio Gandy-Golden that was ruled incomplete upon review.

Undrafted rookie gets extended look in the kicking operation

Quinn Nordin, the lone member of New England’s 2021 undrafted class, got a full look versus Washington. The kicker out of Michigan split the uprights from 35 yards out in the first quarter. He did the same from 50 in the second. Nordin finished 3-for-3 on field goals and 1-for-2 on extra points while wearing Patriots all-time scoring leader Stephen Gostkowski’s old No. 3 jersey.

Nordin had first-team All-Pro punter Jake Bailey holding and former Carnegie Mellon defensive end Brian Khoury snapping.

Incumbent kicker Nick Folk, who re-signed in March on a one-year contract carrying $1.225 million guaranteed, was not in uniform.