Like Stephen Dedalus after leaving Dublin for Paris, we’re back.
Last night’s game between the New England Patriots and the Washington Football Team was everything you could possibly want from a preseason game. There were players on the field, as well as a football. Refs were there too, and the lines and markers were perfectly painted. Plays happened, and there was a score. Doesn’t get much better than that.
Is there anything we can take away from this game, other than relief that nobody got seriously hurt? Well, no. But is there anything worth breaking down here because I have way too much time on my hands and am fully prepared to make a concerted effort to pass myself off as intelligent. Is there ever.
It feels great to be back doing these Fan Notes again. And while these really count more as rambling, meaningless observations than actual analysis, let’s be honest: I don’t know what I’m doing or what I’m talking about regardless of the game. So on we go.
- I’m not sure if it’s just my homerism kicking in here...but in a game where a good number of the actual starters didn’t play much, I had to keep reminding myself that the players who were in the game late into the first half and beyond actually weren’t the guys we’ll be seeing take the first snaps in September. No Matthew Slater or Devin McCourty or Stephon Gilmore, sure...but after Hightower, Van Noy, and Judon were done for the day, the 2nd unit of Josh Uche, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Anfernee Jennings came in. And Winovich didn’t even dress. Sony Michel took reps with the 2nd team, as did Gunner Olszewski and Jakobi Meyers. There’s just so much depth on this squad.
- In very limited action, including a knee scare that had me up and out of my seat faster than when I hear the microwave beep to signal that my pizza rolls are ready, Matthew Judon made three distinct and awesome plays. He stuffed a run on third down to force a punt on Washington’s first drive, he broke off the rush to drop into the flat to deflect a pass, and he got around the edge to hurry Fitzpatrick into throwing prematurely. You also saw him on the sidelines joking with his teammates and encouraging the rookies. What a signing he could turn out to be.
- Also, I really hope Matthew Judon keeps the number 9. “Judon 9” sounds like either the bad guy in an anime program or the name of a terrible sci-fi show that airs every Friday at 11:30 PM on some obscure network you only get if you still have one of those massive satellite dishes in your yard.
- Everyone remember those things? Every once in a while I’ll be driving through the middle of nowhere and I’ll see one rusting in a random front yard somewhere, about 10 feet across and 10 feet high. What used to be the ultimate sign of wealth and unlimited access to those Russian nudie channels has now devolved into a complete eyesore. Of the many regrets I harbor from my childhood, a big one is that I didn’t have a friend whose dad sprung for one of those.
- In these games, there’s less than nothing you can glean from what you see on offense in terms of scheme, and there’s not much use in paying attention to defensive formations or how quickly cornerbacks react to sharp receiver cuts as they continue to get into form. But but what you can’t mail in come these preseason games is how defenders react off the line and how they look tackling for the first time in several months. Are they hesitant in the gaps or do they go for it? And these defenders tackled well, hit hard, and didn’t give up YAC. Players who got wrapped up went down quickly and guys swarmed to the ball.
- This time every year sees me playing one of my favorite games, the Who The Hell is That Guy? Challenge. As I try to figure out who of the six #23s and five #38 on the field is who and who is worth getting to know and who isn’t, I enjoy these brief few weeks where I don’t have more familiarity with this Patriots roster than I do with members of my own family. So it’s a little weird that the first winner of the 2021 edition of the challenge went to, of all people, Jalen Mills. I’ve obviously heard of him and know he has a role in the defense, but all I saw was this guy in a black visor wearing #2 lining up all over the place and had absolutely no clue who that was supposed to be. So that’s a first.
- Honorable mention for the WTHITC: Malik Gant, who actually had a nice 2nd quarter ST tackle. But the last Patriots player I remember that ever wore #19 was Brandon Tate, who coincidentally was one of those players I liked way more than he deserved.
- Were this a regular season game, I would have been upset with the number of times Washington connected on quick outs and slants to move the chains. New England seemed beyond content to give those up all day.
- I’m not sure any of you noticed, but Mac Jones got some reps last night. I’m amazed that I’m the first person to be commenting on it given how much hype there was surrounding his selection in the draft earlier this year — I figured there would be all kinds of Tweets and quick-hit articles and whatnot talking about him — but I guess that’s why you all keep me around. To remain vigilant and astute in my observations. And this writer saw Mac Jones play himself some football.
- To that end, tt was nice to hear the cheers when Mac Jones took the field for the first time. And it was nice to see him wearing the number 10. And overall, it’s hard not to get excited by how good he looked, even in a game as meaningless as this one against all backups. His stat line was completely irrelevant — 13 of 19 for 87 yards — but two things in particular really stood out for me. The first was his accuracy on passes beyond 15 yards; his best throw of the night may very well have been an incompletion that should have been a touchdown to Kristian Wilkerson where he launched it 40 yards down the sideline and hit Wilkerson right in the hands. He also just barely overthrew Gunner on a deep post later in the game that could have gone for big yards. The second, and more important, was his mechanics, particularly off the play action. Sells the handoff, sets his feet, turns the shoulder, and doesn’t waste any motion on the throw. Accurate and decisive.
- But it wouldn’t be an Alec Shane article if there wasn’t a healthy dose of paranoid negativity sprinkled in at some point, so I feel I need to offer my patented party poopery to keep this Mac Jones party in check. Yeah, he was playing against backups and a vanilla defense, but whatever.
- If I had to offer any real criticism of Jones based on what I saw last night, it was that he was a bit premature in going to his check-down receivers. On more than one occasion, he had time in the pocket and could have waited longer for the play to develop, but aborted and hit his man short or on the shallow crosser.
- I was both amazed and pleasantly surprised to see him run the no-huddle on his first possession of the third quarter. He was able to execute with new personnel in a positive way. He doesn’t really have the speed and tempo down yet, but nor should he. I’m hoping this entire preseason is just Belichick presenting Jones with various challenges to see how he reacts to them.
- The player I’m officially most worried about is Kyle Dugger. It has nothing to do with his play; he looks like he gained 15 lbs of muscle in the offseason, he’s a thumper in the running game, and he’s instinctive in coverage. I just don’t think he has an off switch and has no idea how to go any speed other than 200 miles per hour. Wouldn’t mind saving that for when the games matter so nobody gets hurt needlessly.
- Where on this roster is there a space for JJ Taylor? I think he deserves it, to be honest, and feel like he could add a great dynamic to an already stellar backfield...but do the Patriots really keep that many backs? Harris, Michel, White, Bolden, Stevenson, and Taylor?
- One of my (many) complaints about the preseason is that I feel that coaches don’t really create enough situations in-game that might come in handy when it matters. You rarely see anyone go for it on 4th and short. There’s never an onside kick. They don’t try out a 2 point play they’re on the fence on. When it doesn’t matter, it seems like it’s a wasted opportunity not to take some wild chances with situational football. I get that you don’t want to put your trick plays on tape, but come on now. So it was awesome to see Mac Jones still getting reps late into the third quarter. We know what we have with Brian Hoyer, so why not maximize Jones’s reps? I’ve been all in on Cam starting this season, and nothing I saw last night has changed my opinion, so let’s get Jones as many snaps as possible over the next few weeks.
- I really hope Michael Jackson makes this team. I have too much to say about it and I don’t know whether I should say it all over the next two weeks in case he gets cut or save it for later in the year and space it out so I don’t lose my readership entirely.
- I’m very willing to blame it on my hydration levels by the time the fourth quarter rolled around...but Rhamondre Stevenson neither looked nor ran like a guy who weighs 260 pounds last night. Got small in the hole, made decisive cuts, evaded tacklers rather than running over them. Looking forward to seeing him get more carries next week against the Eagles.
- And good for me spelling “Rhamondre” on the very first try. At this early stage, there isn’t a player whose name I feel like I’m going to have a lot of trouble spelling this season. But there’s still time.
- If there was an NFL equivalent of walking away after winning a fight only to have your vanquished foe take a cheap shot at you while your back is turned so you pick him up, pull down his pants, and toss him into the pool for good measure, it was this Rhamondre Stevenson run following a Ron Rivera timeout as the Pats tried to kneel on it and get the hell out of there. If you’re still content to just run out the clock, you call a FB dive or HB crash up the middle for no gain and let the seconds tick away that way. You don’t call a weak side toss and send your right guard out on a pull block unless you’re hoping to get some chunk yards.
- Scott Zolak is just such a gem. I don’t know how much of a compliment “he’s in the running for best preseason color guy in the business” is, but if I have to watch these glorified practices, I’m glad I get to do it listening to a guy who has likely heard “sir, you’re making a scene” more times than he can count.
- I’m not sure he’s going to make the team, but if he does, my dark horse candidate for highest score on the MCPQ — Marima Cutie Patootie Quotient — is Quinn Nordin. Much like QBR and the salary cap, nobody really knows exactly what goes into Marima’s calculations when making her selection...but her track record speaks for itself, and that’s one good looking dude.
- That said — if she goes with Steve Belichick, I certainly won’t begrudge her. I mean look at that hair.
All in all, a pretty solid start for the 2021 campaign. Lots more to learn and figure out, but if you aren’t pleased with what you saw last night, I don’t know what to tell you. And if you didn’t watch the game because you have better things to do with your life, just know that a) I’m jealous, and b) this was the kind of game you try and build off of coming into an important week of joint practices with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Just remember to always keep in mind the Golden Rule of all things preseason: if your team looks good, it’s a surefire sign of a successful year. If your team looks bad, no big deal, it’s just the preseason. So Mac Jones is clearly Canton Bound and the Pats are going 17-0. Take it to the bank.