It was the first time in well over 500 days that thousands of New England Patriots fans were packed into Gillette Stadium again. With both Cam Newton and Mac Jones getting playing time, it was also the first time both quarterbacks were able to showcase their skills in live game action.
Cam Newton played just two series completing 4 of his 7 passes for 49 yards. In his final drive of the night, Newton was 4 of 5 and helped lead a scoring drive that ended in a Quinn Nordin field goal. The defense — primarily the revamped front seven — shined, meanwhile, generating pressure from all areas and showing they’ll be a tough team to run against.
With that said, let’s take a look at those who stood out on Thursday night.
Winner: QB Mac Jones
It’s been just 105 days since the Patriots took Mac Jones 15th overall in the 2021 draft. Throughout training camp the rookie has shown his ability to process information as well as handle what the Patriots coaching staff continues to throw at him.
On Thursday, Jones took over for Cam Newton towards the end of the first quarter and received a standing ovation. He helped lead a 10-play, 43-yard drive that ended in a Quinn Nordin field goal to put the Patriots up 6-0. The drive also saw arguably Jones’ best pass of the night, even though wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson could not haul it in: the young QB threw a go ball up the left sidelines and dropped it where only his receiver could make a play on it. Unfortunately, it went right through Wilkerson’s fingertips.
Jones got most of his reps with a backup offensive line and second-stringers at the skill positions, but he was still able to work efficiently. He finished the night 13 of 19 for 87 yards and was as good as advertised in his first professional appearance. Considering the circumstances on Thursday, Jones gave the Patriots and their fans reasons to believe the team might have found the future of its franchise.
Loser: WR N’Keal Harry
Despite his hot start to training camp, 2019 first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry was a non-factor on Thursday. Harry was on the field for most of the offensive snaps for the first three quarters but had just 1 catch for 4 yards. It was more of the same from Harry, despite what he shows on the practice field: he was unable to make an impact on game day.
With Nelson Agholor out, the game was an opportunity for Harry to continue his momentum from training camp, but he was unable to have it carry over into the contest. Unless the Patriots want to go heavy in the red zone, Harry’s role in this offense still appears to be limited. With a lot of jobs up for grabs at the wide receiver position, Harry may be on the outside looking in when roster cutdown day comes — despite his strong practices.
Winner: CB Joejuan Williams
On the flip side of things, fellow 2019 draft pick Joejuan Williams has had a rough start to 2021 training camp. Williams had been beat pretty badly on a variety of routes in practice and wasn’t showing that he had the skill to compete for outside corner reps while Stephon Gilmore was sidelined.
On Thursday night, however, the former second-rounder was one of the standouts defensively. Not only did he come away with an interception, he made a great play on Washington’s potentially game-tying two-point conversion with under a minute left, punching the ball out of Antonio Gandy-Golden’s hands as he was coming down on a jump ball.
Williams also flashed his positional versatility, rotating in at both corner and safety. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Williams has the length and physicality to find a role in New England’s crowded defensive back room, but he was on the outside looking in the last few years due to veterans in front of him. Williams is certainly a bubble player when it comes to the 53-man roster, but he showed on Thursday night that there’s still some reason for optimism.
Winner: LB Matthew Judon
One of the Patriots’ big-money free agent acquisition’s in the offseason was all over the field, particularly on third down. On the opening series, Judon blew past the left tackle and stuffed Peyton Barber on a 3rd-and-short forcing Washington to punt after they were putting a decent drive together. Judon followed this play up by a pass break up in coverage, and eventually finished his night off with a QB hit on another third down.
The Patriots have been looking for consistent edge play in terms of pass rush and being stout against the run, and Judon provides both of that at an elite level. While he did leave early in the game after taking a shot to the knee, he returned a few plays later. Aside from Stephon Gilmore, if he ever returns, Judon is looking like he could be an X-factor and one of the most important players on the Patriots’ revamped defense.
Winner: RB Rhamondre Stevenson
That looked familiar, right? Flashes of LeGarrette Blount were the first thing that came to mind once the fourth-round rookie out of Oklahoma found his way into the open field late in the second half. Stevenson’s balance and speed stood out as he rushed for 127 yards on 10 carries, scoring both of the Patriots’ touchdowns.
His longest run of the night came in the closing seconds when he bounced outside and beat defenders up the sideline en route to a 91-yard touchdown. In a running back room loaded with depth, Stevenson may struggle to find consistent time on the field as a rookie. On Thursday night, however, he showed that he could be a featured back one day in the Patriots’ running back room.
Loser: LB Harvey Langi
It feels wrong to pick on a guy who works hard and is probably not going to make the team’s 53-man roster, but on a night where there was a lot of positives, Langi struggled. He was beat several times in coverage and was flagged for a holding penalty in the third quarter.
It’s been a long journey for Langi since originally signing with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2017, but he’s likely going to be headed to the practice squad at best due to the depth in the front seven this year.
Loser: OL Marcus Martin
Another roster bubble player who stood out for all the wrong reasons on Thursday. The Patriots were penalized a total of nine times, with Marcus Martin responsible for two of them: the backup offensive lineman was flagged late in the third and early in the fourth quarter, both times for false start infractions.
Sloppy play like this gets you cut more likely than not.
Winner: K Quinn Nordin
Quinn Nordin caught the eye of Patriots fans when he went a perfect 10-for-10 during last Friday night’s in-stadium practice. With Nick Folk still sidelined, Nordin shined again going 3-for-3 on his field goals, hitting from 35, 40 and 50 in his first professional game. He also earned praise from head coach Bill Belichick in his post game press conference stating that “he’s gotten better and it’s all about consistency at that position.”
Although he did miss an extra point late in the game, Nordin has made the kicker position quite interesting as we move on in training camp.