New England Patriots football is back, and so is the Lane Breakdown!
For the first time since January of 2020, the Patriots were playing in front of a live audience again. They won the game over the Washington Football Team with a final score of 22-13, and definitely had some big positives, but they also struggled in some areas, which had to be expected.
Here are 10 takeaways from the game.
1. Rhamondre Stevenson is more than a bruiser: Fans were excited about the rookie from Oklahoma before, but the preseason opener was a coming out party of sorts for him. After the Joejuan Williams interception in the fourth quarter, the Patriots fed the big man until he bowled his way into the end zone. It was his last-minute touchdown, however, that will stick in people’s minds. A 91-yard sprint down the sideline, where he showed great speed and balance, also running through an arm tackle. Typically guys who are that big don’t run that well, but he showed he has some real speed and is more than “just” a bruiser.
2. The entire backfield looked good: I actually thought all the backs looked pretty good in limited time. Sony Michel definitely has some juice back in legs, Damien Harris looked good, and J.J. Taylor was very shifty with the ball in his hands. It was Stevenson, however, that had the memorable night. This is one of the deepest backfields in all of football, and I don’t know how anyone gets cut.
3. Mac Jones took advantage of his opportunities: The first-round rookie got the second and third quarters on Thursday, and I thought he looked good. He took what was given to him, made it through his progressions quickly, and even pushed the ball down the field a few times. The defender made a nice play on his incomplete attempt to Wilkinson in the end zone, and he and Gunner Olszewski just missed on a long pass attempt. I’m not sure who the starter is going to be this year, but overall I was very happy with what I saw from Mac Jones in his first NFL action.
4. Cam Newton is having plenty of fun: Newton had one bad pass on a screen, but the incumbent starting quarterback was fine for the most part. You can tell how much he loves playing, and how much fun he is having. He was the first one in the end zone to congratulate Stevenson on his long touchdown run, and was pumping the crowd up on the late two-point conversion attempt.
5. The Patriots wanted to give N’Keal Harry as much work as possible: Harry played almost every snap the first half, and it was clear that the team continued to run him out there to give him as much work as possible. He did end up catching one pass and breaking a tackle. It also seemed as though Cam Newton had him open on a post at one point but decided to check it down. I am not sure if him playing a ton means anything, but I would like to see New England’s passers target him more and given him a chance to use his body even if he has someone on him. We’ll see what happens next game.
6. The backup linebackers struggle: Linebackers Harvey Langi and Cassh Maluia both struggled mightily tonight, against the pass and run. Langi looked particularly bad in coverage, and missed quite a few tackles in space. Both he and Maluia are long shots to make the roster, and their performances on Thursday do not bode well for them moving forward.
7. Quinn Nordin is pulling away in the kicker competition: The rookie kicker continued his great play by booming a few more kicks through the uprights. He was 3-for-3 on field goal attempts and 1-for-2 on extra point attempts. The miss was not good, of course, but Nordin was still impressive out there. His 50-yard attempt to the closed end hit almost halfway up the screen. We knew that Nordin had a great leg coming out of school, but he had really struggled with accuracy his senior year. That has not been a problem as of yet, and he may wrap up the kicker competition soon if he keeps kicking like this.
8. Special teams has a long way to go: So ,I was just positive about one of the members of the special teams, but now I’m going to be negative. As a whole, it wasn’t great. Jake Bailey, of course, was booming punts, but the kick coverage was shaky at best, and there were multiple false start penalties. Now, Joe Cardona is hurt, so Brian Khoury was snapping, but that is still unacceptable. The Patriots typically have one of the best special teams units in football, and, although the kickers were both solid (and I loved watching Bill Murray run down on kickoff coverage), there is a lot that needs to get cleaned up in the third phase of the game.
9. The young safeties were a positive: A pair of young guys got the most work at safety tonight, Myles Bryant and Malik Gant. Bryant was signed as an undrafted rookie last year, and Gant was with the team as a UDFA in 2019 before getting hurt. They both played a ton, and played pretty well too. Bryant left with an apparent shoulder injury and didn’t come back, but it was good to see guys in that spot hold their own, especially when it seems to be a little thin in the depth chart there.
10. There might just be a spot for Joejuan Williams after all: The last paragraph of the night goes to the much maligned Joejuan Williams. He played a ton tonight, and seemed to play well. He had a solid pass breakup on a comeback route, was Johnny on the Spot on a tipped interception that led to the first Stevenson touchdown, and made a great play to knock the ball out in the end zone on the Washington two-point try. He played mostly corner, but switched to safety when Bryant left with his injury. Am I sold on Williams as a contributor for this defense? Absolutely not. But I am happy that he played well, and, if he can keep doing that on a consistent basis, there just might be a spot on this team for him after all.
That does it for me. It was a ton of fun to be back in Gillette Stadium watching the Patriots play. The next preseason game is next Thursday in, but the excitement starts before that, as they have joint practices with the Eagles scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.