Before the New England Patriots can officially start working their way back to becoming a contender, they must contend with former special teams coach Joe Judge and his New York Giants squad in their preseason finale.
This game will wrap up the three legged tour of the NFC East that was the Patriots preseason schedule, where they have already handed losses to the Washington Football Team and Philadelphia Eagles. In advance of the final leg, the Giants visited Foxborough for joint practices with the Patriots. This gave a number of players advanced opportunities to compete against an opponent in an effort to carve out roles for themselves. A primer of sorts, to the game that will be played tonight.
Now, as the Patriots wrap-up preseason and training camp, a select number of players will have one final chance to earn a roster spot/role on the initial 2021 squad. Here are those players:
DB Shaun Wade
Just three days after being traded, Shaun Wade looks like he’ll have his first in game opportunity in New England. The 2021 fifth-round pick was traded to New England after it became apparent he wouldn’t be able to crack Baltimore’s loaded secondary. A whirlwind few days for a man who was once considered a first-round talent.
So why watch for Shaun Wade on Sunday night?
Everyone likes the shiny new toy. Wade is exactly that this week as the most recently acquired member of the Patriots. In addition to being the new guy, Wade brings an intriguing set of skills to New England’s secondary. He’s a versatile player who can do a little bit of everything, and proved to be a tremendous slot cornerback in his college career. With recent injuries to cornerbacks Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant, Patriots fans should be seeing a lot of Shaun Wade on Sunday night.
Disclaimer: Wade wore a red non-contact jersey during practice on Friday. His status is TBD.
RB J.J. Taylor
You cannot ask for much more than what J.J. Taylor has given the Patriots this preseason. “Little Dion” as running backs coach Ivan Fears calls him, has done a bit of everything in the offense no matter who he’s played with. He’s turned 22 touches into 152 yards and a touchdown, displaying an impressive combination of balance and power.
So why watch for J.J. Taylor on Sunday night?
The way Taylor is used on Sunday night should say a lot about his role moving forward. With the trade of Sony Michel on Wednesday, the Patriots opened the door for Taylor to not only make the roster but play into their offensive plans throughout the season. Building off of his first two preseason performances with yet another strong night should be the first step in doing so.
OL Yodny Cajuste
Don’t look now but Yodny Cajuste is finally playing football for the New England Patriots, and he’s playing pretty dang well. The former third-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft has been a bit of an enigma in his time as a Patriot, dealing with a pair of injuries that relegated him to the sidelines without ever having played in an organized NFL game. Now in a make or break year, he’s climbed all the way to becoming New England’s top reserve tackle in joint practices with the Giants.
So why watch for Yodny Cajuste on Sunday night?
Cajuste has been on a steady climb up the depth chart this preseason, starting camp as the last tackle on New England’s unofficial depth chart. Seeing where he slots into the Patriots’ lineup on Sunday and how he plays against a strong New York front should give fans an idea on his chances to crack the 53-man roster.
QB Cam Newton
Another day, another Cam Newton headline. That was the story this week as it seemed like one thing after another for the Patriots quarterback. The week started off with a five day absence due to a “ misunderstanding about tests conducted away from NFL facilities” by Cam and the Patriots. Once he returned, all the talk shifted to his reduced workload after a strong day from Mac Jones. Sprinkle in a ludicrous statement about his affinity for rap music (no seriously) and it made for a busy week.
So why watch for Cam Newton on Sunday night?
Sunday is the last opportunity for one of the two quarterbacks to step up and take the job. Cam’s path look’s like it may be easier, after all he’s played his best football as a member of the Patriots this preseason, but the door is still cracked open a bit for Jones. If Newton can continue to command the offense like he has in recent weeks and set the team up for success by making smart decisions and limiting mistakes, he can finally slam the door shut . . . for now.
QB Mac Jones
While Cam Newton spent five days on the sideline, Mac Jones got his first true opportunity to prepare and practice like a bonafide starter in the NFL. In turn, he looked the part. His best day of camp came on Wednesday against the Giants, just one day before Newton was slated to return, when he completed 21/25 throws in competitive situations. Then on Thursday, with Newton back to split time with the ones, Jones struggled a bit in finding a rhythm. It’s not hard to find a common theme there, when he’s gotten the opportunities to get into a rhythm, the kid’s looked good.
Unfortunately that’s not how quarterback competition’s work. Splitting time and capitalizing on the limited opportunities are what it’s all about.
So why watch for Mac Jones on Sunday night?
This will be Jones’ last opportunity for the next couple of months to steal that starting quarterback job. Everyone knows it’s not a matter of if, but when Jones becomes New England’s starting quarterback, but duking it out with the incumbent veteran is an uphill battle. This means Jones will have to light the world on fire if he wants a fair shot at becoming QB1, whether you agree with it or not, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.