The New England Patriots dropped their preseason opener 23-21 Thursday night to the New York Giants. As most of the starters did not suit up, it was a prime opportunity for many players on the outside-looking in to make their case for a 53-man roster spot.
Here’s who caught our eye Thursday night for better or worse.
Winners: Wide receivers. The Patriots’ veteran wide receivers did not step on the field for New England, but it was be hard to tell. The primary unit of Kristian Wilkerson (8 catches, 99 yards), Tre Nixon (4 catches, 81 yards), and Lil’Jordan Humphrey (6 catches, 62 yards, touchdown) were all over the field for the Patriots.
Nixon rebounded after a poor first half, which featured a third-down drop, by basically igniting the Patriots opening scoring drive in the second half. He hauled in a pair of 30-plus yard receptions, adjusting in the air both times to haul them in. Wilkerson was a favorite target for quarterback Bailey Zappe, as he’s been throughout camp, with a team-high 12 targets.
Humphrey, who had a strong past week of camp, caught Zappe’s long touchdown of the night - beating his man one-on-one in a cover zero look. After signing with the team late, Humphrey told reporters after the game he’s felt like he finding his groove of late.
Besides them, Tyquan Thornton also made an impact in his first live NFL action. The receiver had an impressive touchdown, showcasing an impressive break out of his route and beating a hold in the process. He’s continues to consistently impress.
Winner: DT Sam Roberts. The rookie sixth-round pick showed up several times for the Patriots’ defense Thursday night. Roberts had an early pressure that resulted in a Josh Uche sack in the first quarter. He continued to live in the Giants backfield afterwards, recording a pressure and drawing a holding penalty on back-to-back plays. He hasn't necessarily flashed in camp so far, but he showed up with a strong debut.
Loser: OT Justin Herron. After a bad practice Monday, which saw Yodny Cajuste replace Herron at right tackle, the third-year tackle did not bounce back well Thursday night. Herron was penalized twice early on registering two false starts. It was not the performance he was looking for as he continues to battle Cajuste for the third tackle spot, and walked off with what appeared to be a right leg injury late in the game.
Winner: LB Mack Wilson Sr. Wilson’s speed has stood out in camp and it certainly translated to the game field. Playing early on, Wilson’s speed made an impact on a blitz which forced a hurry and incomplete pass. It’s a new look than what Dont’a Hightower provided up the middle, and the early returns have been strong.
Winner: CB Shaun Wade. With the Patriots in a full-blown cornerback competition, Wade impressed in his action Thursday night. The former Ohio State Buckeye was noticeably physical at the line of scrimmage and recorded a pair of pass deflections. Wade was penalized for pass interference, but it was extremely questionable. My officially scorecard would have featured another pass breakup.
Loser: CB Joejuan Williams. On the opposite end of the cornerback battle was Joejuan Williams, who struggled mightily Thursday night. Williams got beat clean for a touchdown near the goal-line by Richie James, whiffing on an attempted jam. Williams night didn't get better, as a face-mask penalty extended a Giants’ offensive drive.
Other players worth mentioning include Anfernee Jennings who continued to show up along the edge. Pierre Strong Jr. had New England’s best run of the evening, finding a nice cut-back lane which was opened up by Arlington Hambright. Ty Montgomery and Marcus Jones did not suit up for the Patriots, a strong indication that they are key figures in New England’s Week 1 plans.