Here’s a glance back on the August finale before head coach Bill Belichick’s roster glances ahead to the 53-man NFL deadline and Week 1.
An unsettled end to the preseason for No. 10
Joint practices with former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ Raiders preceded the 8:15 p.m. ET kickoff. But it wasn’t on to the regular season just yet for Patriots quarterback Mac Jones. The sophomore starter hit wide receivers DeVante Parker and Jakobi Meyers on early quick slants. He also scrambled for 13 yards and had an above-the-rim touchdown nullified by offensive pass interference.
Comfort in the pocket, though, proved hard to come by for an offense facing growing pains. Defensive ends Malcolm Koonce and Tashawn Bower hit home for sacks. And an off-platform, play-action interception over the middle by linebacker Luke Masterson surfaced in between three-and-outs.
No. 10 finished the evening having completed 9-of-13 passes for 71 yards to go with the turnover. Relieving him by the fifth series was Brian Hoyer. New England’s entrenched backup went 6-of-7 for 47 yards in the exhibition. Rookie Bailey Zappe then took the huddle in the third quarter. The transfer from Houston Baptist to Western Kentucky closed the contest 10-of-14 for 84 yards, and with a sailing interception retrieved by Patriot-turned-Raider Isaiah Zuber.
Montgomery’s exit puts eyes on backfield depth
Ty Montgomery was assisted off the field after a gain of four yards midway through the first quarter. The experienced rusher-slash-receiver was carted to the locker room. He was ruled out by the Patriots with an ankle injury after intermission.
That peeled back layers in a running back room led by Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. J.J. Taylor did his part by logging 29 yards from scrimmage through a handful of touches. The 5-foot-6, 185-pound back also displayed heads-up hustle on a fumble recovery and frequented special teams. Kevin Harris got his turn against the Raiders, too. The rookie power back from South Carolina took his first rush 33 yards to the doorstep of the end zone on a trap play and fumbled on his last attempt. He totaled a team-high 54 ground yards on only four carries.
If Pierre Strong Jr. hadn’t been drafted in the fourth round, it would be fair to question in recent weeks how far the roster gap is. The FCS All-American from South Dakota State had his 40-yard-dash time of 4.37 seconds tested out on kickoff returns and turned four offensive opportunities into 17 yards.
Undrafted candidates state final case
For the past 18 years, an undrafted rookie has resided on New England’s initial active roster. A select group of May arrivals have made themselves candidates to continue the streak.
Center Kody Russey had seen 77 percent of the offensive snaps in the second game of the preseason. On Friday, the 60-game starter and captain out of Louisiana Tech and Houston got the call in the third quarter. He wrestled to the finish down at the goal line. Defensive lineman LaBryan Ray, once a five-star Alabama recruit, also bulldozed former teammate Alex Leatherwood to set up a sack by current teammate Daniel Ekuale. And outside linebacker DaMarcus Mitchell, whose strip-sack in the end zone last week proved as notable as his work on the top coverage unit, offered more of the same. The Purdue product chased quarterback Chase Garbers out of the pocket and punt returner Justin Hall out of bounds in the fourth quarter.
Safety Brenden Schooler kept his core place on special teams as the personal protector and registered a pair of tackles. The super senior by way of Oregon, Arizona and Texas did so after downing a punt four yards from the end zone and intercepting a pass against the Carolina Panthers.
Down the seam or the sideline, Humphrey’s role worth monitoring
No Patriots wide receiver had caught more passes through two preseason outings than the one described as a “tight end-ish type of guy” by his head coach.
Lil’Jordan Humphrey is a little of everything at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds. A big slot on offense and a big gunner on the punt unit, he entered the finale with 11 catches for 131 yards and a touchdown to go with a doubled-teamed dive to save a touchback.
A quiet two receptions for seven yards were totaled from there in Las Vegas, where special teams remained in the cards. But with rookie second-round pick Tyquan Thornton’s collarbone injury setting up a procedural move to injured reserve, a fifth spot on the depth chart looms. Before signing in the June gap between mandatory minicamp and training camp, Humphrey had appeared in 18 games across three years as a member of the New Orleans Saints. His top wideout contender, Tre Nixon, caught two passes for 32 yards on Friday. A fellow alum of the practice squad in Kristian Wilkerson did not make the trip due to a concussion.
O-line shuffle continues in summer finale
New England’s starting offensive line against Las Vegas would include the projection: Trent Brown at left tackle, Cole Strange at left guard, David Andrews at center, Mike Onwenu at right guard and Isaiah Wynn at right tackle.
Onwenu, now in his third campaign, was penalized for a hold on an outside run. But subsequent substitutions provided a snapshot of what’s left to sort through. Nine blockers outlasted the 53-man cutdown last Labor Day weekend for the Patriots.
Swing bookends Justin Herron and Yodny Cajuste marked the next names to file into the five. They did so on the left and right side, respectively, halfway through the second quarter in a flip from previous practices. A blindside sack and forced fumble followed. Arlington Hambright, James Ferentz and Will Sherman took to the interior line before halftime. The undrafted Russey and sixth-round guard Chasen Hines soon rotated into a game that saw the Raiders tally four sacks.
Window closing for 2020 Patriots third-rounder
The Patriots waived Dalton Keene in advance of the cut to 80 active players. And in the finale, the tight end that went 10 selections before him in the third round of the 2020 draft was also not on hand.
Devin Asiasi had caught a trio of passes on a two-minute drive last week before his absence in Las Vegas. Without the UCLA product, who is dealing with a minor quad injury, per Andrew Callahan of the Boston Herald, snaps were created for veteran Matt Sokol and rookie Jalen Wydermyer both on offense and special teams. The latter tight end was flagged for a holding call that wiped out a scoring plunge.
Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith stand as the lone locks on the depth chart. They were on the field for the starting drive in “12” personnel and collected three receptions for 28 yards.
Secondary starters face former New England quarterback
Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Kyle Dugger and Devin McCourty got the nod in the secondary on Friday. The starters at cornerback and safety did so against Las Vegas quarterback Jarrett Stidham, and the 2019 fourth-round pick completed 4-of-6 passes for 72 yards against the organization that drafted him.
A 45-yard deep post ensued after his evening under center was over. Veteran defensive back Terrance Mitchell had outside leverage without inside coverage help, yet he later broke up a slant to force a fourth down before the half. Joining him on the outside was aggressive rookie Jack Jones from Arizona State, who had a pass breakup along with a forced fumble.
Fellow corner Shaun Wade would not be in uniform against the Raiders. The 2021 trade acquisition from the Baltimore Ravens had picked off a pass last week before becoming a limited participant in practice.
Punt returns in the hands of Paul Hornung Award winners
Patriots rookie cornerback Marcus Jones returned two punts for 32 yards in the finale. Pick No. 85 overall did so after tying an NCAA record with nine career touchdowns in the return game between stops at Troy and Houston.
He was accompanied in that role by Michigan’s 2016 unanimous All-American safety, Jabrill Peppers, who sustained a torn ACL last October with the New York Giants and flew around in his first preseason action.
Both won the Paul Hornung Award, recognizing the nation’s most versatile player, during their college runs. Both got an extended run on defense from the third quarter onward Friday, combining for 10 tackles.