The New England Patriots have lost three games in a row in rather uninspiring fashion. But even with their season on the brink of unraveling, they rely heavily on their rookie players — sometimes by choice, sometimes because injuries forced them to. The results, at times, are uneven.
Let’s quickly go through all the rookies on the Patriots’ active roster to find out how they performed in the 21-17 loss against the Las Vegas Raiders. With first-round draft pick Christian Gonzalez on injured reserve, we will start with second-rounder Keion White and work our way down the list from there.
ED Keion White (2-46): Matthew Judon has been out with a biceps injury since Week 4, paving the way for White to see increase snaps on the edge. And while he would again have on Sunday, a concussion suffered in the first quarter forced him out of the game after he had played just eight snaps. His availability for the upcoming game against Buffalo is in doubt.
LB/S Marte Mapu (3-76): After seeing somewhat regular action on defense over the first five weeks of the season, Mapu was exclusively used in the kicking game versus the Raiders. Why? The Patriots going with bigger front seven personnel in hopes of slowing down running back Josh Jacobs might have played a part in the decision. As far as his special teams contributions are concerned, Mapu played 14 snaps and was used on kickoff return, punt return, kickoff coverage and punt coverage without registering any statistics.
C Jake Andrews (4-107): Another game, another week of Jake Andrews playing solely as part of the field goal and extra point protection unit. As such, he took the field on three occasions.
K Chad Ryland (4-112): After some uneven performances the previous three games — going just 4-of-8 on combined field goals and extra points — Ryland was perfect versus Las Vegas: he split the uprights from 43 yards out to put the Patriots on the board in the second quarter, and later added a pair of PATs. He also had four touchbacks on four kickoffs.
G Sidy Sow (4-117): With the Patriots effectively shutting down Michael Onwenu — he was active but only used as an emergency option — they turned to Sow to start at right guard. He went wire-to-wire and showed improvement compared to his first start in Week 2 as both a run blocker and pass protector. There were still a few ups and downs such as his false start flag on a 2nd-and-goal from the Raiders 3-yard line, but the game was a step in the right direction. One has to wonder whether Sow will factor into the mix at right tackle once Onwenu returns from injury; he primarily played that position during training camp.
G Atonio Mafi (5-144): With Cole Strange missing a third straight game and fourth overall, Mafi received another start at left guard. While he did have some positive moments and there are no questions about his effort, the fifth-rounder continues to be a weak link overall: he fails to generate a consistent forward push in the running game and struggles in pass protection, especially versus stunts, to a point where the entire left side of the line becomes unstable. To add insult to injury, Mafi also was flagged for holding to negate a chain-moving 5-yard run from Rhamondre Stevenson on the final drive. The Patriots better hope that Strange returns from his knee injury quickly.
WR Kayshon Boutte (6-187): Despite the Patriots being down two wideouts — JuJu Smith-Schuster and Demario Douglas — they decided against making Boutte active. The sixth-round draft pick was a healthy scratch for a fifth straight game, with players such as practice squad elevation Jalen Reagor or recently promoted Malik Cunningham playing over him.
P/H Bryce Baringer (6-192): After averaging six punts over the first five games of the season, Baringer took the field a season-low three times. He gained 46.0 yards per kick with a net of 41.7, but the numbers are a bit misleading: his first punt traveled only 34 yards before rolling out of bounds, before he had two kicks of 53 and 51, respectively. He also served as the holder on Ryland’s three combined field goals and extra points.
WR Demario Douglas (6-210): Douglas left the Patriots’ Week 5 game against the New Orleans Saints due to a concussion, and subsequently had to sit out the game in Las Vegas as well. He did return to practice on Tuesday, though.
CB Ameer Speed (6-214): The sixth-rounder continues to play his usual role on special teams: Speed is serving as a front-line player on kickoff return and coverage and as a vice on the punt return team. In total, he was on the field for 13 of 25 snaps in the game’s third phase on Sunday without registering any statistics.
QB/WR Malik Cunningham (UDFA): The Patriots decided to sign Cunningham from their practice squad to the 53-man roster on Saturday, and immediately made him active as the No. 2 quarterback behind Mac Jones. Playing a package role, he took the field six times: he lined up in the backfield twice, motioned out wide once, and played three snaps in the slot. Cunningham handed the ball off once on an option play and was sacked on another, and other than that did nothing of note. It was a fairly uneventful debut.
The Patriots’ rookie class extends beyond those 11 players, of course. Two undrafted rookies — wide receiver T.J. Luther and cornerback Azizi Hearn — reside on the practice squad but were not elevated for the game in Las Vegas.
In addition, two rookies find themselves on injured reserve. The aforementioned Christian Gonzalez, who suffered a torn labrum in Week 4, as well as fellow cornerback Isaiah Bolden (concussion). While Gonzalez is theoretically eligible to return later during the year — a comeback is considered unlikely, though — Bolden’s season is over.