They’re a work in progress, but thanks to the Eric Decker acquisition, the Patriots lead the NFL in snacks.
Here are just a few random observations from one superficial and mildly hungover viewing of the game.* (More on that below.) I say this every preseason and I’ll say it again, these are only impressions, not conclusions. Some of the best-looking August players I’ve ever seen didn’t make it to the 53-man roster and some of the worst became indispensable parts of championship teams. Reading too much into preseason fauxball is like judging a Bob Ross painting when he was only halfway through, before he’s turned the big black triangle into a majestic snow-capped mountain range. That said, here’s most of what I saw:
— I give zero effs about the score. If it were up to me, the whole scoreboard would be covered up except for the game clock. So I don’t even care that they fell behind 17-0 in the Fantasy Camp matchup that was Colt McCoy vs. Brian Hoyer. It was the method by which they fell behind 17-0 I could do without. The secondary playing Memory Foam soft off-coverages. Pisspoor tackling. Very little pressure and when they did manage to beat blocks, they missed the quarterback. Again, it’s way too soon to sweat that stuff. Their defense starts out slow every year and Brian Flores’s play sheet looked like he was operating just off the Today’s Specials list instead of the full Cheesecake Factory menu. Then again, maybe it was by design. The one thing nobody expected them to do was stick to the Super Bowl LII game plan. Belichick loves to zig when everyone’s expecting him to zag.
–Among the starters on defense, I thought Kyle Van Noy struggled more than I’m used to. At one point he was in coverage on Byron Marshall and ran after him like he was wearing scuba fins. Stephon Gilmore repeatedly stayed back and allowed completions in front of him. And Demarius Travis, who inexplicably was getting some reps with the first unit in a deep safety corps gave up a completion underneath where he was so far off his man he might have been over the horizon.
–Still, there were positives on defense. Any time you get Dont’a Hightower back, up at the Sam linebacker spot up on the line, crashing the center-guard gap and being a disruptor, it’s a good thing. Danny Shelton eats up two blockers (and judging by his size, a lot of carbs) on every down. We got our first extended look at Derek Rivers and he’s a specimen. A quick burst off the edge, a powerful punch that drove the tackle back into McCoy for the worst phony Roughing the Passer call of the young season. Adrian Clayborn got into the backfield to force incompletions on consecutive downs, once with a nice inside move from RDE and the next a rip move to the outside. And JC Jackson comes as advertised. He’s got this massive, Hulkbuster armor physique that is rare in a Patriots cornerback. He’s still got some developing to do but looks like he’s physical enough to jam bigger receivers at the LOS and lock onto them. And he was a beast at gunner the few times TV iso’ed on him on punt coverage. He’s been the boo of a lot of the Pats beat writers throughout camp and I’m intrigued as well.
–With the defensive twos, Ryan Lewis and Keion Crossen had a nice pass break up, closing on the ball together just as Lewis drilled Trey Quinn and knocked the snot out of him. Literally, as Quinn was puking on the sidelines. And kudos to Quinn for puking into the lined trash barrel instead of on the Krafts nice carpet. That’s the kind of guy you want to invite over for drinks. A friend of the Irish Rose’s once ralphed up pomegranate martini into my kitchen sink in the middle of a Christmas party and I’ve never forgotten how much I appreciated her hustle and effort saving me the clean up. You’re welcome at Gillette any time, Trey.
–Somewhere out there is a man in trouble. A snitch who’s been found out by his mob boss. Some criminal being interrogated by the cops. Some guy in a messy divorce getting grilled on the witness stand by his wife’s lawyer and about to lose everything. A fresh fish prisoner walking into jail for the first time. And I would rather be any of them than Lewis when Belichick shows the tape of him Cadillacking after Geneo Grissom’s scoop & score attempt instead of throwing a block.
–The winner of this game’s MTV’s Best New Artist Award is Ja’Wuan Bentley, the middle linebacker they took in the fifth round. He hasn’t stood out a ton in camp, but it might be that he’s the strong, hard-hitter type who looks better when you’re playing full contact instead of two-hand touch. He forced the fumble on that blown non-call. Filled a gap to make a stop in goal line. Was making the calls for when Hightower and the starters were out of the game. And looked respectable in coverage, making tackles to stop yards after the catch against Marshall and the tight end. His development will be a big focus in the next three games.
–Late last night I heard someone on talk radio screaming with hysteria over how bad Brian Hoyer looked. I disrespectfully disagree. He was fine. It took a while to get the whole offense synced up, which is always the case this time of year. And when he did he completed something like 10 of his last 11. Early on he did a nice job throwing a catchable Phillip Dorsett in the deep middle that he didn’t haul in. This talk show boob’s beef seemed to be that he doesn’t feel confident they can win if Brady gets hurt. Really? So when exactly have we not thought that? 2017 maybe. But that is it. Anyone who claims that they felt we’d be in good hands with Matt Cassell, Ryan Mallet, Kliff Kingsbury or even Jimmy G any year other than last year is either revising history or lying through his teeth.
–Rob Gronkowski wears gloves on the sideline of a game he’s not going to play in. And I don’t know what to do with that information.
–Offensively the highlight was the decision to come out with the pure power running game in the 3rd quarter, just mixing and matching the depth guys up front like Ted Karras, Ulrick John and Cole Croston behind fullback Henry Poggi. You won’t see some of those guys on the final roster. And you might not see a 19-play drive all season. But a display like that even against an opponent’s backups can just give your O-line an identity that carries over. I loved it.
–And nobody looked better behind those guys that Ralph Webb. The Running Back with the Name of a Reliable Local Plumber showed me a lot. Not so much on his first touchdown, when the whole side of the field was left open and Carl Fredrickson could’ve taken it to the house. But he runs with a low center of gravity I like. For 5-10, 200lb he’s got a nice ability to seem small when he’s hitting a hole, if that makes sense. And that first 2-point conversion was impressive as hell the way he pulled an off target Hoyer pass off his hip. He’ll be another great story to watch.
–Though Jeremy Hill looks like lead back material. He’s got a nice, sudden acceleration when the hole opens up. We saw jump cuts and patience waiting for the play to develop. He caught a ball in stride, slipped a tackle then gave a stiff arm shiver to gain more yards. And most importantly, absolutely put a rusher on his ass in blitz pickup, which is essential to make it in this offense. I like.
–Cordarelle Patterson was nowhere to be seen with the first unit, but damned if he didn’t flash playing alongside guys like Riley McCarron and Ryan Izzo. He caught a throw while sitting on the ground. Another when he came back on a ball, took a perfectly timed hit from the corner, but kept his concentration and hauled it in. Something he’s been doing a lot of in camp. The Pats acknowledge the existence of a Depth Chart the way the government acknowledges the existence of UFOs. But if they do have one, I’d like to see Patterson move up it soon.
–Well that was fun. As much as I hate to say this: We’re onto Philadelphia. Fortunately, that can’t possibly go as badly as it did last time.
*By way of full disclosure, I was part of a comedy show last night to benefit the family of fallen Weymouth Police Sergeant Michael Chesna (along with my buddies Nick Stevens, Matty Blake, Graig Murphy, Dan Miller, Bobby Niles and Boston legend Tony V). It was a packed house in the big room at the Weymouth Elks. The crowd was an electric factory. Just there to honor the memories of Sgt. Chesna and fellow victim Vera Adams. The Chesnas were guests of the Kraft family at the Pats game, but Mrs. Adams had family in the audience and they could not have been in better spirits. People came by the hundreds to sell out the show, have a good time, turn the very worst negative into a positive and to help a worthy cause. Doing a show like that with guys I love to work and to benefit families in need is everything I’d hoped stand up would be when I first got on stage in 1990. A friend of Sgt. Chesna told me I’d met him one time at a mall and we talked for a half an hour because he loved Barstool so much, though I regret to say I don’t specifically recall it. I regret it deeply. Because it’s rare in this life you get to meet a genuine hero. The hosts thanked Barstool for its commitment and generosity. Everyone reading this should know about it and feel proud that you are a part of something doing good in response to an atrocity. We still have the bad people outnumbered. By a lot. Let’s never lose sight of that fact. Thanks to you and to all involved.