The Patriots got their 2022 preseason underway by dropping their opening contest to the New York Giants, 23-21.
Of course, it’s not the wins and losses that count at this point, but rather the players who flashed on the game field, providing excitement as the summer continues to progress and plenty of new faces showed up in the contest, with rookie Tyquan Thornton scoring the first touchdown, Terrance Mitchell forcing a fumble and Mack Wilson showing off some newfound speed for the middle of the defense.
Here are the five key takeaways as the Patriots’ 2022 season is officially underway!
Big names get the night off
Some notable big names did not suit up against the Giants, headlined by quarterback Mac Jones, most of his starting offensive line, save rookie Cole Strange, and a number of defensive starters like Ja’ Whaun Bentley, Lawrence Guy and Davon Godchaux, along with the top three returning safeties.
With joint practices with the Panthers and Raiders rapidly approaching, there will be plenty of live work for those important players over the next two weeks. On this night though, it was a chance for many young players to get their feet wet in the NFL, and for some of the new veterans, a chance to get their first action as Patriots.
Thornton puts up the first TD of 2022
After a strong start to training camp, Tyquan Thornton carried it over to the game field, scoring the team’s first touchdown of the season with a nice move along the backline of the end zone, juking his coverage and making an easy grab for six points. Despite being known for his long speed, Thornton is showing development in his route running nuance that can help him get open in small spaces.
The rookie would finish with just two catches but they were enough to continue his strides forward. His continued development will remain something to watch in the coming weeks and months.
Names of note
The Patriots defense has long preyed on takeaways and Terrance Mitchell showed why he intrigued the team in free agency by punching the ball out and forcing the game’s first turnover. Fellow corner Malcolm Butler pounced on it as the duo combined to make the big play. Mitchell forced six fumbles in his last two seasons with the Browns and Texans as his knack for jarring the ball loose continued.
Rookie defensive lineman Sam Roberts delivered some good pressure, setting up a sack for Josh Uche. Roberts hasn’t stood out much in camp thus far, an admittedly hard thing to do as a defensive lineman, but made his presence felt in his first game action, also drawing a holding penalty. A hands-to-the-face penalty was one lowlight for Roberts.
On the other hand, LaBryan Ray has had some stand-out pass rushes in drill work and again showed some solid work in the game getting after the quarterback. With not many new faces along the defensive line both Roberts and Ray should have growth opportunities.
Anfernee Jennings, who didn’t see any action in 2021, got plenty of playing time and showed why he’s been one of training camp’s biggest risers. He’s a big, strong edge player who gave his blockers a heck of a time throughout his reps.
Myles Bryant was a surprise with some dynamic punt returns, with a long of 30 yards. Bryant hasn’t really shown up before in this capacity and it was an interesting twist, even if rookie Marcus Jones and his outstanding punt return ability is still waiting in the wings.
After an ugly third-down drop, Tre Nixon redeemed himself starting in the third quarter with catches of 36 and 32 yards. Both featured nice adjustments by Nixon while the ball was in the air.
Kristian Wilkerson led the team in receiving with eight catches for 99 yards. The third-year player still has an uphill climb to make the roster but he did everything he could on Thursday night.
Zappe gets his feet wet
Brian Hoyer started the game and went 5-of-8 for 59 yards and a touchdown to Thornton, as he helped move the offense down the field as well as they’ve moved all summer. Once Bailey Zappe entered the game the offense sputtered for the rest of the first half but he would start to find some success.
Things would turn around early in the second half as the rookie started to get comfortable. Zappe would hit on a 26-yard strike to Tre Nixon on the second play of the third quarter to get things going, then find Nixon again for another big play down the sideline as the Patriots would end up scoring on their opening possession.
A deflected interception was a tough blow as Zappe was leading a fourth-quarter drive, but he would rebound, leading the Patriots on a fourth-quarter touchdown-scoring drive that gave New England back the lead. His touchdown pass to Lil’Jordan Humphrey showed a good, quick decision as he unloaded the ball in the face of pressure. It was a solid debut for the rookie signal caller as he played close to three quarters in his first NFL action.
After all the usage and talk of the wide zone running plays, the offense largely kept their ground game under wraps, attempting just seven runs to 17 passing plays in the first half, while relying almost entirely on J.J. Taylor before Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris finally entered the game in the second quarter.
The running game overall was ineffective running behind the backup offensive line, producing just 52 rushing yards on 18 carries. Kevin Harris’ tough touchdown run was one highlight that showed some of the rookie’s power.
Defense can’t get off the field early, late
The Patriots defense is no stranger to the “bend-don’t-break” style and showed it on their first drive, allowing a 13-play, 68-yard drive but holding the Giants to a field goal. But moving forward they were bending and breaking, allowing an 11-play, 86-yard drive, and later in the second half they’d allow a nine-play, 51-yard touchdown drive as the D wasn’t making consistent plays to get themselves off of the field.
They’d show some improvement in the second half as the Giants dipped further into their depth chart, forcing a punt and getting a red-zone stop on ensuing possessions late to maintain the one-score game. But after the Patriots retook a one-point lead the defense couldn’t get the last stop, allowing a final long drive that set up the Giants’ game-winning field goal.
On the night, the defense allowed a total of 418 yards, as they struggled to get off the field on third down and shot themselves in the foot with some untimely penalties, especially in the early going. Some of it is to be expected with backups in the preseason, but after an excellent start in training camp practices, their play dropped off against a live opponent.
This sets the stage for some interesting joint practices with the Panthers, who are embroiled in a quarterback competition. Making plays and getting off the field will continue to be a key defensive focus.