A Mixed Bag as Patriots Start Slow, Roar Back to Beat Skins 26-17 in Preseason Opener

Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Trey Flowers get the night off but Dont'a Hightower sees plenty of reps in the first half.

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FOXBORO — An ugly start turned into an impressive finish for Brian Hoyer and the Patriots Thursday night in the preseason opener.

With Tom Brady on the sideline watching, the Patriots backup QB turned a miserable first half into a second-half rally, leading a pair of monstrous drives that lifted the Patriots out of a 17-0 hole and rallied New England to an 26-17 win at Gillette Stadium in the preseason opener for both teams. Rookie Ralph Webb out of Vanderbilt had a pair of touchdown runs and two 2-point conversions to account for 16 of New England’s 26 points on the night.

Hoyer’s first two drives of the second half were 84 and 90 yards, respectively and totaled 35 plays and 19 minutes of possession. Both ended in touchdowns as the Patriots overcame a 29 minutes of sluggish football. Hoyer finished 16-for-23 for 144 yards before Danny Etling came in with 7:41 left in the fourth quarter.

For a full boxscore of Thursday’s game, click here.

Before the game, there was an emotional moment as fallen Weymouth Police sergeant Michael Chesna was remembered with a moment of silence before the national anthem. After the anthem, his family and widow Cindy was consoled on the field by Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

There were 11 Patriots not spotted in uniform Thursday night, led by defensive end Trey Flowers. Also not seen were Matthew Slater, Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, Harvey Langi, Marcus Cannon, Brian Schwenke, Jason King and Kenny Britt. Burkhead is the biggest name on this list as he hasn’t really been limited until Wednesday when he left the session early.

Among those dressing up but not seeing any playing time were Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Devin and Jason McCourty.

While the McCourty twins and Trey Flowers did not play, the rest of the defensive first team saw action to open the game. Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe started at the corners while Dont’a Hightower, Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown, Adrian Clayborn and Derek Rivers

Hightower, looking to get up to playing speed, played a significant amount in the first half, coming out only for Washington’s final offensive series of the half.

On offense, Gronkowski and Brady were the only regulars not to see action. Brian Hoyer had the full complement of starting offensive linemen, with Trent Brown starting at left tackle and LaAdrian Waddle at right tackle for Marcus Cannon.

Riley McCarron received the first touches of the preseason in both the punt return and kickoff game. He returned Washington’s first kickoff following a 25-yard TD swing pass to Byron Marshall that put the Redskins up, 7-0, in the first quarter. On the score, Kyle Van Noy missed a chance to push Marshall out of bounds.

Before Dustin Hopkins connected from 52 yards to make it 10-0, Patriots second-year defensive back Ryan Lewis leveled Mr. Irrelevant of the 2018 draft, Redskins wide receiver Trey Quinn.

The Patriots had another breakdown leading to a big play when Colt McCoy hooked up with Cam Sims for 57 yards down the right sideline as defensive backs Damarius Travis and Jordan Richards missed tackles.

The first half was about as ugly as it gets for the Patriots and their back-up quarterback Brian Hoyer. Before passes of 22 and 25 yards to Devin Lucien, he was just 4-of-10 for 18 yards and the Patriots had just 53 yards of total offense. They were also 0-for-5 on third down in the first half. But those two passes set Stephen Gostkowski up for a 52-yard field goal, which he converted to put the Patriots on the board and send them to the half trailing, 17-3.

“About 38 seconds of good football,” Belichick told WBZ-TV’s Steve Burton at the half.

Clearly with a point to prove, Hoyer came out and led a much more effective offensive effort to open the second half. The Patriots had a remarkable 19-play, 84-yard drive that consumed the first 10 minutes, 16 seconds of the first quarter. Jeremy Hill and Mike Gillislee, in a battle for a running back spot on the roster, combined for 50 of the 84 yards, capped off by Hill’s second-effort lunge for the TD.

Hoyer led another impressive drive on New England’s second possession of the second half, leading the Patriots down the field in 16 plays, covering 90 yards. Ralph Webb, a rookie out of Vanderbilt, wearing Stevan Ridley’s old No. 22, channeled Ridley a bit, running eight yards untouched off the right side. He then caught a pass from Hoyer on his fingertips, reached out with his right hand and scored the go-ahead 2-point conversion.

Danny Etling came on to replace Hoyer with 7:41 left in the game. The rookie quarterback fumbled an exchange with Mike Gillislee with 5:26 left, giving the Redskins a chance to win the game with a drive starting at the Patriots 41. Trent Harris saved the day with a strip sack of Kevin Hogan. Geneo Grissom scooped it up and rambled 52 yards to the Redskins 1. Ralph Webb scored his second touchdown with 3:27 left and added the 2-point conversion for the 26-17 lead.