First and foremost, I want to wish Isaiah Bolden and his loved ones the best. Last night’s game was appropriately suspended early after Bolden took a scary hit to his head and neck area. According to the Patriots, he has been released from the hospital and will travel home with his team to Foxborough. Joint practices with the Titans, which were scheduled to take place in Tennesee on Tuesday and Wednesday, have been canceled.
Bolden shared the following tweet shortly after the news was announced.
Appreciate the prayers more excited to be back with the guys
— I.B (@isaiahbolden23) August 20, 2023
Now that we have clarity on his situation, here are my football-related takeaways from last night’s game.
MAC JONES AND KENDRICK BOURNE LOOKING WEEK 1 READY
Mac Jones carried his exceptional performance from Thursday’s joint practice into last night’s game, completing six of his nine attempts for 52 yards. His incompletions included a deep dime that should’ve been completed to DeVante Parker, what looked like a miscommunication on a seam throw to Hunter Henry, and a batted pass on a great read by safety Jonathan Owens.
Half of Jones’ completions went to Kendrick Bourne, who also had a strong night after beating Jaime Alexander for a touchdown in the teams’ second joint practice. Bourne’s first big catch came on an RPO slant to convert on 2nd & 11 inside scoring territory, helping set up a Rhamondre Stevenson goal-line touchdown. His next was a contested grab against Kiondre Thomas where he boxed out the corner to move the chains on 3rd & 8. Jones showed impressive poise on the latter reception, delivering the throw despite knowing he would take a hit.
The receiver also had a key block on a 23-yard Stevenson run, cracking a charging safety to help spring his teammate.
If Bourne can be a consistent contributor alongside top dawg Parker and Red Zone threat Henry, it would be a big boost for a passing attack still searching for reliable playmakers. That is if New England can get its offensive line back to full strength.
OFFENSIVE LINE STRUGGLES CONTINUE
The Patriots’ tackle depth has been an area of concern all offseason, particularly when Calvin Anderson was placed on the non-football injury list and Riley Reiff kicked inside to guard. Even in training camp, where rushers aren’t allowed to hit the passer, pressure has consistently forced quarterbacks off their spots and thwarted pass plays before they can fully develop. I was concerned these issues would only be exacerbated in live action, and last night proved why.
Packers edge rusher Kingsley Enagbare put rookie Sidy Sow on skates for a 3rd down sack on New England’s second drive. On the offense’s third drive, Enagbare beat Andrew Stueber clean for a strip sack when the second-year tackle came in for Trent Brown. Even rookie guard Atonio Mafi, who’s been solid for the most part, was responsible allowed the free rusher on Kendrick Bourne’s big 3rd down conversion after failing to pick up a stunt.
The hope is that the return of left guard Cole Strange and right guard/tackle Mike Onwenu will steady the ship, but we still don’t have word on when Onwenu will return and there’s no telling how the current instability will impact New England’s offense down the road.
SIXTH-ROUND ROOKIES FLASH
Like last week against the Texans, Demario Douglas had a limited role in last night’s game with only two offensive snaps. But unlike last week, he saw the ball come his way on both of these reps, catching both targets for 17 yards.
His first grab was a nice adjustment to a pass thrown behind him to convert on 3rd & 10. The second was just a two-yard gain, but he did an impressive job making a pair of defenders miss on a bubble screen that should’ve resulted in lost yardage. Douglas was also the first punt returner up for the Patriots but called a fair catch.
The late-round receiver’s lack of snaps is a testament to how highly he’s regarded by the coaching staff but it was nice to see him make plays on a bigger stage.
Different jersey, same DUDE pic.twitter.com/A8qA9hhcTO
— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) August 20, 2023
Kayshon Boutte also popped last night after flashing in the first joint practice, taking a slant 42 yards for a score before the end of the first half. It was nearly identical to a play he made at LSU against 1st-round corner Emmanuel Forbes, who was taken ahead of Christian Gonzalez.
Boutte continues to show his playmaking ability, and it’s becoming increasingly less likely New England will be able to stash him on the practice squad.
Fellow sixth-rounder Bryce Baringer bounced back in a big way after a few down practices, averaging 60 yards on two punts with both landing inside the Packers’ 20-yard line.
POOR RUN DEFENSE AND PENALTIES CONTRIBUTE TO TOUCHDOWN DRIVES
The Patriots boasted one of the league’s most stifling run defenses last season, but the unit struggled with Mack Wilson starting over Ja’Whaun Bentley, Christian Barmore starting over Lawrence Guy, and Matthew Judon seeing limited action with the top unit. New England allowed at least five yards on all three of the Packers’ opening drive rushes, but good pass defense and a fumble recovery off a high snap stopped the bleeding.
While the Patriots allowed an explosive reception and a touchdown pass on their third drive, I thought Isaiah Bolden was the victim of a Jordan Love moonball that even receiver Romeo Doubs struggled to read. Shaun Wade was also put in a tough spot defending a crossing route with outside leverage against explosive slot receiver Jayden Reed, though his eye discipline could’ve been better. The most flagrant error on the drive was a roughing the passer call on Sam Roberts, which added 15 yards to an 11-yard Love scramble and brought Green Bay from midfield to the Patriots’ 24-yard line.
Run defense woes popped up again on the Packers’ next drive, which included a pair of big runs from explosive rookie Emanuel Wilson and ultimately led to an 8-yard touchdown run from Patrick Taylor, where Josh Uche and Joshuah Bledsoe appeared to share fault.
In fairness, the Patriots were also on the receiving end of what I thought were a couple of bad calls. The first was a phantom hand to the face penalty on Sam Roberts during Green Bay’s second scoring drive.
The second, and most egregious, was a pass interference call on Christian Gonzalez where a textbook recovery was punished because of a poor throw. The Patriots’ defense bounced back though, holding the Packers to a field goal to end the half and forcing a punt on Green Bay’s last full drive of the game.
- Tyquan Thornton did not play in tonight’s game after appearing to injure his shoulder in the second joint practice in Green Bay. According to the Boston Globe’s Christopher Price, he is considered “week-to-week”. Another unfortunate setback for last season’s second-round pick, who can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to injuries.
- Tre Nixon was quickly ruled out toward the end of the first half last night with a shoulder injury.
- Bailey Zappe had some good throws on the night, with just about all of his slant throws being on the money. But as has been the case in recent weeks, he also had several instances of poor accuracy and holding onto the ball for too long. If he continues to struggle, I wonder how seriously the team would consider an expanded look at Malik Cunningham, who impressed while under center against the Texans.
- Matt Sokol had key blocks on Rhamondre Stevenson’s touchdown run and a big gain from J.J. Taylor in the 2nd half. He’s been the primary in-line “Y” in two tight-end sets with Mike Gesicki out and has performed well in the role. I’m not sure if Sokol will make the 53-man roster, but I’m sure he’ll be a regular elevation candidate if they can get him to the practice squad.
- Malik Cunningham didn’t manage to catch any of his five targets last night, but his effectiveness didn’t translate to the stat sheet. The most prominent example of this came on a deep ball where he beat his defender, but suffered from an inaccurate pass. He was also used as a kick returner for the first time, which I don’t think we’ve seen from him before. New England is clearly looking for any way to get the dynamic athlete on the field.
- JJ Taylor had his best performance in recent memory today, showing exceptional vision and elusiveness in space. We’ve seen from Taylor before during the preseason, but with the backfield looking uncertain behind Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott, this could be his best chance to contribute in a long time.