The Patriots’ preseason has mercifully come to an end, with New England falling 23-7 to the Tennesse Titans in Nashville. Nearly all of the team’s projected starters sat and even projected role players like Ty Montgomery, Chris Board, and Atonio Mafi were out of uniform. This contributed to a grim offensive affair, with the unit managing just 1.9 yards per play and allowing six sacks, including one lost fumble.
Riley Reiff started at guard, which was understandable given his lack of professional experience at the spot, but had his right leg rolled up on in the first half and did not return after heading to the locker room. His situation obviously warrants monitoring with Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu’s Week 1 status already up in the air.
On the plus side, sixth-round rookie standout Kayshon Boutte played just one offensive series before exiting the game, a sign that his roster spot may be locked up.
Before we pop bottles to celebrate the imminent start of real football, here are my top takeaways from the Patriots’ preseason finale.
UP AND DOWN NIGHT FOR JACK JONES
Jack Jones played more than anyone could’ve expected for a player expected to start, or at least play a big role in the Patriots’ defense. While Jones is a talented player, his professional career has been plagued by inconsistency, and we saw that on display against the Titans.
Though he had a couple of flashes in run defense, he also took a mean stiff arm from Tyjae Spears on one explosive rush and had poor eye discipline on another. In coverage, Jones was flagged for pass interference after not getting his head around and allowed a 30-yard gain on a crossing route.
Jones’ instincts and ball skills are undeniable assets but there are still issues that must be ironed out before the team can rely on him consistently.
SAM ROBERTS AND CALVIN MUNSON STATE CASES FOR THE 53
I’ve had my eye on Calvin Munson and Sam Roberts as bubble players with legitimate shots to make the roster, and tonight, each built on what have been impressive preseason performances.
Munson was all over the field tonight, leading the defense with ten tackles, one for lost yardage at New England’s five-yard line, breaking up one pass, and showing great awareness on another for a highlight-reel interception. He did miss a tackle and get caught inside on a couple of big runs, but I’d say those can be forgiven on what was an outstanding night overall.
New England needs linebacker and special teams depth with Raekwon McMillan out for the season. Fellow bubble ‘backer Mack Wilson is more athletic but less effective coming downhill and suffers from poor recognition.
Sam Roberts was in the offensive backfield all night with two of his seven tackles resulting in lost yardage, three quarterback hits, and a high-effort sack on Malik Willis where he chased down the elusive quarterback after spooking him from the pocket.
Roberts has plenty to work on, as his pad level can get him uprooted in the ground game, and he flew too far upfield on the run that Munson overran. He also has a lot of competition on a loaded defensive front. That said, he made the team last season as a sixth-round rookie, has been in the mix with the top group in practice, and I think his productivity and flashes throughout the preseason outweigh his correctable shortcomings. He’s also got exceptional versatility to play both on the edge in four-man fronts and at defensive end in five-man fronts.
RONNIE PERKINS LEAVES IT ALL ON THE FIELD
It was unfortunate seeing Ronnie Perkins leave with an injury late in tonight’s game after what had been a strong showing.
He quite literally left it all out on the field (viewer discretion is advised), recording nine tackles, including one for a loss, and a quarterback hit. Perkins seemed to be a consistent presence in the backfield and was making a case for the practice squad after spending the first two seasons of his career on injured reserve.
Hopefully, he’ll bounce back and manage to finally carve out a role.
ANFERNEE JENNINGS BUILDS ON DOMINANT PRESEASON
Aside from one play where he gave up the edge on a big run, Anfernee Jennings continued to show why he’s one of the defense’s most effective run defenders.
He set hard edges that forced backs inside, making two tackles, including one for a loss, in just 12 snaps. Jennings also had a pair of pressures on an inside rush and stunt.
TOUGH NIGHT FOR BAILEY ZAPPE WITH BUBBLE OFFENSE
Bailey Zappe had an understandably unproductive night with a supporting cast of almost entirely bubble players. He earned a 62.4 passer rating, completing just eight of his 15 attempts for a ghastly 3.8 average and no touchdowns. While his accuracy seemed streaky, it’s impossible to know for sure after one broadcast viewing, so I’m going to hold off on judging the backup’s performance here.
That said, it was notable that Zappe returned to the field for much of the second half after coming off for Trace McSorley in the second quarter. He also seemed to draw offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien’s ire on more than one occasion. And though Zappe was under constant fire on the night, with Andrew Stueber and/or Chasen Hines being responsible for all four of his sacks, he fumbled three times with one loss. A rough end for what’s been a less-than-inspiring preseason for the second-year quarterback.
- Thyrick Pitts showed A+ effort taking a short slant reception 23 yards to set up a 5-yard Kevin Harris touchdown. I had him making the practice squad on my latest roster projection, and plays like that will only boost his case.
- The aforementioned touchdown was an outstanding play from guard Chasen Hines, who got a piece of three Titans to pave the way for Harris. He also popped on a couple of screens. Though he’s had an inconsistent preseason, he’s been dominant on downhill runs and got some reps behind Atonio Mafi in practice, showing he could be a dark horse for the 53-man roster.
- Pierre Strong flashed the burst and open-field elusiveness fans were hoping to see from him tonight, juking a Titans defensive back on a screen. He could have trouble cracking the backfield rotation behind Rhamondre Stevenson, Ezekiel Elliott, and Ty Montgomery, but plays like that will make him impossible to keep off the field.