I was at the Patriots-Bears game Thursday night, so I didn’t have the benefit of the greatest cultural and technological advancement of all time: the TV remote back arrow button. This is all purely from what I could see from the stands, but I do not apologize for any factual inaccuracies that follow. You’ve been warned.
–The one thing I absolutely do not care about in a preseason football game is the scoreboard. If I had my way, at the beginning of every Fauxball game the scoreboard would be shut off. Or covered with one of those tarps they use to unveil a painting. Let the referee keep the time on his Apple Watch or the bank clock across the street for all I care. The final score does not matter to me in the slightest. Not when you’ve got teams going for it on fourth-and-goal in the first half and trying for the conversion after every touchdown. It’s like Miss America. Don’t even bother telling me who won. I just want to know how they looked getting there.
–As always in the miserable cosmic nutpunch that is 2016, Jimmy Garoppolo is the story. And if anyone can find major fault with how he’s played so far, your back arrow button works different than mine. He looks poised. He seems to have a knack for sensing pressure and sliding away from it (an instinct that say, Drew Bledsoe never had and Tom Brady has perfected). Once again, he looked to Martellus Bennett early on before spreading the ball around. He had an incompletion in the end zone that I thought was tipped, but on replay was one of those throws only his receiver had a chance to catch, which is what you want to see in the red area. He completed a deep cross to Chris Hogan where he had time, let the play develop, anticipated his man coming free behind the linebackers and lead him perfectly. There was one throw that absolutely should have been picked off. But he looks like an NFL starting QB.
–However, I’m ready to see Jimmy G start taking charge a little more. Being the guy who took that leadership role in his first rookie minicamp. I get the feeling his approach so far is more like Scotty being put in charge of the Enterprise; like he’s just maintaining orbit until Kirk comes back to the captain’s chair. I almost look forward to a receiver running a bad route or lining up in the wrong spot so he can get up in some guy’s grill mixes. I think in a weird way, the team needs that.
–But there’s no major problems with his performance. Not in the slightest. Especially given that Bill Belichick mindbleeped him by telling him he was starting at the last possible minute. I’m not suggesting it’s a good thing Brady cut his thumb with scissors, but you have to love the way The Hooded One used it to his advantage. Genius doing genius things.
–That said, I don’t want to hear another reference to “scissors” around this team until next March at the earliest. Unless it includes “rock” and “paper” and it’s guys trying to claim the last waffle on the training table or involves Gronk at his apartment with two bisexual coeds.
–As I said about Jacoby Brissett last week, the best thing you could have reasonably hoped for is that he doesn’t look lost. That he grasps the basics of the Patriots complex, read- and option-heavy offense and doesn’t come across like he’s fallen into the Upside Down from “Stranger Things.” By that standard, so far it’s mission: accomplished. Brissett throws a nice deep sideline ball, one of which was hauled in by AJ Derby and two of which could have been caught by Devin Lucien (more on them later). Add a terrible drop by Joey Iosefa, and Brissett could have had a very impressive stat line. Regardless, the early returns on him are encouraging.
–I’ve been convinced that not only are we witnessing Tyler Gaffney passing LeGarrett Blount on the depth chart, but that Blount might not even make the roster. But in the campaign for Power Back of the New England Patriots, Blount is surging in the polls. Thursday he appeared to run with more decisiveness, had more forward lean to him and ran through people better than he did last year. I’m still more impressed with Gaffney’s burst through the hole and think he’ll do well in the debates, but this race for PBOTNEP is going to fun to watch.
–There’s a similar fight going on for the critical battleground third tight end spot. And so far Derby is crushing the competition. As a receiving threat, he checks every box. He makes good decisions, runs well, is fluid in his cuts and has good hands. Simply put, he gets open and catches the damn thing, which are the qualifications for the job. If a receiving-first tight end is their priority, he wins in a landslide. If they’d prefer to go with their more traditional blocking TE, it’s Bear Pascoe. The only way Clay Harbor gets it is if they’re worried about the money they appear to have wasted signing him, because aside from one wide open catch and run he made Thursday, he’s shown nothing.
–Again on Harbor, they ran behind his side on a fourth-and-goal. And not only did he not get a push, neither did Marcus Cannon and it looked like Josh Kline got stood right up and the run lost three yards. The offensive line is still a work in progress and those will probably not be the guys the Pats will be relying on once the games count. But those are the plays they’ll need until Brady comes back in the Millennium Falcon to save the day in Week 5.
–In the battle of second year defensive ends, Trey Flowers is the Gallant to Geneo Grissom’s Goofus. Gallant uses his athleticism to defeat blocks and put pressure on quarterbacks. Goofus gets caught in traffic and doesn’t make plays.
–Dont’a Hightower was used a lot up on the line at outside linebacker, typically with Jonathan Freeney alongside Jamie Collins in the middle. Hightower and Collins have played a surprising amount of reps in both games before giving way to Elandon Roberts and Ramon Humber. But that’s the reality of a league where live tackling in practice is a bigger crime than domestic violence is.
–In my efforts to find my next mancrush on the 2016 Pats, here are my Grindr-themed hookup assessments from the Bears game:
*Derby. The thought of this kid getting open while teams are focused on Gronk and Bennett is frightening.
*Joe Thuney. The rookie has wasted no time attaching himself to the left guard spot like the “Alien” face-hugger and played really well against the Bears.
*Hogan. I confess to not really understanding why the Pats signed him because he seemed like a redundancy. But he’s bigger than either Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, but seems to have their grasp of the position.
*Terrance Knighton. As part of that interior rotation on the defensive line, he seems to have a knack for squeezing his Reubenesque frame into the backfield on the regular.
*Justin Coleman. Jay Cutler came into the game immediately targeting him. With success and committed penalties. For last season’s number three corner, it was positively Jonathan Wilhitie-ian.
*Lucien. I don’t want to make too big a deal of a seventh-round pick who only had one productive year of college. But twice he stepped out of bounds on catchable deep balls and drew a flag that brought back a long completion. I’m still curious to see if his final year at Arizona State was a fluke, or if his non-descript seasons at UCLA are who he is. This didn’t help.
*Bolden. He’s not a new name, obviously. But that fumble in the red zone was unforgivable. He’ll probably stick around on the basis of his special teams play, but he won’t get many carries unless he cleans that up.
–Finally, if there’s a player on the Patriots I want to make the roster solely on the basis of his name, it might be Woodrow Hamilton. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll manage his political career.