FOXBORO — In a game dominated by penalties, the Patriots snuck past the Eagles for their first preseason win of the summer Friday night at Gillette Stadium by a 42-35 count.
The two teams combined for 21 accepted penalties which slowed the game to a crawl at times. But in the end, the Patriots had a little more left offensively, as Ryan Mallett helped New England put 21 points on the board in the third quarter on the way to the win.
Tom Brady got the start for the first time this summer and went 8-for-10 for 81 yards, with one interception and one touchdown. Jimmy Garoppolo was the second quarterback, and he went 6-for-12 for 72 yards and two touchdowns. And Mallett played all of the third and fourth quarters, and went 7-for-11 for 92 yards, with one rushing touchdown and one passing touchdown. In addition, New England did a nice job running the ball, accounting for 250 rushing yards.
Overall, the Patriots also got big numbers from Stevan Ridley (nine carries, 45 yards) and Kenbrell Thompkins (three catches, 32 yards, one touchdown), as most of the starters saw at least some action after sitting for the preseason opener last week against the Redskins.
Here are 10 things we learned about the Patriots Friday night:
1. Tom Brady looks ready for the regular season.
Brady ended up with 22 snaps (including penalties) on two series, and ended up with a crisp 8-for-10 evening with 81 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. The quarterback was picked clean on the first drive when a pass intended for Steve Maneri was intercepted by Philly cornerback Cary Williams and taken all the way back (77 yards) for a touchdown. The pick came at the end of a pretty good sequence for Brady and the New England offense, which managed to get all the way down to the Eagles’ 23-yard line before Williams read the situation perfectly and stepped up to force the turnover. Brady had a better finish to his second drive, a nine-play, 74-yard sequence that consumed 5:32 and ended with a sharp 15-yard pass to Kenbrell Thompkins. No real issues for Brady, who appeared to be in control throughout his first preseason action of the summer.
2. The flags are out of control.
In New England’s second preseason game last year, the Patriots and Bucs combined for 15 accepted penalties. New England and Philly blew past that late in the third quarter, and ended the game with21 accepted penalties. The officials spent the week meeting with players about the new points of emphasis, but somewhere along the way, there was a disconnect.
3. Darrelle Revis didn’t get a lot of action in his first game action with the Patriots.
Revis didn’t get a lot of run, as the Patriots’ defense didn’t get much of a chance out of the gate. (The Eagles had run just five plays by the midway point of the second quarter.) He departed before the end of the first half, and played 10 snaps, including penalties. He lined up mostly on the left side, but did spend some time on the right, and the Eagles did not throw in his direction. With Jeremy Maclin on the sidelines, we didn’t get the matchup we were hoping for — he was squared off against Jeff Maehl and Arrelious Benn for most of the evening — but it was a relatively uneventful night for Revis in his first outing in a New England uniform.
4. Conversely, Brandon Browner played a lot.
Browner didn’t start — rookie Malcolm Butler got the call opposite Revis — but he got a lot of run against Philadelphia, playing well into the second half with the No. 2 defense. At first glance, it looked like he played well, and he certainly gets points for not drawing a flag for illegal contact or defensive holding. (Watching him play earlier in the summer, it looked like it might have been an issue.) It’s tough to read too much into positional pairings throughout the summer, but the fact that he didn’t get the call to start could be traced back to something Bill Belichick talked about earlier this summer, when the coach acknowledged that at some point this summer, they were going to have to figure out how to play without Browner because he’s going to be gone for the first four games of the regular season because of a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. “Well, we’re going to have to balance that out,” Belichick said in July. “We’re going to have to balance it between getting him a lot of reps [and] getting him ready — but also knowing that we’re going to have to play four games without him. So we’re going to have to try to find that fine line.”
5. Don’t read too much into the fact that Jimmy Garoppolo was the first quarterback in relief instead of Ryan Mallett.
After Brady bowed out for the night, the Patriots went with the rookie as the first quarterback out of the bullpen. While there’s a temptation to say that Garoppolo is the new No. 2, it’s important not to read too much into the decision for a few reasons, including the fact that Mallett missed two practices this week. That being said, the rookie started strong, leading a pair of touchdown drives in the first half and looking relatively comfortable in his second preseason action of the year. Garoppolo ended his night 6-for-12 for 72 yards and two touchdown passes (one for Brandon Lafell and there other for Develin). Mallett got the call to start the second half, and he played all of the third and fourth quarters. Mallett certainly looked better from start to finish than he did against the Redskins, and had a very nice connection with Garoppolo’s BFF Brian Tyms when the two connected on a 17-yard pass play late in the third quarter. Like Butler, Tyms is an unheralded prospect who has found a way to nudge himself into the conversation when it comes to landing a roster spot.
6. The Patriots need another tight end.
Duh. Steve Maneri — who was signed this week — was the one healthy tight end that the Patriots had going into Friday night’s game, and there were more than a few occasions he looked like a guy who had just showed up a few days ago. On Brady’s interception, it appeared that there was a miscommunication between the quarterback and the tight end which allowed Cary Williams to pick the ball off and take it 77 yards for the Eagles’ first touchdown of the night. (Maneri wasn’t targeted by Brady or Garoppolo the rest of the evening.) Fullback James Develin lined up as a tight end, and offensive linemen Nate Solder and Josh Kline lined up as tackle-eligibles on more than a few occasions. But it’s not sustainable going forward. Rob Gronkowski — who was not spotted on the sidelines — is apparently hitting all the right spots as he continues his rehab. But New England needs to find a way to get more than one healthy tight end on the field sooner rather than later.
7. No one has really stepped forward to seize the kick returner job.
Finch and James White got the call at the start of the game (Matthew Slater was also back there at times against the Eagles), but no one really managed to distinguish themselves for the second consecutive preseason game. It’ll be something to keep an eye on as the summer continues, particularly in the third preseason game next week against Carolina — the lone preseason game that’s traditionally given over to the starters when it comes to playing time.
8. The Patriots are still looking at a lot of offensive line combos.
The Patriots did a lot of shuffling up front early for a few reasons, not the least of which was the fact that they were short some tight ends, and utilized starting left tackle Nate Solder as a tight end on a handful of occasions. (On most of those occasions, Marcus Cannon stepped in at left tackle.) On the third drive, the Patriots shifted Connolly out of the center spot and replaced him with last year’s starter Ryan Wendell, and put Josh Kline in at left guard. (Kline also saw time as an extra tight end as well.) Through the first half, they kept shuffling, moving Cannon over to right tackle on a fairly consistent basis and keeping Solder in the game at left tackle. (They moved Connolly back to center on their fourth drive of the night.) Later, Cannon took some bad penalties late in the first half that caused a New England drive to stall out. Ultimately, there were lots of personnel packages and lots of different combinations, as New England continues to move different bodies around in hopes of finding a good combination up front.
9. It was another good night for the rookies.
Malcolm Butler got the start at right corner for the Patriots, and at first glance, he did nothing to hurt his chances when it came to making the opening day roster, looking competitive in coverage working well within the new rules when it came to illegal contact and defensive holding. (He was on the field when Philly scored a game-tying touchdown just before the end of the half, but it was a relatively fluky play where he probably wasn’t at fault.) He had a fumble recovery in the third quarter. Garoppolo came in relief for Brady, and guided the Patriots to a pair of touchdowns. He wasn’t as sharp all from start of finish as he was last week against the Redskins, but part of that can be explained by the fact that he was facing the Eagles’ No. 2 defense instead of the No. 3′s and 4′s he faced in the preseason opener. But as was the case last week, Garoppolo did well with the opportunities that were presented to him, and deserves kudos for the performance. As for Roy Finch, he appeared to blow a block late in the game that almost got Mallett killed off the blind side, but he ended with 37 rushing yards and a touchdown.
10. The punt team needs some work.
The Patriots had a first-half punt blocked when the Eagles broke through the line and crashed into Ryan Allen. On the play, it looked like there was some confusion between long snapper Tyler Ott and blocker Darius Fleming as to who was going what way — ultimately, it appeared that both were to blame for the gaffe. Philly made the Patriots pay, as the Eagles put together a quick four-play, 31-yard drive that ended with a pass from Foles to Zack Ertz to cut New England’s led to 21-14 late in the first half. The kind of stuff that will make Bill Belichick and Scotty O’Brien angry when they watch the film. The group achieved a nice level of redemption on Allen’s final punt of the first half when Matthew Slater and Danny Aiken did an excellent job on punt coverage, limiting the return to -1 yards. But in the second half, Allen mishandled a punt, and while he managed to get the ball off, long snapper Danny Aiken was penalized as being an ineligible man downfield. Making things worse for the special teams was a missed field goal from Stephen Gostkowski in the fourth quarter, a 43-yarder that was off the mark.