Patriots

Patriots

FOXBORO -- By now you know how Jimmy Garoppolo looked in his first preseason start of the year. You know that Malcolm Mitchell's elbow popped loose. And you know that Trey Flowers loves himself some Bobby Boucher. 

Here are five takeaways from Thursday's exhibition game that may have flown a bit under the radar...

1) Martellus Bennett played through the first half in his first game as a member of the Patriots. While many of the team's projected offensive skill position starters were not available -- including Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski and Dion Lewis -- Bennett saw significant reps and finished with three catches on four targets for 33 yards. He also helped spring loose James White for a 56-yard catch-and-run with an effective downfield block. 

"It felt good," Bennett said. "Just get out there and get acclimated to things going on. The process of being on a team here and the way the game day goes. The logistics of it all. Getting in and out of the huddle and playing in this stadium with those lights and getting used to that. It was pretty cool."

2) Trey Flowers wasn't the only Patriots defensive end who stepped up in Rob Ninkovich's absence. Chris Long got the start against the Saints, playing opposite Jabaal Sheard, and he made an impact with two pressures, a tackle and a holding penalty drawn. Long has dealt with injuries that limited him to 18 games over the last two seasons, but he looks healthy and good seize a role for himself with a strong camp thus far and one strong preseason game under his belt. 

 

"I was all right," Long said after the game. "I mean, it's the first preseason game so you're never pleased. There's good plays and bad plays. That's why we're out here -- to try to improve. No matter what year this is for you, it's your first game in almost a year so there's a lot you need to work on."

3) Nate Solder saw his first game action since suffering a season-ending injury in Week 5 of last year. He played with the first group of offensive linemen -- which included Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon -- that had some trouble protecting Garoppolo early. Solder shouldered the blame for Kasim Edebali's sack in the first quarter.

"I know I gave up some pressure," he said. "The guy had a sack on me. That's stuff that I need to work on. Those are the things that I'll take away that I need to improve. I don't take anything for granted. That's not what I want to do, and it's not how I play so I've got to improve."

4) Sometimes preseason games don't provide teams an opportunity to work on certain situations. That's part of the benefit of intrasquad scrimmages or joint practices, where the situations can be dictated on a play-to-play basis. But Bill Belichick said after the game that he was pleased with the number of "situational football" plays his team saw against the Saints.

"Two-minute, some long-yardage, we had some short-yardage, a couple of fourth downs, two-point plays," Belichick said. "A lot of situations came up for our team, the coaching staff, the players, for all of us to really work off of and coach off of so that was good. We had a lot of plays in the kicking game...A lot of situational football, and then we saw a lot of the basic matchups that I'd say you kind of want to see so that part of it worked out well."

5) The Patriots caused four turnovers that they converted into 22 points, and while Flowers' got much of the attention after the game, it was undrafted rookie corner Cre'Von LeBlanc's interception in the end zone that was the most acrobatic of the bunch.

He somehow came down with a one-handed pick while falling to the turf, giving the Patriots a touchback and possession on their own 20-yard line. Saints quarterback Garrett Grayson said after the game that the Patriots "kind of fooled me" with their coverage. 

"I thought it was man coverage and it turned out to be zone, and I shouldn't have been working that side," he said. "I should have been working over to my left so they fooled me and I tried to fit it in there. That is something you can't do, and when you do bad things happen."