Patriots

10 takeaways from Patriots vs Lions: Jarrett Stidham hits the ground running

10 takeaways from Patriots vs Lions: Jarrett Stidham hits the ground running

Jarrett Stidham came as advertised Thursday night in his NFL preseason debut. The rookie from Auburn, taken in the fourth round in April showed every bit of the ARM TALENT that made him the reigning best arm in the draft. He had the cleanest of pockets to throw from and his receivers were loping unmolested through the secondary most of the time but you can’t downgrade Stidham for that. What was given to him, he took and bit clean off. Stidham was 14 for 24, with 179 yards and a touchdown. It could have been more.

Stidham did have a couple of occasions where he was slow to process and chose to tuck and run but even those were solid outcomes. When Stidham’s had sketchy moments during camp it was when he was slow to process what was unfolding in front of him. That resulted in some on-the-move throws that – while they turned out OK – weren’t quite the way they were drawn up. But Stidham got it out on Thursday night and the end result was a terrific first performance.

He wasn’t out there long but Jamie Collins carried the positive vibes from the training camp practice fields onto the game field. He just has a presence out there and it was obvious as he started the game next to Ja’Whaun Bentley. On the first drive, he greeted the fullback and set the edge nicely to help stack up a running play. On the second drive, he came up with a sack of Tom Savage off the edge.

Chase Winovich knows how to get little. Late in the third quarter, the rookie from Michigan came off the left edge, got small and under the right tackle and turned the corner to come up with a tidy sack. After six first-half sacks, the Winovich sack kept a really impressive defensive onslaught ongoing. It’s very encouraging too because the 2018 Patriots did so much of its damage on defense when it turned up the pressure under Brian Flores. It was something that the Patriots defense under Matt Patricia was incredibly hesitant to do.

Maurice Harris did a terrific job popping out of the slot and fighting through contact to pull in the first Brian Hoyer touchdown pass of the night but down around the goal line after that? Not as good. He had two would-be touchdowns turn into contact-induced drops. What’s that wordy shit mean? Jarrett Stidham dropped two gorgeous throws from distance to Harris but on both the grabbiness of the Lions corner was too much for Harris to fight through.

On the special teams front, rookie Jake Bailey from Stanford is going to challenge veteran Ryan Allen for the punting job and the fact he can handle kickoffs helps his case. Bailey handled most punts and kickoffs against the Lions and sent all his kickoffs into the end zone while drawing a fair catch on his first-quarter punt. Allen -- who punted three times and got the last punt of the game with less than a minute remaining -- signed a one-year, $1.5M contract in the offseason but he had just $100K guaranteed. He has a $500K roster bonus if he makes the team. Bailey will be a cheaper more versatile option if he can be consistent enough to make Allen expendable.  

Duke Dawson was beaten twice on crossers – once in the first quarter and once in the fourth. Dawson, a second-round pick last year – is fighting a crowded secondary crew for a job.

Jakobi Meyers seemed to have a hard time lining up on the first offensive snap of the game. Then he failed to come up with a would-be third down conversion pass. False advertising after Meyers had been ballyhooed for his outstanding training camp work? Not so fast. The undrafted rookie was just brilliant for the rest of the night with six catches for 69 yards and two touchdowns. He also broke up a would-be interception when he reached around a Lions DB to break up an off-target Stidham pass.

Braxton Berrios had a really good game working with both Brian Hoyer and Stidham. He got open on a jerk route early to convert a fourth down and had four punt returns for 35 yards. He finished the night with three catches for 45 yards.

Gotta drop in a word on Dontrelle Inman too. The veteran is definitely on the outside behind some of the younger players but he got loose in the second half with a sudden move on a slant inside the 10 and used great length to nearly stretch for the touchdown.

The night’s main blemish were injuries suffered by N’Keal Harry and Matt LaCosse. Harry, who came into the game with a tender hammy, appeared to aggravate it in the first quarter on a back-shoulder throw from Hoyer on which Harry made the kind of power and body-control catch that made him stand out at Arizona State. Harry also had a diving catch after breaking loose from contact on a comeback route on the sideline. On one hand, it’s worth questioning the benefit of trotting a rookie first-rounder out for the first preseason game when his hamstring was already a little irritated. On the other, Harry’s willingness to be out there and play despite an owie is laudable. We’ll see if this keeps him off the field in Tennessee but it was a brief but informative performance when he was out there.

LaCosse came up with a pair of catches – his first coming down the seam on a route Rob Gronkowski ran so well. LaCosse made the catch in a pack of four Lions and took the whack. It was a nice play. But he left with a leg injury in the first half which is a real concern for a team that has a very shallow tight end pool.

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Gunner Olszewski earning trust of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick with hard work

Gunner Olszewski earning trust of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick with hard work

The New England Patriots have had an unsettled receiver room for most of the 2019 season. At one time, it seemed like they had one of the best groups in the league. But the release of Antonio Brown and the team's decision to trade Demaryius Thomas left them a bit weaker at the position. And in recent weeks, they have been thin at the position due to injuries.

Phillip Dorsett (hamstring), Josh Gordon (knee/ankle), and Julian Edelman (chest) have all been dealing with various maladies over the course of the first six weeks of the season. Additionally, first-round rookie N'Keal Harry has been on IR since just after the team's final cuts.

With these absences, some unexpected contributors have been able to step up. And one of them is Gunner Olszewski. The undrafted rookie out of Bemidji State has earned a big role as a return man and has recently seen an increase in offensive action. And so far, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has been impressed with his energy and effort.

"Gunner works really hard," Belichick told reporters at Saturday's media availability. "He gives a lot of effort to do, again, whatever we ask him to do. Whether that’s return kicks, cover kicks, block, catch – he works really hard. Just gives his best all of the time, so you can’t ask for anything more than that. He keeps getting better, so we’ll see where it goes. But, yeah, he’s a good, hard worker."

Of course, hard work is only part of the equation. In the Patriots' offense, it's important to have chemistry with Tom Brady. Has Olszewski done enough to earn Brady's trust so far?

"Yeah, definitely," Brady said when asked about his level of trust in Olszewski. "I think they’re – like I said, those guys are – when you’re young, you gain trust in practice, and a lot of it’s doing the right thing over and over and over again. Those guys are working at it. I mean, they’ve been here a short period of time, so try to get as many reps as you can and talk about things. You get coached up, and any young player, they’re trying to earn the trust of the coach and the players every day."

This is seemingly the most positive Brady has felt about his young receiving weapons this year. Perhaps the team's success against the New York Giants despite being limited to only one formation because of their lack of healthy personnel had an impact on Brady. And maybe that helped him to become more confidence in Olszewski and fellow undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers.

Either way, Brady will likely have to look Olszewski's way a bit more than usual on Monday night against the New York Jets. Josh Gordon is out for the game and so too are tight ends Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo. That should afford Olszewski a good opportunity to make his presence felt.

Tom E. Curran's Patriots-Jets Week 7 Preview>>>

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Tom E. Curran's Patriots-Jets Preview: Pats facing MNF challenge

Tom E. Curran's Patriots-Jets Preview: Pats facing MNF challenge

The Patriots have had one game in which there was even a shred of doubt about the outcome into the fourth quarter. And even then, did anyone figure the Bills were going to score? Exactly.

But Monday night at MetLife the Patriots could get their second decent challenge of the season.

Despite their 1-4 record, the Jets just got capable quarterback Sam Darnold back and his presence made a huge difference in the team’s win over Dallas last week. As for the Patriots offense, which isn’t working at optimal potency, the Jets did a nice job against the Patriots in the first meeting between the teams after New England walked through them on their first three drives.

With 11 days to prepare for this, Josh McDaniels is sure to have hatched something to get Gregg Williams’ defense off-balance. But the Patriots are still hamstrung on offense by their personnel so this one could turn into a slugfest.

Click here for Tom E. Curran's full Week 7 Patriots preview>>>