FOXBORO – The upside for the Patriots in Thursday night’s preseason finale was impossible to miss. Demaryius Thomas, unveiled for the first time as a Patriot, caught seven of the eight balls thrown to him, two of them for touchdowns and didn’t look like a guy coming back from an Achilles injury.
Yes, it was against the dregs of the Giants roster, but a healthy Thomas should dominate that competition even at 31 and he did. Played the whole first half, too.
And Josh Gordon was out there less than two weeks since his reinstatement, catching two of the six passes sent his way for 30 yards and drawing a pass interference penalty that went for another 35 yards.
The downside? Julian Edelman was out there too. And he appeared to injure his left thumb. The same thumb that kept Edelman sidelined throughout training camp. That’s bad for business. Edelman’s apparent injury came after he caught a 20-yard throw from rookie Jarrett Stidham.
The ding to the Patriots’ most important skill position player is not insignificant. He’s got just 10 days to heal before the opener with Pittsburgh on September 8.
But the work from the other two wideouts – Thomas in particular – was nearly encouraging enough to wipe out Edelman-related pessimism.
Thomas’ first touchdown catch came on a back-shoulder throw from Stidham which was an extremely well-thrown ball to the right pylon from 35 yards out. His two most impressive catches, though, were shorter ones. On a short crossing pattern in the first quarter, Thomas made the reception then hit the brakes hard before trying to restart. That move showed a level of confidence in going full speed – something Thomas alluded to earlier this week. The other was a 20-yard comeback by Thomas on the left sideline when he hit the brakes hard and lost journeyman corner Terrell Stanfield by so much that Thomas was able to go to his knees and wait for the ball to arrive from Stidham.
It wasn’t all rosy for Thomas – who also scored on a 3-yard fling from Stidham on a scramble play. He did fumble on a reverse when he reached for a handoff from Stidham instead of letting the ball be tucked in his belly. The ball clanged off his hands and was recovered by the Giants. Thomas looked like he may have been wary of a pair of Giants who’d gotten deep penetration on the play.
JUST JOSHING AROUND
As for Gordon, his best catch was an 11-yard gain on a short slant when he made the reception from Stidham and was sandwiched by two Giants defenders but absorbed the contact and moved forward for two extra yards after contact.
Considering he hadn’t been hit in a game situation since last December and hadn’t worked out in any of the joint practices or preseason games, getting action Thursday night – and he had plenty – is definitely a step in the right direction for a receiver corps that will need his help.
WHO DOES #2 WORK FOR?
Jarrett Stidham went the distance for the Patriots, going 18 for 28 for 225 yards and the aforementioned two touchdowns to Thomas. He also ran seven times for another 50 yards and took three sacks. I’m sure these reads he’s missed and game operations situations he’s blundered but generally, when the ball’s been snapped to him in the four preseason games, he’s done a surprisingly capable job for a player who was taken in the fourth round.
He finished the preseason 61 for 90 (67.8 percent completion percentage) for 731 yards and four touchdowns and he averaged 8.1 yards per attempt.
Stidham’s rebuffed pretty well the reputation for being erratic in the face of pressure, jumpy and ready to bolt the pocket at a moment’s notice. Even when he’s been under siege in the preseason – and that was especially the case in Week 3 – he showed pretty good composure and took the sack or tried to get the ball out.
Before and after the draft, the reasoning behind Stidham’s fall was chalked up to his final season at Auburn. He was playing behind a shabby offensive line and didn’t produce as he had the previous season. That was all it took for people to wonder who the real Jarrett Stidham was. Now that he’s in the NFL, it appears to suit him a lot better than college and it will be a surprise if he’s not the backup.
With Julian Edelman leaving Thursday night’s game early after appearing to aggravate his thumb injury, the fallout may not only touch the receiver corps but special teams as well. Gunner Olszewski fielded 13 preseason punts, returning nine and averaged 13.1 on his returns. Edelman has been the team’s primary punt returner for years but – at 33 – it’s probably time to get him out of harm’s way as much as possible.
Olszewski may have played his way onto the team because of his solid decision-making and ballhandling on returns. It is a little eye-opening to see Braxton Berrios sit the final two preseason games. The Patriots probably hope that they can pass Berrios back to the practice squad if they release him. The same goes for Olszewski if they decide to release him. But because of Edelman’s thumb, Olszewski’s chances of making the team probably rose Thursday night.
Rookie punter Jake Bailey had a little quieter night against the Giants. He punted four times and had a gross average of 45.8 but his net was just 37 which isn’t great. His longest punt was a 56-yarder. Just as important, the field goal operation with Bailey as the holder seemed to go seamlessly. Stephen Gostkowski had two field goal attempts from 39 and 30 yards and made both of them. Bailey handled one kickoff and it was a touchback to start the second half.
IN A TIGHT SPOT?
The tight end situation is not looking promising. Matt Lacosse was not moving well during his brief time on the field in pregame and the only completion in this one went to Eric Saubert for 7 yards. Stephen Anderson was targeted once and it fell incomplete.
The Patriots almost certainly will be trying to unearth tight end help this weekend since Benjamin Watson and Lance Kendricks will start the season with PED suspensions.
Joejuan Williams, who was drafted as a corner out of Vanderbilt, had extended run at safety on Thursday night and the position seemed to agree with him. The Patriots don’t have any young depth at the position having whiffed on players like Jordan Richards so it will be interesting to see if Williams slides over to safety, especially given the depth at cornerback the team has. He certainly looks the part at 6-4, 208 pounds.
“You see a lot more at safety. You see the whole defense,” Williams said after the game. “At corner, you’re kind of focusing on one man. We play a lot of man in this defense so you’re focusing on one person, but at safety you see a lot more. You’re like the quarterback of the defense. I felt like taking on that challenge this week, it definitely helped me out playing corner also. I’ll know what my safety help is because I played the position. I only feel like it helps me a lot more.”
KEYING IN ON KEION
Busy night for corner Keion Crossen, who was victimized on an early touchdown catch but bounced back nicely with a pass breakup on a long throw down the right sideline and a nifty, toe-tapping pick. Crossen also was found not guilty on a pass interference challenge thrown down by the Giants. People may not like the fact coaches have the chance to challenge PI but, in my opinion, the threshold being used so far – sticking to the letter of clear and obvious – has been a good one. You really have to obliterate your man to get a flag thrown on a challenge. I’d wager that in the regular season coaches may not be willing to challenge as readily as we thought they might based on the fact the on-field refs aren’t going to be overruled by New York on ticky-tack grabs and pulls.
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