FOXBORO – Jarrett Stidham may have officially made Brian Hoyer obsolete.
For the third game in a row the rookie fourth-rounder showed enough arm, accuracy and pocket presence to envision him being the sole backup to Tom Brady in 2019.
Stidham went 6 for 9 for 52 yards on two second-quarter drives then came back and went 3-for-3 on the first drive of the second half for another 19 yards. Beyond the stats, Stidham showed a willingness to stay in the pocket and take a hit waiting for targets to uncover. Twice, he hit Jakobi Meyers with late deliveries. A third-and-12 completion for 13 yards to a diving Meyers was the best throw he had closely followed by a crosser that Meyers snatched from over the head of a Panthers DB.
Stidham played all but the first three drives of the game and finished 15 for 19 for 134 yards.
But Stidham’s night wasn’t without some adventure. That opening drive of the second half ended with a lost fumble when left guard Hjalte Froholdt got turnstiled and Stidham was forced to run for his life. The ball popped loose when Stidham was snagged from behind.
Stidham also took a false start when he hedged on a shotgun snap, turning a third-and-6 into a third-and-11. He had a couple of balls forced into tight coverage as well that could have been picked but fell incomplete.
On the Patriots only other drive of the third, Stidham had a terrific completion on the sidelines to Meyers good for a first down and was the beneficiary of a generous defensive pass interference call to put the ball inside the 10 but shameful pass protection – especially by Froholdt – turned the Patriots backfield into a Panthers team meeting. Stidham was ultimately sacked five times.
Still, Stidham – who came into the game 28 for 43 for 372 with two touchdown passes – probably pushed the valued veteran Hoyer a little closer to the cut line. The arm strength, mobility and upside all argue in his favor. Even this team didn’t have too many other competitive positions where players who make the team will contribute, Hoyer might be safe. But going two deep behind a player who hasn’t missed a game due to injury since 2008 would be overkill.
UP AND DOWN FOR MEYERS
While Meyers continued to have incredible chemistry with Stidham – he caught seven passes from Stidham in less than two quarters – he didn’t have the same kismet during Tom Brady’s time on the field. Brady’s first throw to Meyers was a deep ball down the seam and Meyers got walled off by the defensive back and bailed on the route. He also had a drop on a throw over the middle and was called for a holding penalty (admittedly, a sketchy call).
Meyers, who got the start, came into the game with 12 receptions for 151 yards and two touchdowns and he added another seven catches for 74 yards. He leads the NFL in preseason yards with 325 on 19 catches.
He’s also gotten one earful from Brady. Asked if the sideline lecture after the long incompletion was intimidating, Meyers said, “I wouldn’t say intimidating. But I was like man, this is … I’m really being yelled at by Tom Brady.”
Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal for the second week in a row, this one from 43 yards. Replay showed that holder Jake Bailey had the laces pointed at Gostkowski so the flight of the ball wasn’t ideal. He hooked it wide left. Gostkowski later made a 23-yarder. Bailey will be holding down the holder duties this season, the first time since 2013 that someone other than Ryan Allen has been the regular holder for Gostkowski.
GUNNER MAKES A BID
If the Patriots want to keep Julian Edelman out of harm’s way on punt returns this season, Gunner Olszewski so far looks like the front-runner to take over that job. Olszewski had four punt returns for 63 yards including a 28-yarder when he burst from the pack after reversing field. Olzewski, a converted corner from Bemidji State, left the game after a 15-yard catch when he got squished by two Panthers. He’s a very slight gentleman and needs some seasoning at wide receiver, obviously. If he were merely a receiver option, chances are he’d be headed for the practice squad – same with second-year wideout Braxton Berrios. But Edelman could be too vital to the Patriots offense in 2019 to risk putting him back there except on plus-50 punts and critical returns.
The Patriots opened the game defensively with these players on or near the line of scrimmage: Chase Winovich, Michael Bennett, Lawrence Guy, Kyle Van Noy, Donta Hightower, Jamie Collins and Devin McCourty. On the back end were Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Duron Harmon and Terrence Brooks. That’s a lot of talent and a lot of experience for an opposing quarterback to have to process and it wasn’t long before the Patriots had driven Cam Newton from the game with an ankle sprain. The Patriots allowed two first downs in the opening half (the Panthers were 0 for 5 on third down) and gave up 29 total yards (15 passing, 14 rushing).
“We talked about getting off to a good start against a team that was very high-powered on offense,” said Devin McCourty. “You talk about Cam Newton, [Christian] McCaffery, [Curtis] Samuels – all of those guys – [Greg] Olsen. They're very tough to stop once they get going, so I thought we did a good job of first stopping the run, and then getting a few good rushes in there to mix it up. We've got a lot of players out there that have played good football, either here or other places, so it felt good for all of us to get out there and start to put it together.”
FLAGS A FLYIN’
Officials in the preseason are known to get a little flag-happy. The idea is to throw now so that players rein it in when the season starts. But the throwing seemed a little excessive on a number of plays. The 29-yard pass interference against Patriots tight end Ryan Izzo that was called on Carolina in the second half was iffy. Even if Izzo had spun around, the ball from Jarrett Stidham wasn’t real close. The chop block in the first half whistled on Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon was also bogus. Cannon was executing a chop block but Mason wasn’t engaged with the defender, he was pushing off the hands of the defender as the defender tried to engage with him. There was also a questionable hold called on Meyers when it actually appeared he was getting rag-dolled. There were 17 penalties in the game, nine on the Patriots. Last week, there were 22 with 12 on New England.
At least there was a high bar on replay review. The Panthers tried twice to get officials to drop pass interference flags on the field against the Patriots. Neither time did it work. And that’s good because if the league was looking for clear and obvious contact that has a material effect on a receiver, neither Jason McCourty’s sideline coverage in the first half nor J.C. Jackson’s end zone coverage in the fourth quarter qualified.
FROHOLDT HAS A ROAD AHEAD
Rookie guard Hjalte Froholdt was a liability in the second half Thursday against the Panthers. It was his missed block that caused Stidham to scramble and ultimately fumble and he was also involved in other pressure leading to sacks. Froholdt, who went to Arkansas, looked slow-footed and not real agile. Maybe it’s just a phase and something he’ll eliminate as he gains experience. Or maybe he’s chronically slow-footed. We will keep an eye-peeled during the preseason finale next week against the Giants.