Notes, musings, and observations from the final preseason game of the year.
And that’s the end of that.
I’m not going to lie; I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a preseason as much as the one that just wrapped up. It’s not because the Patriots went undefeated; sure it’s nice to be 3-0, but that doesn’t matter in the slightest. What we all witnessed these past few weeks are new acquisitions making an impact, rookies getting meaningful reps and getting up to game speed, and a surprisingly deep roster that should be leaps and bounds better than it was last year. Anyone who reads too deeply into the preseason is setting themselves up for disappointment, but there are some things that translate no matter how little the game matters.
If I’m being honest, this article is really more “Fan Notes from the first half and a little bit of the second, which I watched with one eye as I got stuff done around the apartment” as opposed to Fan Notes from the actual game. I was out of town this past weekend and had a lot of stuff to do when I got back to the house, and so this is going to be a slightly abbreviated version of what you’re all used to. I also didn’t watch any of the replays or look at any of the stat sheets just in case you were wondering how dedicated I am to honing my craft, so take what follows for what it is; a highly unreliable breakdown from a highly unreliable narrator.
- The NFL preseason is pretty much the only time where how little a man sees the field is directly tied to how much he’ll be involved with the team going forward. And now that we’re on to the regular season, I think it’s safe to say that Cam Newton is going to be the starter Week 1. He has only played a few series each game.
- And I think it’s the right move. The last thing I’d want to see is for all of the confidence Mac Jones has been building all year to come crashing down against a team that actually gameplans for the offense. Newton deserves to start, he deserves to show that he’s still got it, and he deserves one more contract somewhere else next year as Jones continues to learn what goes into playing a full season in the NFL.
- Whenever a team can get a sack with their base pass rush, that isn’t scheme; that’s the defender just getting the best of his blocker. Josh Uche is going to be a monster.
- When the Giants brought a well-timed blitz on New England’s first drive of the game, Newton just rifled it out towards the sideline to avoid the sack. The play in and of itself isn’t really anything – but that Newton’s “I’m just gonna huck this up there and hope he gets it” guy was Jakobi Meyers. I thought that was worth noting.
- Another thing worth noting is the sideline-to-sideline speed of this linebacker unit. We didn’t see a lot of specifically LB-schemed pressure from New England last night – LBs had a hand on the ground off the edge at times, but as always the defense was very basic. However, on tosses, screens, and crossing routes, there was always a linebacker right on the play or immediately in pursuit. This unit is going to be a lot of fun to watch.
- Mac Jones has an absolutely beautiful playaction and he leads receivers beautifully. Should he get the start at any point this season, this backfield combined with the starting TEs and Jones’s playaction ability could be a lot of fun.
- Although I could say the exact same thing about Cam Newton’s ability to take off as a runner.
- I wasn’t overly impressed with Nelson Agholor last night, or all preseason for that matter. He had a lot of trouble getting any separation at all and seemed a little slow out of his breaks. And if he saw more than two deep targets all August, I can’t remember any of them.
- Not the best sign that I had completely forgotten that N’Keal Harry is nursing an injury and didn’t even play last night. I just assumed he didn’t get any targets,
- There was a three play stretch yesterday where Michael Jackson gave up a big gain on third down, committed a defensive hold on another third down, and then was the 12th man on the field to draw another flag. At this point I think he’s all but gone. Time for him to beat it. On the field, he’s definitely no thriller. He’s bad. He better start with the man in the mirror. Hopefully he won’t turn to a life of crime, I don’t think he’d make a very smooth criminal. I always wondered if his pronouns are he/hee, but now I’ll never know. So you’ve all been spared a season of Michael Jackson jokes. Sorry.
- Joejuan Williams spent a little bit of time as the lone Cover-1 safety last night, which is a potentially intriguing wrinkle for him. New England is pretty set at safety, but he has the size and range to adapt to the position if he’s able to put in the work. I feel like he did just enough to make the roster – which means that Bill Belchick is going to have to sacrifice another DB to Toutatis. Maybe that’s why he traded for Shaun Wade.
- The biggest positive takeaway from last night’s game was the number of unique scenarios New England saw. They started a drive pinned deep in their own end zone. They had to defend on goal to go. They faced down and long after holding a false start penalties brought them back. Teachable coaching moments following flags or missed plays. Defending against the two minute drill. Pretty much everything you’d like in a completely meaningless game.
- What I didn’t like, though, was the decision to show a few Giants/Patriots highlights from the past – highlights I won’t bother to get into here. I imagine that those of you who watched the game on the Boston feed just got more of Scott Zolak doing Scott Zolak things, which would have been infinitely more preferable. I don’t know about any of you, but if I had the choice of seeing David Tyree catch a ball with his face or seeing Zolak do his best drunk uncle at the barbecue impression, I know what I’m taking every time.
- Mac Jones to Devin Asiasi happened twice that I saw, once on a shallow crosser and once on a perfectly placed mid-range ball that was something of Jones’s specialty this preseason. Both were well executed by all parties involved. I don’t know exactly what that means for Asiasi and how involved he’ll be in the offense, but as Rich Hill said to me via text message this morning, “Asiasi lives!”
- Mac Jones should have finished his August campaign with at least five TD passes. Instead he finishes with one, phenomenal pocket presence, poise, command of the offense, and incredible amounts of optimism from Patriots Nation. Not a bad consolation prize.
- Seriously, you can’t really ask for more than what we saw out of Mac Jones this training camp. Working hard, learning from his mistakes, making the most of his reps, and I’d like to think instilling confidence from the coaching staff should they ever turn the reins over to him at some point this season. If August was a high school year book, Mac Jones’s senior quote would be “I’m here and I’m ready.”
- I found myself paying even less attention than I already was come the fourth quarter, when it was almost exclusively backups playing backups and the Giants started running the ball effectively up the middle. But I will say this: if the Golden Rule of Preseason rings true (which of course it does), it’s tough not to be optimistic about what this team is capable of in 2021 and beyond.
- I see that the Giants almost came back to tie it on a last-second Hail Mary and failed two point conversion. There have been some absolutely WILD finishes to some of these preseason games. I’d say that I hope that translates into the regular season as well…but as a middle-aged man, I don’t know if I can take too many of those when it actually matters. If I don’t live to see 45, I want it to be because I’ve made decades of horrendous health choices and avoid exercise the way Dan Shaughnessy avoids doing research for an article, not because I croaked sweating out the fourth Patriots nailbiter in a row.
Roster cutdown day is coming, then it’s on to Miami for Week 1. This has simultaneously been the longest and shortest offseason of my life. Let’s do this.