During his press session with the media following Thursday night’s victory over the Detroit Lions, Bill Belichick didn’t look very much like a coach who had just watched his team thoroughly dominate the Lions every which way.
The Hoodie wore his pained preseason expression. Instead of piling on with pats on the back, the Patriots head coach was more concerned about the mistakes and the issues that still need correcting after his team’s 31-3 throttling of the Lions. Plus, a season is about building toward playing your best, not what’s happening at the start.
“We have a long way to go,” a somber-looking Belichick said several times in the immediate aftermath of the win.
He’s right, of course. One impressive game, and a few positive days of joint practices against the Lions doesn’t make the Patriots invincible or solve every problem area.
So with Belichick doing his best to burst everyone’s bubble, here are five not-so-sobering takeaways from last week as we gear up for this week’s joint practices in Tennessee with the Titans.
The Backup Plan
From minicamp to early in training camp, it seemed a lock the Patriots would have three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster for the first time since 2016, when they had both Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett behind Tom Brady. The preference is to carry just two, but rookie fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham didn’t seem anywhere near ready to be the lone backup, much less a potential successor to the GOAT, right out of the gate.
Veteran Brian Hoyer would have to be kept as insurance in the event of a Brady injury, while the Patriots continued to see if they had a prospect worth grooming in Stid the Kid. After watching the former Auburn University product operate Thursday night with such poise and confidence, the answer might be coming faster than anticipated.
While Stidham still needs work, his warts aren’t as obvious. He may have been slow to process some things in camp early on, but he was much quicker with his defensive reads during the game. That said, his arm talent remains obvious. His debut was so good, it makes you think there’s a possibility Hoyer could be in trouble. While Hoyer also had a very good game, that’s not the point. He’s not the future. Stidham could be down the road post-Brady, and, with a little more time, might be good enough to be the No. 2 this season. Given the fact Brady rarely, if ever, misses games due to injury, what’s the point in having three? And, if Brady has a season-ending injury, it becomes rather moot this season with either Hoyer or Stidham at the helm. They’re not likely to win it all.
While Hoyer has done yeoman work behind the scenes with the scout team, if Stidham continues to progress as rapidly as he has the past few weeks it might get to the point where the Patriots will have to seriously consider the value of keeping three quarterbacks.
The Great One
Following the game, Jakobi Meyers told reporters he wanted to be “great.” The wide receiver wanted to be in a position where the Patriots could depend on him. Making catches like the ones he made against the Lions is certainly a step in the right direction. He caught a pair of touchdown passes, one each from Hoyer and Stidham, and six passes in all, making it look pretty easy.
Meyers doesn’t possess blazing speed, but he knows how to get open, understands defenses and seems to have a good feel for the Patriots’ offense early on. But the greatest play he made Thursday night? It wasn’t a catch, but it prevented one.
It came with a little over a minute left in the half. Stidham was looking to hit Meyers for a score and put the ball up in the right side of the end zone, but Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye had a better bead on it. It was one of Stidham’s worst throws on the night. Meyers, however, wasn’t about to let Oruwariye intercept that pass. He made like a defensive back and lunged across Oruwariye, swatting the ball away with his right hand. Now that was impressive. Those are the kind of plays that really help win games, and win over coaches.
Left tackle still makes me nervous. And if it makes me nervous, we can only imagine what Brady thinks. Dan Skipper appears to be a place-holder for Isaiah Wynn. But Wynn is taking the slow boat back from the Achilles tendon tear he suffered a year ago. And that’s fine. It’s a tough injury for anyone, especially a big man playing tackle, to recover from. Wynn has yet to take part in any game action, or truly competitive drills during padded practices.
The problem is the lack of alternatives for Brady’s blindside protection. Now, to be fair, Skipper wasn’t awful Thursday against the Lions. He held his own against second- and third-teamers most of the night. He’s pretty agile for a big man (6-foot-9, 325 pounds) and he really gets out front on running plays. But he still seems like a work in progress. Former Patriot Eric Lee dusted him a couple times to get to Stidham. But all in all he didn’t bring the play of the line down. Overall, Dante Scarnechia’s line got good marks for giving both Hoyer and Stidham plenty of time to throw, while also extending blocks for the runners.
Honey Nut Berrios
Julian Edelman gave Braxton Berrios that cute little nickname last year, but it didn’t get much use after the wideout suffered an injury in training camp and spent the year on injured reserve. With performances like the one he gave against the Lions, he may get to trot it out a little more often.
Berrios finally showcased the type of receiver/returner skills that were hyped when he was drafted in the sixth round out of the University of Miami. There were plays when Berrios looked like Edelman, with his lightning quick moves to lose defenders and get open. Other times, he was part Danny Amendola, just getting to a spot and making a play on third down. After essentially being stifled in Foxboro by the Patriots’ defense, Jonathan Jones in particular, Berrios found space against the Lions.
The Defense Rests
In the lead-up to Thursday night’s game, linebacker Dont’a Hightower hinted that something special might be coming. “It’ll be the actual first time that we get to show the world as a unit what we’ve been working on since the spring,” Hightower said. Whether it was linebackers coach Jerod Mayo calling the plays, or Belichick — the head coach refused to divulge that information as both were wearing headsets during the game — there was a lot to like.
Beyond the presence of Jamie Collins adding a new spark, along with the return of Ja’Whaun Bentley, there was an aggressive attitude that carried over from late last season.
That aggressiveness resulted in nine sacks. When you have cornerbacks that can cover and a defensive backfield as good as the Patriots, you can gamble a little more up front. It might have been the preseason, but that didn’t stop the Pats from throwing in a few stunts. Bentley split a double-team after coming in on a stunt. Both Derek Rivers and rookie Chase Winovich had multiple sacks.