BOSTON -- The Patriots closed out their preseason on Friday night in Nashville. It wasn't a real football game, and it lacked even the sizzle of a normal preseason game. Outside of Riley Reiff, none of the presumed offensive starters stepped onto the field, and the Titans went to a backup-heavy rotation early in the game.
But, you know, it happened. The Titans won, 23-7. And here are the major takeaways from the contest. (Yes, the word "major" is doing a lot of work there.)
--Riley Reiff got hurt, which could be a problem. The fact that a Riley Reiff injury is a problem, well, that's a problem in and of itself. But the reality is that the Patriots' offensive line is thin. And if Mike Onwenu and/or Cole Strange can't go in Week 1, the starting O-line could include two rookies and a backup-level veteran making up 60 percent of its composition.
Not. Good. At all.
After the game, Bill Belichick was asked for his overall feeling on the health status of the offensive line.
"Yeah, uh, we'll see," he said. "We'll just have to see."
That's just so true right there. We will see.
--Bailey Zappe started, and if we're being fair, we can't judge too harshly. After all, the Patriots reportedly didn't love the idea of Mac Jones playing behind that aforementioned O-line, so the task wasn't easy for Zappe to say the least.
Still, Zappe made a mess of one play, escaping pressure but then running back into the player he had evaded. It led to a strip-sack and the Titans taking over at the Patriots' 5-yard line.
Zappe was 4-for-6 for 42 yards while taking two sacks and coughing up the fumble in the first half. He exited the game, giving way to Trace McSorley, but then was sent back in to start the second half. He was 2-for-7 for 9 yards in the third quarter. Bill O'Brien seemed unenthused with the quarterback after a series ended with a punt late in the third.
He came back out for the fourth quarter and completed two passes for 6 yards before getting strip-sacked on third down. He recovered his own fumble but took a heavy hit. He had to play the next series too ... and recovered his own fumble after a third-down sack.
Seemed like a lousy night to be Bailey Zappe.
Final line: 8-for-15, 57 yards, 4 sacks, 3 fumbles, 1 lost fumble.
--Jack Jones also had a rough night. For one, he played the entire first half, which felt almost like punishment on a 100-degree evening for a player who's supposed to be a starter on defense. But he also had some rough plays.
He committed an obvious pass interference on what should have been a third-down incompletion, giving the Titans 32 free yards and new life. It helped lead to the Titans' first field goal of the game. He also gave up a 30-yard completion to Colton Dowell. And he got stiff-armed to another dimension by Tyjae Spears:
He was aggressive in the run game early, but he had a number of lowlights. Nobody knows his exact status, given his legal situation, but that was a rough way for the second-year cornerback to end his preseason.
--Speaking of J.J. Taylor, he had a decent little showing going ... for a while. Nothing crazy, but he had a solid kick return, a good gain on a screen pass, and a 3-yard run that showed some power. The team has a roster decision to make with him, Kevin Harris, and Pierre Strong. (Harris scored a touchdown in the second quarter.)
But then in the fourth quarter, he was back deep to return a punt, and the booming kick sent him retreating back into his own end zone. He seemingly had no idea that he was in the end zone, because he fell over, got up, and tried to exit the end zone for a return. He made it all the way to the 3-yard line.
Special. Teams. Blunder.
Will that hurt his case? Well, he's not really gunning for a punt return job. But still. Situational awareness is situational awareness. That was a tough one. (Cam Achord doesn't want to be on TV anymore this year, I can guarantee you that.)
--NFL replay continues to make no sense whatsoever. Or maybe the crew in New York took the night off. In any case, Malik Willis was clearly down when he threw a pass away to try to avoid a sack. Bill Belichick, in disbelief that the on-field officials didn't see that, tossed his red challenge flag onto the field. He looked quite frustrated to have to do so. But it was an obvious call.
Somehow, some way though, referee Alex Kemp announced that ... the call on the field would stand. It was bananas.
It's the preseason, so who cares, yes. But we've seen plenty of real games full of confounding calls, and this didn't inspire much confidence in the league.
--Calvin Munson, who had an impressive showing, proved that justice does exist by intercepting a pass on the very next snap.
Munson is trying to make the team as a special teams linebacker, and he showed Friday night that he'd like to keep his job. He led the team with 10 total tackles, one of which went for a loss, in addition to the pick.
--Ronnie Perkins vomited just before a snap, and then made the tackle anyway. It was ridiculous. I won't put it in here for the sake of decency ... but I will link to it.
That's gross, bro.
--Rookie punter Bryce Baringer continues to BOOM the football. He bombed a 69-yarder in the first half, and that was entirely in the air. His first punt was a 52-yarder, which led to a fair catch, and he dropped one inside the 10 for another fair catch. He angled one out of bounds at the 20 and cracked another one 45 yards to the 10.
Corliss Waitman entered to punt in the fourth quarter, but only after the rookie had proven himself.
--We saw how we'll likely see the Patriots use Malik Cunningham if they keep him on the roster, and that is for a change-of-pace couple of plays at quarterback. He took over for Zappe on a second-and-7 and ran for 5 yards. He converted the third-and-2 on the next snap, but it was called back due to illegal formation.
We will not, however, be seeing him used as a wide receiver. Not this year. Perhaps he'll pull a full Edelman and become a great receiver, but he has a long way to go in that endeavor.
--Thyrick Pitts is not going to make the final roster, but he made a sweet play by dragging a pile about 10 yards toward the end zone. That was pretty nifty.
--We finally got to see Marte Mapu play real football. He made a couple of nice plays, notably stepping up to lay a hit on a running back trying to catch a pass in the flat. The back dropped the pass, but Mapu was there to stop him at the line had he made the catch. Mapu was also in coverage on Josh Whyle in the end zone on a third-down incompletion to the tight end.
He also perhaps had a "Welcome to the NFL" moment, as he had Nick Westbrook-Ikhine wrapped up but couldn't make the tackle in the open field.
--We got plenty of Bryce Baringer, but we didn't get any Chad Ryland. The Patriots traded up (with the Jets) to draft him this year, but he only had two kicks all preseason. Those kicks were PATs, and they were both successful. But the rookie -- who missed three straight kicks at practice on Tuesday -- hasn't had a chance to kick a field goal in a game scenario.
The Patriots know what they have with Nick Folk, who's deadly accurate inside of 50 yards but doesn't have a booming leg. In Ryland, there's plenty of leg, but can he be reliable? The Patriots didn't get an answer this preseason and now have a decision to make.
--The Patriots finished the game with just 79 net yards of offense. On 42 plays. That's 55 rushing yards, and 24 net passing yards. Zappe's 57 passing yards were offset by 33 yards lost on six sacks (Malik Cunningham and Trace McSorley each took one sack.) Don't show those numbers to Ronnie Perkins. (That's a callback, folks. Hope you were paying attention.)
--Overall ... not a lot of positives for the Patriots. With the canceled joint practices this week and the partial participation in the preseason game, the team didn't exactly end training camp and the preseason at full speed. It was definitely a tapering down of the summer for the team, and now they'll wait a couple of weeks to play a game that will mean a whole lot more than the one played on Friday night in Nashville.
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