By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- For a while there, 0-16 was starting to look like a real possibility. Tom Brady, no doubt repulsed by what was playing out in front of him, seemed liable to put his new contract in the shredder and just retire. Same for Bill Belichick. Things were dire at Gillette Stadium.
But then, a miracle happened. Or, more accurately, a bunch of backups went in. Craziness ensued.
What really took place was, of course, a preseason game. It was … very much a preseason game. The Patriots trailed 17-0, then scored 26 unanswered points to win the game. Wee! The results don't matter, the final score won't be remembered for long (unless you gambled money on the game lollllllll!), but it was nevertheless an instrumental building block for the 2018 version of the New England Patriots.
So here we go. Leftover Thoughts No. 1. If you don't like these ones, well, they don't really count. We're talking preseason here, folks.
--The breakout star of Preseason Game No. 1 -- and, let's be honest, there's always a breakout star -- was undoubtedly Ralph Webb. Here's the deal on Webb: He played his college ball at Vanderbilt. He had excellent sophomore (1,152 yards, 5 TDs) and junior (1,283 yards, 13 TDs) seasons, dropped off a little as a senior (831 yards) but still scored 10 touchdowns. His NFL.com draft profile was underwhelming, stating that "he'll get into camp and work his tail off, but he may not have the play qualities necessary to overcome his physical deficiencies."
Well, he obviously looked pretty good on Thursday night. He rushed for 46 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries, and he made a nice catch-and-turn to convert a two-point conversion.
The question now is, of course, whether or not Webb is for real or whether he's just the latest Zach Sudfeld/Austin Carr flash in August. We can't know that just yet, but Bill Belichick spoke to Webb's collegiate pedigree as a reason he wasn't particularly surprised by Thursday's performance.
"That's what he was like at Vanderbilt. He ran hard. He was tough," Belichick said. "He's not the biggest guy, but he's got good strength for his size and he runs hard. He got hit a lot down there. He showed us that in the spring and in training camp. He's a tough kid that runs with good pad level, he's got good speed, he catches the ball well. He made a nice catch on the two-point play. It was not an easy ... it was a low ball. He made a good adjustment on the catch and got it in. He's been kind of like that his whole -- going all the way back to his freshman year and his career at Vanderbilt. He had a lot of production down there, ran hard, took a lot of hits, like all of the backs do in that conference [the SEC]. He's given us that same type of effort. It was good to see him in game action be able to break some tackles, get downhill, get some tough yards. He's done that plenty before."
Clearly, the catch on the two-point conversion stood out to Belichick. As it should have.
That catch was not at all easy, and the fact that he was able to make the grab, turn up the field and cross the goal line while maintaining possession was an indication of some great ball skills. (He wasn't much of a receiver in college, catching 68 passes for 572 yards and three touchdowns in his 49 games.)
It's a crowded backfield, with Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, and then likely either Jeremy Hill (the favorite) or Mike Gillislee. Plus Brandon Bolden. Making the roster won't be easy for the 5-foot-10 back. But at the very least, he's sure to get some extra looks as the preseason progresses.
--It stood out that Julian Edelman was on the field for the whole first half. Considering he hasn't played a real game since Super Bowl LI against the Falcons, it's certainly been a while.
He didn't look like his usual self, but that hardly matters. A big part of the recovery process from a shredded knee has got to be just getting walloped by an opponent. And for Edelman, he took care of that step on his first snap, when Deshazor Everett decleated the receiver on a run up the gut:
In a weird way, that must have felt pretty good for Edelman.
--The final score obviously shows a 26-17 Patriots win, but you can't feel good about the showing of the starting defense. The front seven looked ... OK. The back end looked susceptible to big plays. And it wasn't just the rookies and UDFAs and whatnot. Kyle Van Noy got caught chasing on a touchdown. Stephon Gilmore couldn't keep pace with Robert Davis. It got to the point where color analyst Scott Zolak said after Byron Marshall's 25-yard touchdown, "This is not good against the 2's." That's some biting commentary for a Kraft Sports Group production, but it was warranted.
After a mostly quiet training camp without a lot of hitting, the Patriots' defense as a whole was not up to speed. It's not a massive deal in terms of long-term implications, but it probably wasn't what most fans wanted to see after witnessing the Super Bowl six months ago. And it makes you feel as though the tenor of some of these practices might change going forward this summer. No more fully padded walkthroughs.
--There was a point after one Patriots punt, where the officials huddled for a solid minute. They finally broke it up, and referee Brad Allen announced penalties on both teams. That meant ... a rekick!
This is the type of pace of play problem that is leading baseball to its slow death. Bud Selig needs to act now to fix it.
--One thing you absolutely had to appreciate about Thursday's game was Bill Belichick being in midseason form. First, Washington running back Samaje Perine was stripped of the football by Ja'Whaun Bentley's left hand. Danny Shelton recovered. It should have been Patriots football near midfield, and replay confirmed that. So Belichick threw the challenge flag.
He looked pissed.
Unfortunately for him, the referee informed the coach that the play could not be reviewed, because the officials had ruled that forward progress had been stopped before the running back lost the football. (This is a terrible, terrible thing about football. It cost the 49ers a trip to a Super Bowl in 2011. People don't forget.)
After getting to say his piece, Belichick walked away from the officials and muttered, "F----- bull----."
You have just got to love that. This man has coached one hundred million football games. It's his three-thousandth year on an NFL sideline. And yet he is irate about the refs blowing a call on Aug. 9, 2018. You have to love that.
--Belichick's post-halftime interview was also an all-timer.
But you knew that by now.
--Not that it matters, but boy oh boy, that officiating crew stunk out loud! They just ... missed so much. On the play after the fumble that wasn't ruled a fumble, they missed Adrian Clayborn hitting Colt McCoy in the head. (That's seemingly always called.) They missed a blatantly obvious pass interference penalty committed by J.C. Jackson. Derek Rivers lined up in the neutral zone once, without a call.
Chris Hogan was called for OPI on a play that looked a lot like DPI. Rivers did get a roughing the passer call on a play where it looked like he just ran into the quarterback. Webb lowered his helmet and had a "flat back" while initiating contact with his helmet, which seemingly violates the new helmet rule, but drew no flag.
The officiating just seemed spotty and unpredictable. So ... it was like a normal NFL game!
--Cordarrelle Patterson is having such a good summer that he's catching passes that aren't intended for him.
Now, GRANTED, he's also playing in the second half of preseason openers. But -- but! -- he's catching passes that are intended for another receiver. Not bad. The little jiggle-juggle catch on the sideline wasn't bad either.
--I feel like Ryan Lewis pointing to the sky in celebration instead of blocking on Geneo Grissom's fumble return won't go over well with the coaches.
I just feel as though that won't help Lewis make the team. Just a feeling I have.
Exceptional finger-pointing, though. Just impeccable.
--I was looking forward to seeing some punt returns. Instead we mostly saw some fair catches. The one return we did see -- a 14-yarder from Braxton Berrios -- was decent, if a bit slow. But it didn't count, due to a holding penalty. So much for gleaning some information in that area.
Worse yet, we didn't get to see the fruits of this much-hyped PUNTER BATTLE. All anyone on this cold planet should ever care about is a good old-fashioned PUNTER BATTLE. And the Patriots supposedly have a good one. Yet Belichick left Corey Bojorquez standing on the sideline all night, unable to show off his golden boot. Ryan Allen responded properly, I guess, punting the ball fairly well all night? Maybe? But the true test for a real PUNTER BATTLE is to alternate punts. Everyone knows that. Come on, Bill. We all want to see it.
--The internet went a little crazy on Thursday after seeing a video that showed just how massive a moose can be. I kind of felt that way on Thursday night, watching Trent Brown in game action. All summer long, you've heard the same thing over and over again: Trent Brown is a large man. It reached a point where the only response became, "OK. WE GET IT. HE'S LARGE. WE GET IT. OK. OK. OK. OK."
That being said ... Trent Brown is a large human being!
Folks. He's big.
--All right. That's more than enough chatter about Preseason Game No. 1. Now print up those T-shirts!
for more features.