By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- For football players who have worked their entire lives to get to the NFL, putting forth an impressive performance in their first NFL action has to be an exhilarating experience -- even if it's only the preseason.
And for several members of the rookie class for the 2019 Patriots, Thursday night represented a successful first step in the NFL. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham showed remarkable poise and solid control of the offense for a rookie QB. Jakobi Meyers was the star of the night, catching two touchdowns and leading the Patriots in receptions and receiving yards. And Chase Winovich made many Michigan fans happy by recording 1.5 sacks against the Lions.
Each of them had to have been jacked up in their own right after the 31-3 stomping of the Lions on Thursday night. But all of them also knew that when it came to stepping in front of a microphone in a room full of reporters, it was vital to not make it appear as though they were getting ahead of themselves.
So when it came time to talk about their performances, all three of the rookie stars from the preseason debut made sure to sound like they've been working for Bill Belichick for years.
"It was cool. But it's like anything. I've talked about this before, and I've always felt this way, and it's definitely emphasized here," Winovich carefully explained. "You saw me make the play, maybe on a couple of occasions today. But really, there are so many guys up front – Nick [Thurman], David [Parry], Byron [Cowart], Trent [Harris], really all the linebackers making the calls, Terez [Hall], Christian [Sam], and I could go on and on. There's so many intricacies during the game itself, just making adjustments with Coach [DeMarcus] Covington and Coach [Joe] Kim and Coach [Jerod] Mayo. I could name everybody by name. Just everything that goes into there and then goes back to all the work that we put in, staying extra at time, going over stuff, and working with Willie McGinest on technique. It just felt good to have it all come together and hopefully make my family a little proud today."
Winovich admitted to enjoying the moment -- how could he not? -- but quickly transitioned back to Belichick's "getting better" mantra that guides the Patriots on a daily basis.
"It's a great thing any time you can make a play and get the fans – even though we're in an opposing stadium, I guess – but get the fans and get your team into it, and really just get into a groove, just feeling the game out. But like I said, we're just playing great team defense," Winovich said. "There's a lot to look at it – you know, it's great to look at the gleaming moments, but there's a lot to improve on."
Winovich was asked what he's learned most since joining the Patriots, and after giving a straightforward answer, he clarified that he has a long way to go.
"That's probably my biggest thing, is the physicality and the moves and stuff, you improve on that stuff, but I'm just getting a lot better at my awareness and that stuff," Winovich said. "Just trying to get better. I'm a rookie. I've got a lot to improve on."
For Meyers, the undrafted rookie out of NC State who converted from QB to receiver in college, it appears from the outside as though he's essentially already locked up a roster spot. He's been working with the first team in practice, and he was tremendous in his first game action.
Despite that, when asked if he was eager to prove every team wrong for passing on him in the draft, Meyers said he's not taking anything for granted.
"Um, not really, because I don't have time to really think about what I have to prove to people that don't … I don't want to say don't matter. But I have to keep proving to my coaches that I deserve to be here. I'm not on the team yet," Meyers said. "I'm trying to make sure I can stay here and continue to be here. So that's who I'm' trying to prove a point to — not the people who didn't give me a call, you know?"
Meyers also credited his own early success to the veterans and coaches around him.
"I want to be great, I want to be in a position where they can depend on me and trust in me on tough downs. At the same time, we have a lot of great players on our team. And all I have to do is listen," he said. "If I'm doing what they tell them to do, then I'll just stick around."
Meyers added: "I just feel like whatever receiver room I'm in, whatever meeting I'm in, I try to just watch the guys who have done it. Like I said we've got Jules [Julian Edelman], DT [Demaryius Thomas], it's a lot of great guys who have done it the right way for a long time. All I have to do is just watch them. They'll show me the way, honestly. And we've got a great coach with Joe. So as long as I'm paying attention, I feel like I'll get to where I need to be."
And for Stidham, who celebrated his 23rd birthday by going 14-for-24 for 179 yards and one touchdown while also running for 16 yards on four carries, stepping in to the Patriots' quarterback room can be as intimidating a position as any young football player could ever enter. Yet the quarterback -- again, at least from the outside -- appears to have the maturity and self-assurance to handle all the responsibilities that come with being a quarterback on the New England Patriots.
"This is my first NFL experience, getting to play. But it was a lot of fun. I had a lot of fun. Lot of things to improve on," Stidham said. "So I'm really looking forward to watching the film tomorrow and seeing what I can improve on. But overall it was a lot of fun."
Similar to Winovich, Stidham answered a question about what he's improved upon since joining the NFL. But he quickly reverted back to the things he doesn't know instead of dwelling on what he's already learned.
"Oh yeah, I mean, I think, again, from day one to now, I've grown so much. I've gotta continue to grow," Stidham said. "I know there's a ton of stuff that I still don't know and I have to continue to learn. So I'm really looking forward to getting into the film room tomorrow and continuing that."
All three rookies obviously have long ways to go in order to make the team, and then contribute to the team when the games really matter. But thus far, all three seem like seasoned veterans on the Patriots roster -- both on and off the field.
for more features.