The 2021 NFL preseason is officially behind us. We are now less than two weeks away from real, meaningful Patriots football. It’s almost upon us, and the excitement is really starting to pickup.
The Patriots closed out the preseason campaign with a 22-20 win against the New York Giants. The game wasn’t really as close as the score indicates, but it was a nice conclusion to what ended up being an undefeated preseason by the Patriots. Going undefeated in the preseason doesn’t mean much in terms of the end result. That being said, it’s still a nice little achievement finishing 3-0. It’s potentially a sign of a Patriots team correcting course after a heavily dissapointing 2020 season. Here are my quick-snap reactions to everything I watched in New England’s 2021 preseason finale.
Cam Newton Will Be The Starter, Despite Another Great Mac Jones Performance
Last week after the preseason win over the Eagles, I stated that Cam Newton should and will be the Week 1 starting QB. A week later, I still believe he will be the starter, although whether or not he should be is not as clear to me now. To be fair to Cam Newton, he didn’t look that bad against the Giants. The stat line makes him look like he struggled, when he did in fact make a couple good throws.
Jakobi Meyers makes an excellent diving catch on a decent throw from Cam Newton pic.twitter.com/L3bMTt8S3L— Ben Brown (@BenBrownPL) August 29, 2021
Great throw by Cam Newton, nearly a great catch by Jakobi Meyers, but Blake Martinez makes an outstanding play to intercept this pass pic.twitter.com/4yx84NLQ4E— Ben Brown (@BenBrownPL) August 29, 2021
The final throw to Meyers in particular I thought was impressive, despite the final result. It’s not really Cam’s fault that Giants LB Blake Martinez ripped it out of Meyers’ hands. The reality is, we didn’t really get a good sample size to work with. Two drives and just five throws makes it tough to come up with a proper evaluation.
This is especially true when rookie Mac Jones got fourteen pass attempts and plenty more playing time to work with. Mac Jones made the most of the opportunity and shined once again. He was completing some real pro passes that show what scouts were talking about when they said he was “NFL ready”. None of his throws were particularly fancy or flashy, but they were the throws you expect an NFL veteran to make.
Mac Jones throwing people open like a vet. 😳 pic.twitter.com/L6pB0ER7qs— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) August 29, 2021
Mac Jones gets his first preseason TD pass 🔥— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) August 30, 2021
Jones finished his preseason with an impressive stat line going 36 for 52 (69%), 389 yards, 1 TD and 0 INTs. That includes his impressive 10 for 14, 156 yards and a TD on Sunday against the Giants. Jones really flashed his potential this preseason, but all signs point to this being Cam’s time right now.
How they handled Cam’s playing time today made it pretty clear he’s their starter. If there was a real competition, you’d have to imagine Newton would have stayed in for more than two drives. I do still believe Cam deserves the job, but he will be on a short leash. If he struggles early, I don’t expect Bill to hesitate to hand the reins over to Jones.
Josh Uche Has Some Serious Potential
When the Patriots drafted LB Josh Uche out of Michigan in 2020, I was pretty ecstatic about the pick. He just had the look and feel of a Belichikian linebacker. He was unable to truly show how good he could be his rookie year due to multiple lingering injuries. Uche only appeared in 9 games for the Patriots, and although he was effective when he did play, his injuries prevented him from making a major impact for the team. He came into camp looking to show what he could do, and he has not dissapointed.
Uche was one of the New England defenders getting a lot of buzz out of training camp. He followed that up by consistently showing up in the preseason, especially against the Giants. He was constantly bringing pressure, as he showed when he sacked QB Daniel Jones early in the first quarter on a third down play.
JOSH UCHE TAKES DOWN DANIEL JONES 👀pic.twitter.com/aeNjI3U320— Guy Boston Sports (@GuyBostonSports) August 29, 2021
Uche has gotten plenty of praise from his fellow teammates, with some even comparing him to Pats newcomer Matt Judon. That’s a pretty good comparison to have if you ask me. If Uche can be anywhere as near as good as Judon, this Patriots linebacking corps will be one of the most feared in football, if it isn’t already.
Patriots Will Be Bringing More Pressure this Season
One of the most frustrating aspects of the 2020 Patriots was their inability to put pressure on opposing QBs. According to PFF, the Patriots pass rush ranked 23rd in the NFL last season. That’s not exactly where you want to be as any defense, but especially a Bill Belichick lead one.
This happened for a multitude of reasons. Injuries to players like Josh Uche as previously mentioned played a part. The absence of guys like Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy also didn’t help. New England made it a key focus in the offseason to improve this area of their game. If this game against the Giants is any indication, they appear to have succeeded.
Giants quarterbacks Daniel Jones and Mike Glennon were constantly under duress by the Patriots defense. This is especially true of Daniel Jones in the first quarter, when the Patriots starters were making life not so great for the young Giants signal caller. This has been a trend all preseason for New England, and is one they will look to carry with them into the regular season. The return of Uche, Hightower, and Van Noy, as well as the additions of Matt Judon and rookie DT Christian Barmore seems to be making a world of difference. I don’t expect New England to rank 26th in QB knockdown rates this season, that’s for sure.
No Love Lost for Sony Michel
Now former Patriots RB Sony Michel gets a bad rap from fans both in and out of New England I think. People forget just how crucial Michel was during that 2018 Super Bowl run for New England. I don’t think it’s dramatic to say that without him, we may not have evem made it to the Super Bowl that year. Injuries I believe have slowed him down ever since. When you add that to the emergence of guys like Damien Harris and JJ Taylor, Michel was beginning to fall out of favor.
Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson’s preseason breakout was the final nail in the coffin so to speak for Michel. He became the 4th RB option for the Patriots, which lead to him being dealt to the Los Angeles Rams. This game gave us pretty good reason as to why the Patriots did what they did. They simply didn’t need Sony Michel anymore. Capitalizing on what value he still has was the right move. In their first game post Michel trade, the Patriots three-headed monster of Harris-Taylor-Stevenson combined for 128 yards on 18 carries and a TD.
Rhamondre Stevenson with his FIFTH rushing TD of the #NFLPreseason! @Patriots— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) August 30, 2021
📺: #NEvsNYG on NFL Network (or check local listings) pic.twitter.com/0xTo6rSnLR
Considering this was a game with a pass heavy gameplan by New England, I would say that’s not too shabby. The team didn’t miss a step without Michel, and probably won’t all season. As good as he once was, he just simply was no longer needed. Happy trails Sony, we’ll always have 2018!
Wide Receivers, Not Quarterbacks, Will Determine the Fate of the 2021 Season
Coming into the preseason, I have often said that the level of QB play from both Newton and Jones will determine how good the Patriots can be this year. Although that is still technically true, there is one position that will prove to be more important to the success of the team. Wide receiver has been a real sore spot for New England for a while now. It’s a big part of the reason Tom Brady is finishing his career in Florida.
Last season was rock bottom for the Patriots WR group. The only way to go was up from there, and I believe they have gotten better. However, during game against the Giants, I had some unpleasant feelings of deja vu watching the receivers at work. Dropped balls, poor route running, failure to get separation. At times it really made life difficult for both Newton and Mac Jones during the game. There were moments where I thought I was watching film from the 2020 Patriots. It was that bad at times tonight.
Many of the receivers who got significant looks tonight will most likely not be on the 53 man roster. That being said, my anxiety when it comes to this position group is through roof. As much as I am a fan of WR Jakobi Meyers and his continued progression, the fact that he is New England’s WR1 is still not the most reassuring thing in the world.
We haven’t seen too much of newcomers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne to know how they will work out. N’Keal Harry is hurt again, and let’s face it, it’s N’Keal Harry. A week after saying Olszewski was beginning to resemble Edelman, he follows it up with an absolute stinker. I may have jumped the gun on that take.
Mac Jones was yelling at Gunner Olszewski after that half-ending sack. Looks like he wanted a different route.— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) August 29, 2021
Gunner Olszewski drops this perfect throw from Mac Jones pic.twitter.com/ug1CEq1KV6— Ben Brown (@BenBrownPL) August 29, 2021
Wide receiver is still a shaky position for New England, and it’s one to keep a very watchful eye on as we enter the 2021 regular season.
Photo: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports