FOXBORO, Mass. – If you wanted to get a sneak peek of the 2022 Patriots, Thursday night’s preseason opener wasn’t a great place to start.
The team’s first exhibition game, against the New York Giants, saw most of the Patriots' projected starters stay on the sidelines. Instead of Mac Jones, the Gillette Stadium crowd saw Brian Hoyer start and Bailey Zappe finish this contest.
On offense, veteran wide receivers Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor sat out. The same went for tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. At running back, Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson never got on the field. The same went for offensive linemen Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn, Michael Onwenu and David Andrews.
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The only projected offensive starter to see the field was rookie Cole Strange. The Patriots' first-round pick started at left guard and played the first two series, with Hoyer, before his night ended.
On defense, it was similar. We didn’t see cornerbacks Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones or safeties Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger or Adrian Phillips in the secondary. There was no sign of Matthew Judon or Ja’Whaun Bentley at linebacker. Defensive linemen Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise and Christian Barmore had the night off as well.
Instead, Patriots rookies, backups and roster bubble players took the lead en route to the Patriots' 24-21 loss to the Giants on Thursday night. Here are three takeaways.
Matt Patricia and Joe Judge both call offensive plays
When it comes to who will replace Josh McDaniels, there’s two ways to look at the Patriots' preseason opener.
At this point, Matt Patricia is clearly the leader in the clubhouse. Perhaps, he’ll be the guy calling in plays to Mac Jones. Of course, he could also be competing with Joe Judge for the job.
Both scenarios are plausible as both Patricia and Judge called offensive plays in the preseason opener.
“We did this game,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said when asked about the two coaches calling plays. "We did a lot of things in this game that are going to be beneficial in the long run, whether it was on the coaching staff, playing time, players that played and so forth. That's all part of the process.”
Patricia, the former Patriots' defensive coordinator and Detroit Lions head coach, could be seen on the sideline with a headset and play sheet as soon as the Patriots' offense took the field Thursday night. Although he stood next to quarterbacks coach Judge, who also had a headset and play sheet, it appeared that Patricia was the man calling the plays into Hoyer, who started the game.
This isn’t surprising since we’ve seen Patricia call most of the Patriots' offensive plays this summer. Judge has had his hand in the play calling, but mainly during 7-on-7 drills when Patricia is coaching the offensive linemen. When full-team drills started, it was often Patricia calling plays. Belichick has also called plays at times this offseason as well.
After the first series, Hoyer checked in with Patricia and Jones on the sideline. Then, the quarterbacks sat around Judge, who went over plays. At the same time, Patricia had the offensive linemen huddled around him looking at his tablet. Prior to the Patriots' second drive, Hoyer checked in with Patricia and Judge before taking the field. Following the Patriots’ first scoring drive, Patricia met with the quarterbacks.
Of course, things with the Patriots are never that easy. After Hoyer came out of the game, and Bailey Zappe took the field, Judge appeared to be the Patriots' play caller. Judge, the Patriots' former special teams coach and Giants head coach, called offensive plays for the rest of the night.
To make it more confusing, Belichick also checked in and talked with Patriots quarterbacks on Thursday night. It all sounds confusing, but it’s clear that the Patriots' offense has three main voices with Patricia, Judge and Belichick.
“Yeah, don't worry about that. We'll work it out,” Belichick said when asked who will call plays in the regular season. “We're going through a process. Just like everything else on this team.”
Rookie Tyquan Thornton starts quickly
Rookie receiver Tyquan Thornton nearly made the game’s first big catch on Thursday. He settled for the game’s first touchdown.
During the Patriots' second drive, Thornton beat Giants cornerback Aaron Robinson off the line of scrimmage. The speed was evident, but Hoyer’s deep throw was late and forced Thornton to slow down. That allowed Robinson to catch up and get the pass breakup. Hoyer made amends on the next play, at 3:04 of the first, hitting Kristian Wilkerson for a 33-yard gain.
The Patriots made their way downfield where Thornton finished off the drive. With three seconds left in the first, Hoyer rolled to the right and hit Thornton for a 2-yard touchdown.
Hoyer started and played the first two series. He finished going 5-of-8 for 59 yards with a touchdown. Zappe took over at 13:13 of the second quarter. Things didn’t always run smoothly. Tackle Justin Herron was flagged for two false starts in the first half.
Zappe started slowly before coming on in the second half. The rookie opened up the third quarter with a nice scoring drive. He hit Tre Nixon for gains of 36 and 32 yards before Kevin Harris finished the drive with a 3-yard rushing touchdown at 11:00 of the third quarter. With 4:56, Zappe threw his first touchdown, hitting Lil'Jordan Humphrey for a 20-yard touchdown.
“We prepared all week for multiple pressures that the Giants were going to give us, and that was one of the occasions that we practiced for. It came to fruition,” Zappe said. “We were able to score a touchdown, and he made a great play, and the O-line blocked really well and was able to let me get the ball off, and it was an overall good play.”
Zappe finished19 of 32 for 205 yards with a touchdown and interception. Kristian Wilkerson led the Patriots with eight receptions for 99 yards.
Multiple veterans stand out on defense
The Patriots' defense saw multiple veterans start and play on Thursday night.
Malcolm Butler and Terrance Mitchell started at outside cornerback. Mack Wilson and Raekwon McMillan started at linebacker while Henry Anderson started on the defensive line.
Butler and Mitchell are clearly behind Mills and Jones on the cornerback depth chart, but they did play ahead of rookie Jack Jones and cornerbacks Joejuan Williams and Shaun Wade on Thursday. The veterans played three defensive series and their night ended with a highlight.
At 13:35, Mitchell punched the ball out of receiver Collin Johnson’s arms. It was an excellent forced fumble for the veteran cornerback. Butler recovered the fumble to give the Patriots offense the ball back.
“I just try to play the game until it’s over, until the whistle,” said Mitchell. “Anytime somebody has the ball, it’s a chance to get it.”
Wilson (five tackles), McMillan and linebacker Anfernee Jennings also had some nice moments. All three linebackers got hits on Giants starter Daniel Jones. Wilson’s speed was evident while Jennings has had a solid training camp.
Jennings drew the start over Josh Uche, who notched the game’s first sack at 13:50 of the first quarter. Rookie Sam Roberts initially got to Daniel Jones first and Uche finished the play. Roberts, the team’s sixth-round pick, showed up multiple times on Thursday night. He also drew a hold in the second quarter.
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Patriots-Giants score: New England splits offensive play-calling role