Patriots vs. Giants: Bailey Zappe a bright spot in preseason opener loss

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Five takeaways from Patriots' preseason opener vs. Giants originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The New England Patriots began their preseason with a last-second loss to the New York Giants on Thursday night.

With quarterback Mac Jones and most of the Patriots' starters sitting out, the preseason opener was a chance to see what the rookies bring to the table. It also provided a glimpse at the players who could see their roles increase in the 2022 season.

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Rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe engineered an impressive drive late in the fourth quarter, giving New England the lead with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Lil'Jordan Humphrey. Unfortunately for the Patriots, Davis Webb and the Giants had enough time to put together a game-winning drive. Graham Gano's field goal sealed the victory as time expired.

Here are a few takeaways from the Pats' 23-21 defeat. They'll host the Carolina Panthers in next Friday's preseason game with kickoff set for 7 p.m. ET.

Matt Patricia, Joe Judge split play-calling duties

One of the biggest offseason storylines for the Patriots was their decision to forgo naming an offensive coordinator to replace Josh McDaniels. Instead, Matt Patricia and Joe Judge have split those duties throughout the spring and summer with Patricia being named the Senior Football Adviser/Offensive Line Coach and Judge earning the Offensive Assistant/Quarterbacks Coach title.

The trend continued on Thursday night as Patricia and Judge tag-teamed offensive play-calling duties. Patricia called plays on offense to begin the game with Brian Hoyer under center, then Judge took over once rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe entered the game.

As our Phil Perry pointed out, head coach Bill Belichick spent plenty of time with Zappe on the sideline. With McDaniels out of the picture, we could see much more of Belichick working with his QBs throughout this season.

An up and down night for the defense

It was an unspectacular night for the Patriots defense, but there were some bright spots.

One of them was a forced fumble by cornerback Terrance Mitchell that caused a Giants turnover in the second quarter. Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler had the recovery.

The Patriots linebackers were the defensive stars. Third-year edge rusher Josh Uche sacked Giants QB Daniel Jones early on, and Anfernee Jennings laid a huge hit on Jones on third down to force a field goal during the first drive of the game.

Mack Wilson, acquired in the offseason trade that send Chase Winovich to the Cleveland Browns, flew all over the field with a team-high seven tackles. Another standout was rookie defensive tackle Sam Roberts, who contributed a handful of QB pressures including one that resulted in Uche's sack.

Other than Mitchell's forced fumble, it was a rough night for New England's secondary. The group failed to take advantage of several passes deflected into the air that should've been easy interceptions. Joejuan Williams was burnt for a touchdown, then got beat later in the game and called for a facemask. Shaun Wade dropped a pick and had another potential INT bounce off his helmet.

Bailey Zappe has successful debut

Bailey Zappe's first game in a Patriots uniform got off to a shaky start, but the rookie fourth-round draft pick found his groove in the second half.

Zappe started the third quarter with a 36-yard completion to 2021 seventh-round wideout Tre Nixon (four catches, 81 yards).

The Zappe-Nixon connection was on display again a few plays later, this time for 32 yards. The drive ended with a touchdown for rookie running back Kevin Harris.

Zappe's biggest blunder of the night came early in the fourth quarter as he had a pass deflected at the line and intercepted. He made up for that miscue late in the fourth quarter with a 20-yard TD pass to Lil'Jordan Humphrey (six catches, 62 yards) that gave New England the lead.

The Houston Baptist/Western Kentucky product's final stat line: 19/32 for 205 yards, one TD and one INT.

Tyquan Thornton makes solid first impression

Tyquan Thornton, the Patriots' second-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, wasted no time making an impact in his unofficial pro debut.

Thornton scored the Patriots' first points of the preseason with a touchdown reception to finish the first quarter. The former Baylor standout showed off his impressive route-running by battling through a defensive holding penalty for the TD.

Thornton also showed his quick release going for a deep ball from Brian Hoyer earlier on, but the pass was batted away. Still, it was a good look at the speed and route-running ability he's displayed so far in camp.

Quiet night for the run game

Other than Harris' goal-line TD, the Patriots couldn't get much of anything going on the ground.

Fourth-round rookie Pierre Strong Jr. had six carries for 25 yards. J.J. Taylor added five carries for 16 yards, and Harris was ineffective outside of his TD as he tallied only nine yards on six carries. Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson had the night off.

New England's run game was a positive takeaway from Tuesday's practice as it started to find success with the outside zone scheme. We didn't see much of that in the preseason opener, so that will be something to monitor going forward as Belichick proceeds with the new-look offense.