The preseason didn’t end the way the New England Patriots hoped in Friday’s road trip meeting with the Tennessee Titans in Nashville. There were issues on offense, defense and special teams that culminated in a 23-7 loss for New England.
The Patriots opted not to play their starters in this game, while the Titans trotted starters on the field for several plays. Even starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill got in on the action briefly.
It wasn’t the most exciting game given the constant struggles along the offensive front. Bailey Zappe, who received the starting nod, looked helpless against the Titans’ defensive front. On defense, the Patriots did show some promise, but they also struggled keeping scrambling Titans quarterback Malik Willis in check.
Let’s take a look at the studs and duds from the game.
STUD: Anfernee Jennings
Anfernee Jennings was a blackhole, swallowing up every attempted run to his side of the line. He finished the game with two tackles, including one tackle for a loss, on limited reps.
Throughout training camp and preseason games, it’s clear that Jennings is one of the most improved players on the Patriots’ roster. Health has been the biggest issue over the last three seasons for the former Alabama standout.
He finally looks healthy and ready to solidify himself as a key playmaker in one of the NFL’s best defensive units.
STUD: Ronnie Perkins
Linebacker Ronnie Perkins is a long-shot to make the final roster, and he certainly played like it in Friday’s preseason finale against the Titans.
He was all over the field making tackles, grabbing an interception and even forcing his way into the offensive backfield on occasion to put some heat on Titans quarterback Malik Willis.
That effort won’t go unnoticed by the coaching staff. Even if Perkins doesn’t make the final roster, he’ll be a prime candidate for being stashed on the Patriots’ practice squad, assuming he doesn’t get picked up by another team.
STUD: Calvin Munson
Ronnie Perkins wasn’t the only roster bubble player linebacker making plays all over the field. Add veteran Calvin Munson to that list as well. By the end of Friday’s game, he led all defensive players in tackles, along with securing a beautiful interception on Willis.
Munson is one of those players that needed a good showing to better his chances of making the roster. They should have given him a broomstick because he was cleaning up every tackle in sight. It was a solid performance that likely turned heads.
DUD: Jack Jones
It wasn’t the best night for Patriots cornerback Jack Jones.
Early in the game, he got flagged on a big defensive pass interference play, and there were other plays where he just seemed like he was out of position. It wasn’t even the first-team offense for the Titans, and he struggled in coverage.
Even more surprising, he got quite a bit of playing time in the first half for a player many pegged as a potential starter. There was also a play where rookie running back Tyjae Spears nearly stiff-armed him out of his cleats.
🚨 STIFF-ARM ALERT @tyjae22
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) August 26, 2023
Jones didn’t do himself any favors in solidifying his role as a starter in this game.
STUD: Sam Roberts
This was a strong bounce-back game for Patriots’ defensive end Sam Roberts. The second-year defender was flagged for multiple costly penalties against the Green Bay Packers last week, but he made up for it with a strong effort against the Titans.
He seemingly lived in the offensive backfield with three quarterback hits and two tackles for a loss to go along with seven tackles in total. Even after a strong finish, Roberts is another player that might not make the final roster, but the arrow on his talent is trending in a good enough direction to earn a spot on the practice squad.
DUD: Bailey Zappe
The offensive line didn’t do Bailey Zappe any favors, but this was still an ugly game for the Patriots’ backup quarterback. He got clobbered by the Titans defense on a night that he was sacked four times and the victim of three forced fumbles and two takeaways.
The game was eerily similar to the preseason opener against the Houston Texans with Zappe under center. The unit kept stalling out until rookie Malik Cunningham stepped in and delivered a spark to the offense.
New England kept waiting for that same spark to come at some point for Zappe, but it never came.
DUD: Offensive line
Zappe-Mania wasn’t running wild on Friday night, but the Patriots’ offensive line allowed the Titans defense to run wild on Bailey Zappe and the rest of the backup quarterbacks.
By the end of the game, the unit had given up six sacks, six quarterback hits and five tackles for a loss. They couldn’t stop running water.
The starters didn’t play in this game, but that doesn’t change the fact that depth is a real concern for the Patriots. Their backups have struggled throughout the entire preseason.
DUD: Trace McSorley
If you blinked, you might have missed Trace McSorley on offense. He came into the game, threw an incompletion and went right back to standing on the sideline.
The fact that Bailey Zappe played so much in this game doesn’t bode well for McSorley. It doesn’t help matters that quarterback/receiver Malik Cunningham has proven himself to be the more versatile No. 3 option on the depth chart.
McSorley’s time in New England could be coming to an end very soon.
STUD: Joe Giles-Harris
Joe Giles-Harris didn’t waste this opportunity to show the Patriots he belonged on the roster. He exploded in the game from start to finish and ended up being tied for a second-best nine tackles, one pass deflection and one tackle for a loss.
Along with Calvin Munson and Ronnie Perkins, Giles-Harris was one of the true bright spots for New England in this game. Coach Bill Belichick is going to have some tough decisions ahead when cutting the roster down to 53 players.
DUD: J.J. Taylor
J.J. Taylor has been one of the better running backs for the Patriots in the preseason. The veteran is a versatile player capable of working as both a runner and receiver. He’s also exceptionally dangerous with the ball in his hands. His shifty and quick movements can make defenders miss and turn short gains into long bursts.
He had a couple of noteworthy plays on Friday night, but he also made the poor decision to try to return a punt from the end zone on special teams, before getting tackled near the goal line. Patriots special teams coordinator Cam Achord was livid.
The team was already down big in the fourth quarter, and Taylor’s mistake put the offense in a bind.