Winners and losers in Patriots preseason loss to Giants

·6 min read

The New England Patriots nearly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in Thursday’s preseason opener against the New York Giants. But then the jaws clamped down late in the fourth quarter, and the Patriots lost their way.

The Giants engineered a 69-yard game-winning drive that was capped off by a walk-off field goal by kicker Graham Gano, who helped hand the Patriots a 23-21 loss at Gillette Stadium.

There was still uncertainty on the offensive side of the ball with the Patriots trying to decide between Matt Patricia and Joe Judge to handle the play-calling. It wasn’t an absolute disaster on the field, and the Patriots did have multiple players step up to make plays for a unit that has been heavily scrutinized this week.

Here are the winners and losers for Thursday night’s preseason opener.

Winner: Josh Uche

In case you were wondering, Josh Uche can wreck more than just individual drills at training camp practice. The Patriots linebacker was consistently bringing the heat against a Giants offensive line that really struggled handling his explosiveness early on.

With all of the changes on the backend of the defense, the Patriots are going to need the defensive front to keep the heat on opposing quarterbacks. Uche will be a big part of that effort for a younger and faster Patriots defense.

Look at him clean up a missed sack on Daniel Jones after shedding a blocker like a one-pound ankle weight.

Winner: Mack Wilson

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Mack Wilson flying around around with his helmet on fire and making plays.

Wilson, who was traded from the Cleveland Browns in a straight up swap for Chase Winovich, flashed the closing speed the Patriots desperately needed at linebacker.

There were multiple plays where he looked like he was shot out of a cannon, including a near quarterback sack on Daniel Jones and dropping the hammer on Giants tight end Daniel Bellinger to get the Patriots defense off the field on a third down.

That’s the kind of speed the Patriots have needed at linebacker for years.

Winner: Kristian Wilkerson

Kristian Wilkerson has a habit of showing up in these kinds of games. He was back at it again in Thursday’s preseason opener by serving as a reliable target for Brian Hoyer and Bailey Zappe.

Check out this beautiful throw and catch.

Wilkerson needs to make more plays like this to open up more opportunities for himself in the offense. Considering all of the question marks right now at receiver, the opportunity is ripe for the taking.

He finished the game on Thursday with a team-high eight receptions for 99 yards.

Winner: Tyquan Thornton

The Patriots rookie receiver found his way into the end zone for the first time in his NFL career.

Thornton has shown off his track speed in training camp consistently by burning his teammates in one-on-ones. So it was a great sign to see him take that success and put it on display in an actual game situation.

He’s still going to have to improve his tracking abilities. There were a couple of times that looked like he might have gotten lost, and on one play, he waited on the ball instead of going up to get it away from the defender.

However, from a Patriots perspective, it was good to finally see a rookie receiver go out there and show he’s capable of creating separation right off the bat.

Winner: Tre Dixon

Tre Nixon missed a wide open pass on a would-be third-down conversion in the first half, which isn’t exactly what you want to do when you’re trying to make the team.

And then the second half happened.

Rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe started heaving bombs to Nixon, who suddenly morphed into one of the team’s best playmakers at receiver.

It’s not about how you start, but it’s about how you finish. And Nixon finished incredibly strong against the Giants—four receptions for 81 yards.

Winner: Lil'Jordan Humphrey

We can’t give all of this love to the receivers and leave out Lil’Jordan Humphrey, who caught what could have been the game-winning touchdown.

But then the Giants marched the ball right back down the field against the Patriots defense. It was still an incredible play that highlighted a strong performance from Humphrey, who caught the second-most passes behind Kristian Wilkerson—six passes for 62 yards and one touchdown.

He’s used to fighting for a spot in this league considering he joined the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted rookie in 2019. So it’s no surprise he was ready for the moment when it came.

Winners: Quarterbacks

The quarterback play deserves credit across the board.

Granted, it wasn’t all pretty from rookie Bailey Zappe, and there are surely some throws he wishes he could have back. But for the most part, it was an impressive debut for the former Western Kentucky standout.

The main thing that stood out was his willingness to take shots downfield. He was never shaken by the spotlight, and he showed enough trust in his teammates to consistently give them an opportunity to go up and make plays.

Brian Hoyer’s time on the field might have been short-lived, but he aired the ball out and delivered on some big plays as well. Perhaps it was something in the air because Hoyer was clearly dropping dimes.

Loser: Justin Herron

Anyone that has watched the Patriots long enough knows coach Bill Belichick doesn’t do well with ticky-tack penalties. There was a pair of them committed with false starts on third-year offensive tackle Justin Herron.

They may not seem like much on the surface, but those are the kind of drive-killing mistakes the Patriots can’t afford to make in games, especially with the offense struggling right now.

Herron went down with an injury later in the game, but he was able to jog off the field under his own power.

Loser: Joejuan Williams

This is the most important preseason of Joejuan Williams’ NFL career. He’s trying to make the team in a contract year, and he gave up the Giants’ first touchdown in Thursday’s game.

It’s a tough way for him to kick-start the preseason with so much riding on these next three weeks of football. His struggles stand out even more considering they came on a night where the defensive backfield actually played well against the Giants offense.

It just seems like the 2019 second-round pick out of Vanderbilt is fighting against quicksand at this point.

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Story originally appeared on Patriots Wire