At first glance, the New England Patriots losing their first preseason game 23-6 to the Washington Redskins, a team that finished 3-13 in 2013, looks bad. Yes, the Patriots played poorly in all phases of the game and they clearly need to get sharper before the season starts, but Patriots fans need not worry. Nine of the 22 Patriots projected to start in Week 1, including Tom Brady, Darrelle Revis, Julian Edelman, Jerod Mayo and Danny Amendola, did not play Thursday night in the Patriots’ first preseason game of 2014.
True, rookie Roy Finch tried his best to bust out some XBox moves on a kickoff return and fumbled the ball (the Patriots got the ball back due to a Redskins penalty) and he muffed a punt, which he fell on and recovered. From what has been reported out of training camp these seem like aberrations for Finch. He could be a solid producer for the Patriots, and it is way too soon to get all bent out shape about these two mishaps.
The Ryan Mallet exhibition didn’t go as planned either. Mallet played the entire first half and was rather unimpressive, completing just five of his 12 pass attempts for 55 yards and putting up as many points as the fans in the stands. Mallet is better than that. I still believe that, but I can’t deny it hurt his trade value. That being said, the Patriots should still try and trade Mallet, especially if second-round draft pick Jimmy Garoppolo continues to impress as he did last night.
Just as it’s premature to say Mallet is not a starting caliber QB in the NFL, it is also way too soon to anoint Garoppolo the heir apparent to Brady. Mallet went against the Redskins’ starters (albeit with some missing in action), and Garoppolo saw the reserves in the second half. However, Garoppolo did complete nine of his 13 pass attempts for 157 yards and threw a touchdown. He looked better than he has in training camp and in OTAs. It’s still too early to know for sure what the future for Garoppolo holds, but he was impressive last night.
There were other bright spots in addition to Garappolo, including CB Malcom Butler, LB Darius Fleming, safety Tavon Wilson and WR Brian Tyms. Butler is an undrafted rookie who played at West Alabama. He lined up with the first team defense and Washington went after him early and often. Butler rose to the challenge and was impressive, as he has been in training camp. Fleming was a fifth-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2012 NFL Draft, but he has been held back by multiple knee injuries. On Thursday he proved what he is capable of. Wilson shared time Thursday night with Duron Harmon and Patrick Chung who are all vying to secure the starting SS role for the Patriots. It looks like Harmon has the inside track according to reports out of Patriots training camp, but Wilson proved he can be very effective against the run.
Tyms, the 6-foot-3, 204-pound WR out of Florida A&M, had five receptions (targeted six times) for 119 yards and a touchdown. Patriots fans shouldn’t think Tyms is the next coming of Randy Moss; it’s too early. Tyms is entering his third year in the NFL, and he went up against undrafted rookies for the most part. It would be fantastic if Tyms is capable of producing at a high level against starting defenses on a regular basis. Brady needs a big receiver who can stretch the field (maybe Brandon LaFell is the answer, but it’s doubtful), but before Patriots fans go bananas over this performance, Tyms needs to produce at high level consistently.
Was it the prettiest game? No. Can the Patriots play better? Yes. Do the Patriots need to perform better and be sharper if they want to advance to and win the Super Bowl? Of course. But keep it in perspective. It was the first preseason game and a lot of starters didn’t play, including one of the best QBs of all time.
The Patriots will be just fine.