Perhaps not since 2013 has the fourth preseason game come equipped with such star power as far as the Patriots are concerned.
Unlike in 2013, when it was Tim Tebow who made the dreaded final exhibition contest a worthwhile affair, it was players who actually have a chance to help New England defend its Super Bowl title come the regular season showing off at Gillette Stadium.
Wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Josh Gordon, each working their way back from different kinds of challenging off-seasons, made their preseason debuts on Thursday night against the New York Giants as a means to shake off the cobwebs.
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To be totally fair, the duo was going up against players who for the most part will be vying for spots on practice squads across the NFL come cutdown day. Nevertheless, encouragement was the biggest takeaway after Thomas came down with seven catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns while Gordon managed two grabs for 30 yards in a 31-29 loss to finish the preseason 3-1.
Here’s what else stood out for New England as we’re a mere 10 days away from its season opener vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers:
•Julian Edelman also made his preseason debut and…it probably would have been better had he remained on the bench. A 20-yard catch on the first series of the game was the lone grab of the game for Edelman after he landed awkwardly on his injured thumb. It’s probable, if not likely, that Edelman was pulled from action since it’s merely the preseason, but it doesn’t make it any less concerning.
•It was a mostly good night once again for rookie Jarrett Stidham, although he did throw his first interception of the preseason. In all, he finished 18 for 28 for 225 yards and the two touchdowns to Thomas, taking every snap under center while Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer stood as spectators.
•After struggling for the majority of the preseason, the field goal unit finally appears to have settled down. Stephen Gostkowski was perfect on all three of his field goal attempts, with a long of 51 yards, and connected on each of his 33-yard extra points. Punter Jake Bailey was the holder for all of Gostkowski’s kicks.
•Looking for clarity in the contest for what’s likely the final spot on the cornerback depth chart between Keion Crossen and Duke Dawson Jr.? The picture remains a tad murky after each player had an interception on Thursday, but it was Crossen who made the most of his extra opportunities.
Crossen was in coverage on several lengthy completions for the Giants, but had five passes defended as well. His team-high 12 tackles indicate that he was in coverage for several completions, but also represents his ability to stick with a receiver after giving up a big gain. The second-year pro plays a significant role on special teams, which may give him the upper hand on Dawson…but Dawson was drafted in the second round just 16 months ago and is yet to play an NFL snap. Could there still be room for both?
•It wasn’t a great sign to see Deatrich Wise Jr. on the field for as much as he was in preseason Game No. 4. The third-year pro may not be the lock he appeared to be when it comes to making the 53-man roster, and that would be somewhat of a shame. While the Patriots are in transition with their base defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4, Wise clearly has talent as a pass rusher. If you’re only going to be in your base defense for 25-30 percent of the time anyways, why not keep Wise around as an edge rusher in sub packages? With Derek Rivers injured again, Wise likely represents the last hope for the Patriots to get anything out of their ill-fated 2017 draft class.
•What can't Gunner Olszewski do? In addition to taking snaps at wide receiver and fielding punts and kick returns, the undrafted rookie free agent lined up as a safety in the second half for the Patriots.
•After recording at least six catches in each of New England's first three preseason games, Jakobi Meyers had just one catch for 28 yards in the fourth quarter on Thursday.