When the starters were on the field, execution was near flawless for the Patriots in a 37-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night at Gillette Stardium.
If only Super Bowl LII had gone so smoothly...
The past is the past, of course, and in the context of the upcoming regular season, there was plenty to like from the Patriots in this "rematch" of sorts.
•We'll start with Tom Brady, who played the entirety of the first half (sans a kneeldown with 2 seconds left) under center. In his first action of the preseason, Brady completed 19 of 26 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns. He did it without the help of Rob Gronkowski, who was held out for the second week in a row.
•Of Brady's 19 completions, 15 went to players who would be categorized as being in Brady's "Circle of Trust." James White caught six passes for 61 yards and a touchdown (to go along with four carries for 31 yards on the ground), while Chris Hogan caught five passes for 25 yards and a score and Julian Edelman made his first dent in the stat sheet of the preseason with four catches for 26 yards.
•When Edelman is serving his four-game suspension in September, his production from Thursday night will be easily replaced by Gronkowski.
•Results were mixed when Brady was looking elsewhere. Philip Dorsett had only one catch on three targets, his route running perhaps not in sync with where Brady intended him to be. Jacob Hollister was targeted just once but did make a nice catch that went for 22 yards, while Eric Decker didn't get any looks from Brady despite being open on several occasions.
•Cordarrelle Patterson had only one catch from Brady, but it was a memorable one. He found space on a bubble screen around the left end of the line of scrimmage and showed off some after-burners not seen in these parts since perhaps Randy Moss. Patterson was ultimately ruled out of bounds a bit up field, but the play still went for 23 yards.
•Patterson isn't Moss, of course; there are cases to be made Moss is the greatest wide receiver of all-time. If Patterson can get on to the same page as Brady – no easy task – his speed could add a dimension to the offense that, if nothing else, could have him in a Brandin Cooks-type of role. But those after-burners? Moss-esque.
•Brady was kept upright all night long by his offensive line, which continues to look like it may not miss Nate Solder as much as originally thought at left tackle. However, first-round pick Isaiah Wynn left the game in the first quarter with an apparent ankle injury and was taken via cart to New England's locker room. Not good, especially with the team's other first round pick (running back Sony Michel) already dealing with injuries of his own.
•On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots sacked the Eagles six times, or six more times than they did in Super Bowl LII. It's impossible not to get at least a little excited about the pass rush, preseason or no.
•Adrian Clayborn, whom New England signed as a free agent to help out with such an obvious need, was all over the field Thursday night. He was the first to hit Nick Foles on Adam Butler's sack, he forced a fumble that was recovered by Ja'Whaun Bentley and returned 54 yards for a touchdown, and just for good measure had a sack of his own. The seven-year veteran should be starting opposite Trey Flowers along the edge of the defensive line.
•Speaking of Bentley, that's two weeks in a row he's looked the part of an NFL player. After leading the team in tackles vs. Washington, he racked up five more vs. Philadelphia, while also showing off some coverage skills with a pass break-up and another play in which he sealed off an Eagles receiver along the sideline on a wheel route. With Dont'a Hightower receiving a night off, Bentley got the start at linebacker with Kyle Van Noy as the Patriots came out in a big nickel package. Bentley isn't just a lock to make the roster at this point; the fifth-round pick out of Purdue has the ability to contribute right away, it appears. He was nowhere to be found as the game wore on and more roster bubble players saw time, as good a sign as any.
•Derek Rivers, one of New England's third-round picks in 2017 who missed the entire season with a torn ACL, had his second sack in as many weeks.
•Rough night for Keion Crossen, who was flagged for three defensive pass interference penalties.
•Jason McCourty slipped in coverage and lost Shelton Gibson around the goal line, allowing him to catch an easy touchdown pass from Nate Sudfeld in the second quarter. McCourty was also on the opening kickoff team for the Patriots, and while he's played special teams in the past, it felt like an odd spot for someone who hasn't spent much time there in practice to date.
•Stephen Gostkowski left the game briefly and headed for New England's locker room, only to return and make a 49-yard field goal on his very next attempt. After nailing a 52-yarder last week, it's clear Gostkowski is still going strong as he enters his 13th season in the league.
•The punter competition looks over, if it had ever even started. Ryan Allen has now attempted all 13 punts for the Patriots in their two preseason games, with undrafted rookie Corey Bojorquez remaining on the sideline.
•Brian Hoyer finished 5 for 13 for 32 yards and a touchdown, while Danny Etling finished 0 for 1 and was sacked in relief of Brady under center.
•The Patriots are away for their final two preseason games; next week, they're in North Carolina to take on the Panthers on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. before closing out the exhibition schedule with their annual meeting with the New York Giants on Aug. 30 in New Jersey.