The New England Patriots returned home Sunday, opting to head back instead of participating in the previously planned joint practices with the Titans in Tennessee. The decision came after Isaiah Bolden’s frightening injury that concluded Saturday night’s preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. Bolden was released from the hospital Sunday morning and made the trip back to Foxboro with the team.
Bill Belichick’s squad has one preseason game remaining before roster cuts. The Patriots plan to practice Tuesday and Wednesday this week, a final chance for players to make a positive impression before Friday night’s preseason finale against the Titans in Nashville.
Before the Patriots begin those final practices, let’s look back at the players who helped (and didn’t help) their cause in Saturday’s exhibition against the Packers.
Calling Pats-Packers game was clearly the right decision — ‘It’s just scary’
WR Kendrick Bourne
With the impressive play the last two weeks from rookie sixth-round picks Demario Douglas and Kayshon Boutte, I thought there was a chance Bourne could find himself on the roster bubble entering the joint practices in Tennessee.
But Bourne probably did enough Saturday night to ensure his spot on the roster. He didn’t play much but caught three passes for 34 yards, including a great reception on a high throw from Mac Jones to move the chains on third-and-8.
What a catch, KB!
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) August 20, 2023
He also had a good block on Rhamondre Stevenson’s 23-yard run.
S Jalen Mills
Mills is showing a lot of versatility this preseason in his new role in the secondary. After Devin McCourty’s retirement, the Patriots moved Mills to safety. There, he has done a bit of everything. He’s capable of playing as a deep center fielder and notched an interception from that spot in the preseason opener.
Saturday, he showed he can also play near the line of scrimmage. He was physical while playing in the box and made a nice open-field tackle short of the sticks on a third-and-2. Oh, and Mills got pressure as a blitzer too. It has been a good preseason for him.
TE Matt Sokol
With Mike Gesicki hurt, the Patriots got a long look at the options behind No. 1 tight end Hunter Henry. While none of them stood out in the passing game, here’s why I think Sokol was impressive.
Gesicki is a good receiver but struggles as a blocker. Henry is a better receiver than blocker, too. So when Belichick chooses a third tight end for the roster, it might make sense to pick a decent blocker — since that is what the offense is lacking.
On the team’s opening touchdown drive, Sokol showed how much he has improved as a blocker since last season. He made one of the key blocks that sprung Stevenson into the end zone. Later, his block set the edge for a 15-yard J.J. Taylor run.
P Bryce Baringer
It might seem odd to include a punter on this list, but Baringer needed the impressive performance he delivered. It had been a so-so week for the rookie with some inconsistent punts during practice.
But Baringer showed against the Packers why he was the first punter drafted this year. His first punt was a massive 69-yard bomb. His next punt went 50 yards. They were both reasons why the Packers had only 3 return yards.
After a bad year of special teams in 2022, Baringer is reason to believe that’ll change this fall.
RB J.J. Taylor
With Pierre Strong and Ty Montgomery both hurt, the door is open for another running back to make the roster even after the addition of Ezekiel Elliott.
Saturday, Taylor made the most of his playing time, turning his seven touches into 56 yards. (Compare that to Kevin Harris’ 10 carries for 31 yards.)
If Strong and Montgomery aren’t ready for Week 1, Taylor has a chance to make the 53-man roster.
Joint practices with Packers ✅
Sights and sounds from Green Bay. pic.twitter.com/emkJaRMAcN
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) August 18, 2023
OT Sidy Sow
With right guard Mike Onwenu still not practicing, it’s looking more and more like Sow will be the Patriots’ starting right tackle in Week 1 (since Riley Reiff will probably slide inside to right guard).
If that’s the case, the Pats will have to hope Sow learns from Saturday night. The 6-foot-5, 318-pound rookie got put on skates by Packers rookie Kingsley Enagbare, who was easily able to push Sow aside.
There are going to be hiccups for any rookie, let alone a fourth-round pick. But Sow’s mistake on a third-down pass ended one of Mac Jones’ three drives.
DT Sam Roberts
The second-year player was on the roster bubble entering the game. Then he was highlighted a few times for the wrong reasons. He got a chance to play with some starters early on, but two penalties overshadowed his performance.
After Packers quarterback Jordan Love slid to conclude a scramble, Roberts dove on top of him, drawing an obvious 15-yard penalty. Later, Roberts was flagged for illegal use of hands.
Belichick looks for dependable, smart play from those on the roster bubble. Roberts didn’t provide that against the Packers.
OT Andrew Stueber
Last year’s seventh-round pick is getting more playing time than initially expected thanks to all of the injuries on the Patriots’ offensive line. There’s a chance his struggles Saturday won’t really matter if New England’s front five gets healthy.
But Stueber’s performance didn’t inspire a ton of confidence. Jones’ second of three drives ended with the sack Sow allowed, and his third drive ended with a strip-sack Stueber allowed.
With Onwenu, Cole Strange, Calvin Anderson and Conor McDermott all unable to practice, the Pats need some better offensive line play from their depth options. After all, they are only three weeks away from the season opener against an Eagles team that recorded 70 sacks last season.
(Photo of J.J. Taylor: Patrick McDermott / Getty Images)
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