1 – From afar, it appeared that Matt Patricia called all the offensive plays for the Patriots in the team’s second preseason game of the summer, Friday night’s 20-10 win over the Panthers.
But we all know that things may not always be as they appear, especially with a Bill Belichick-coached team. Asked if Patricia did indeed call all the plays against Carolina Belichick had an on-brand series of answers which did anything but bring clear definition to the roles on the Patriots’ offensive coaching staff.
“Communication with the quarterback, yeah,” Belichick said of Patricia verbalizing all the play calls to the quarterbacks during the game. “As far as calling the plays, there's a whole 'nother process on that, but yeah.”
Belichick described the communication between the sideline and quarterbacks Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer and rookie Bailey Zappe as both “fine” and “normal.”
But he would not go as far as to say the “process” as he continues describe it of the Patriots offensive play-calling situation is complete little more than three weeks prior to the regular season opener in Miami.
Maybe most interesting was Belichick’s answer when asked if the “process” of selecting plays to communicate to the quarterbacks was between himself, Patricia and Joe Judge, who handled the bulk of the play-calling in the first preseason game.
“No,” Belichick said without explanation. He did push back on a reporter who later observed that the coach doesn’t seem to want to tell the media much about the play-calling situation.
“I never said that. I mean, don't put words in my mouth. I never said that,” Belichick said. “Just trying to get the record straight here.”
Well, to set the record straight, Patricia communicated all the offensive play calls to the quarterbacks in the second preseason game. At least we know that for sure.
Who’s calling those plays? That’s still a process, as is trying to get Belichick to answer questions on the topic.
2 – While Patricia’s exact role in the offensive play-calling process under Belichick’s watch may still be evolving this summer, the former Lions head coach and Patriots defensive coordinator certainly has already locked down the faith and confidence of second-year quarterback Mac Jones.
“He's one of the most brilliant people I've ever been around in terms of football knowledge,” Jones said . “He's really starting to get a feel for it. That's the thing, he's just growing each week and making sure that we can stack good days together. He's very easy to talk to on the sideline, very easy, laid-back kind of type coach but he demands a lot, and I respect that about him. Hopefully we can grow for a long time.”
3 – It was noted last week that Jones keeps a photo of himself in his locker from last January’s ugly playoff loss to the Bills in Buffalo. The young quarterback was asked what seeing that photo every day does for him.
“I've always been a big fan of having motivational stuff in your locker,” Jones explained. “My dad actually -- the two things that he's always showed me is the poem ‘Man in the Arena’ and ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling. Those are the two that are more important to me. But, I've always done that, and that's last year, but I think it's motivation to just come in here and work every day. I do love the two poems a lot. That's a big shout-out to my dad because he kind of gave me those when I was probably like six years old and kind of explained everything to me, and as I grew, I continued to just enjoy that. Actually the ‘If’ poem was in Wimbledon, so that's where he learned about it in the locker room in Wimbledon. So that's pretty cool.”
4 – Rookie wide receiver Tyquan Thornton suffering a shoulder injury in preseason action against Carolina that will sideline him for a period of time is certainly less than ideal. Though it’s been reported as “not season-ending,” missing an extended period of time is tough for any rookie, certainly a wide receiver learning a new offense in New England.
But Thornton’s absence could open the door for another first-year Patriots receiver, Lil’Jordan Humphrey. The veteran has had a very strong summer of training camp practice and preseason action. He had a game-high 71 receiving yards on five catches against the Panthers and leads New England with 11 receptions for 133 yards this summer.
Having spent the first three years of his NFL career with the Saints, Humphrey signed in New England this summer and has made an immediate positive impression at a relatively crowded receiver position.
“He's made some plays for us since he's been here,” Belichick said. “He's a big kid that is tough and has very good hands and is kind of a big receiver, tight end-ish type of guy, has a good feel, very good instincts in the passing game, handles himself well in the middle of the field with linebackers under him, over him, in between him. Kind of does the right thing there and helps the quarterback out and is a big target. He gets some tough yards after the catch.”
Humphrey also had one of the best special teams contributions of the summer, what Matthew Slater said was a “fantastic play” downing a punt just shy of the goal line against Carolina.
Between Thornton’s injury, his own production and maybe some versatility in terms of special teams/”tight end-ish” contributions, Humphrey is making a strong run at a roster spot.
5 – Speaking of versatile veteran newcomers, Ty Montgomery seems to be fitting right in with the Patriots. In fact, as a running back/wide receiver hybrid it’s almost strange that the former Packer/Raven/Jet/Saint took seven-plus NFL seasons to land in New England, where the “more you can do” is foundational tenet. Montgomery helped jumpstart the Patriots offense on the third possession against the Panthers both as a runner and receiver, finishing the drive off with a 2-yard touchdown that he revealed was his first since 2018.
Not only does Montgomery look like he’ll fit perfectly for a team having to fill the void left by James White’s retirement, the veteran sounds like a natural Patriot too.
“I just pride myself on doing my job,” Montgomery said, echoing another franchise moto. “If I have to run the ball, I’m going to run the ball. Whatever is required. When I have to catch the ball, I’m catching the ball. When I have to beat a guy on a route, I’m going to beat a guy on the route.”
6 – The value of preseason game action will always be debatable. There is a risk/reward balance for sure. And the growth of valuable joint practice sessions has muddied the August waters even more.
But almost to a man New England’s players noted the need for preseason game reps after many of the top Patriots made their summertime debuts against the Panthers.
“These games are really important and I don’t know if people really understand the importance of getting your timing, gaining confidence, playing with your teammates in game situations, communication and all of that is important,” Slater said, noting that’s even more true given the reduction of preseason from four games to three in recent years.
7 – After a fight-filled week of work with Matt Rhule’s Panthers in Foxborough, the Patriots are flying to Las Vegas for what’s likely to more controlled, productive action alongside Josh McDaniels’ Raiders. New England will travel west on Sunday to prepare for a Monday practice in Las Vegas. That will lead into two days of joint practice sessions with the Raiders on Tuesday and Wednesday prior to the teams’ preseason finale on Friday night.
“It's a great opportunity for our football team,” Belichick said of working with his longtime offensive coordinator. “Josh and I have spoken multiple times through the spring and training camp and most recently about setting things up here. So, I think we have a good practice plan and opportunity for both teams to work together to improve our team and to evaluate our team and evaluate the players. So that's what we're both planning on doing and I look forward to it.”