Patriots thumbs up, thumbs down: Tyquan Thornton makes swift first impression

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The Patriots opened the 2022 preseason Thursday night at Gillette Stadium with a 23-21 loss to the Giants on a 24-yard field goal as time expired.

Though Bill Belichick chose to rest many of his presumed starters and frontline players, a change from past procedures, there was still plenty of noteworthy action for New England. As coaches say, regardless of what outsiders may think of preseason play the reps matter to those taking them while fighting for jobs.

The teams went back and forth on the scoreboard in action that included, as one might expect, some good plays, some sloppiness and a relatively frequent flurry of flags (20 accepted in total between the teams).

With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the highs and lows from the Patriots preseason opener:

Thumbs up

Tyquan Thornton – Sporting his new No. 11 jersey, New England’s speedy second-round receiver got off to a nice start in his debut. Thornton got behind New York starting cornerback Aaron Robinson in the first quarter, though Brian Hoyer’s throw was short on a play that was actually wiped out by a flag elsewhere on the field. A couple plays later, Thornton broke free of a hold by Robinson in the back of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown from Hoyer. Thornton also wasn’t afraid to get his nose dirty blocking in the run game, either. Thornton did get flagged for offensive pass interference in the second quarter and finished with just two catches on two targets for 9 yards. But with the touchdown and the big play that could have been, it was a tempting first impression.

Anfernee Jennings – The second-year edge defender got plenty of early reps against the Giants and was active. Though he got a first-quarter pressure thanks to being unblocked, he earned another pressure in the second quarter by actually beating a blocker. Jennings also showed good effort chasing at least one run play down from the backside, finishing with a pair of tackles and one QB hit as he works to stand out in a crowded linebacker competition. Josh Uche (1 sack) and Sam Roberts also had decent nights up front showing some pass rush potential.

Myles Bryant – Not only did the third-year defensive back earn early reps in the secondary, but he showed some playmaking burst in the punt return role. Bryant made one Giants tackler miss and burst up field for a 30-yard return in the first quarter. He came back with a 16-yard return in the second quarter, displaying wiggle and quickness. Bryant did not factor into the return game in 2021, but appears to be in the mix this summer with a good showing on Thursday night.

Bailey Zappe-to-Tre Nixon – While the rookie quarterback had his struggles in the first half (3-for-9, 16 yards and a sack) he came out slinging in the second, finding success with Nixon in particular. The combo connected on a pair of back-shoulder throws – the first down the left sideline for 36 yards, before a 32 yarder down the right sideline – to jumpstart a drive to a short rushing touchdown. The pair connected for a 9-yard hookup later in the third quarter, with Nixon finishing with four catches for 81 yards on the night.

Thumbs down

Bill Belichick – We may never know if the Patriots’ better players could have used the reps they didn’t get on Thursday night or if they actually are in a better spot for having sat out the game. But it’s a curious decision by Belichick given his team’s offensive struggles this summer.His offense certainly looks like a unit that could use every rep it can get as it tries to prepare for the regular season. It needs to learn the system and prove it can execute it. Belichick has famously said in the past that, “football players play football.” Not always, not on this initial night of the preseason. Belichick's decision to have Matt Patricia and Joe Judge -- two guys who've never called offensive plays before -- share the play-calling duties also seems less than ideal.

Shaun Wade – After a strange rookie season that included a trade from the Ravens to the Patriots, Wade should be competing for a depth job in the New England retooled secondary in his second year. He had the chance to make a couple big plays in the first half against New York, but couldn’t take advantage. He had good coverage in the second quarter on a deep ball down the right sideline, but never turned his head and a would-be interception actually bounced right off the top of his helmet. Later in the quarter he had a chance on a pick in front of the Giants’ bench area, the high-point turnover opportunity deflecting of his hands. Later on the same drive Wade was in coverage when Tyrod Taylor found Collin Johnson wide open down the left numbers for a 17-yard gain. Wade did have nice pass defense in coverage in the third quarter. But as Wade tries to prove his worth in a crowded secondary, he missed a couple prime chances Thursday night, something that was a problem for at Patriots secondary as a whole that got its hands on a lot of passes with not a lot to show for it.

Justin Herron – The veteran backup offensive lineman had a tough day on the practice field earlier this week. Things weren’t much better on the game field. Herron was called for a false start from his right tackle spot on New England’s opening drive. After swapping to the left tackle spot in the second quarter, Herron was flagged for another false start. The Patriots have pretty open competition for backup roles on the line and Herron is having his recent struggles in that battle. Adding injury to insult, Herron had to be helped off the field by the medical staff in the fourth quarter.

Joejuan Williams – As a former second-round pick entering fourth season who’s been unable to establish a role for himself over three seasons, Williams time in New England is running out. His work against the Giants on Thursday night won’t help. He looked lost on a 7-yard touchdown allowed to Richie James in the second quarter. Williams’ struggles in coverage continued into the third quarter when he was not only beat for a completion, but also flagged for a facemask penalty on the play before being called to the bench. He then dropped a would-be interception thrown right to him by Davis Webb.