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What we learned Thursday: Ryan Mallett uneven as Patriots open preseason with loss to Redskins

08.07.14 at 10:23 pm ET
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In the preseason opener for both teams, the Redskins beat the Patriots 23-6 Thursday night in Landover, Maryland. New England rested most of their starters on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Tom Brady, wide receiver Julian Edelman and cornerback Darrelle Revis. Accordingly, Washington was able to get up early and never look back — the Redskins led 10-0 after one quarter and 13-0 at halftime on the way to the win.

For the Patriots, Ryan Mallett was 5-for-12 for 55 yards in two-plus quarters. Meanwhile, rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo looked good in his first professional action, going 8-for-12 for 141 yards and a touchdown, which came late in the fourth quarter. Garoppolo found his favorite training camp target with most of his passes, as wide receiver Brian Tyms ended up with five catches for 119 yards and a touchdown. Josh Boyce added three catches for 30 yards for New England.

On the other side of the ball, Robert Griffin III was 2-for-4 for 9 yards, while backup Kirk Cousins ended up 9-for-13 for 103 yards and a touchdown. Lache Seastrunk had 12 carries for 63 yards.

Here are 10 things we learned about the Patriots Thursday night:

We don’t know any more about Ryan Mallett than we did when the night began.

The backup quarterback, who got the start for the first time in his professional career (either in the regular season or preseason) was up and down throughout. There were some good moments — he was able to move the ball successfully on more than one occasion over the first two-plus quarters, and had two early third-down conversions called back because of penalties — but mostly, it was relatively underwhelming performance for the Arkansas product, who finished 5-for-12 for 55 yards on 18 snaps (not including penalties). In a start that was likely designed to showcase him for a possible trade, it’s debatable how much he helped the Patriots, as well as his own stock if/when he reached free agency.

In his defense, he didn’t get much help from the New England running game (only two Patriots’ backs rushed for more than 10 yards), and there were also missed connections with several receivers, including two ugly ones at the end of the first half: First, Boyce ran right into a defender on a play where it looked like Mallett expected Boyce to do something else. (Maybe make a cut earlier than he did?) And second, on a 3rd and long play, Roy Finch churned out of the backfield on a pass route, but Mallett ended up hitting him in the back with a pass. His best moment likely came at the end of the first quarter when he hit Boyce on a 15-yarder on a nice sequence, but in the end, it was an uneven performance for Mallett.

This one was all about the backups.

Six minutes into the game, and it was clear that this game was going to be about getting the second- and third-teamers active game reps and using the game tape as evaluation. On offense, there was no Brady, Danny Amendola and Edelman, as well as no Rob Gronkowski and a stitched-together version of the offensive line that included Josh Kline, who was flagged for holding on the first drive. On the other side of the ball, there was no Darrelle Revis, Chandler Jones, Jerod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich or Dont’a Hightower. The only No. 1′s on the field on defense at the start were Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and Brandon Browner. (Wilfork was done after one series.) As a result, it would be dangerous to read too much into the final score. That’s not to say there won’t be plenty of game film for Belichick to be upset with later this week. But let’s not read too much into this game.

If there was a Patriots quarterback who popped Thursday, it was Jimmy Garoppolo.

It was against third- and fourth-stringers, but Garoppolo looked better in his limited reps Thursday against the Redskins than he did in practice over the first two weeks of camp. It looked like he had an extremely limited set of plays, but did well with what was offered to him. He appeared poised and natural, and was able to get the ball out quickly and without an issue. His high point likely came on his first sequence, when he went deep for his favorite target, Tyms. They weren’t able to make a connection — there was some question as to whether or not the Patriots should have challenged the play, which would have been a touchdown — but the penalty on the Redskins defensive back got them down to the Washington 4-yard line. New England couldn’t punch it in, but it was an impressive sequence for the rookie, who had a good first night in the NFL.

There was some mixing and matching along the offensive line.

The Patriots went with a few different personnel packages up front. New England utilized Dan Connolly — who was last year’s starting right guard — as the No. 1 center. Meanwhile, Jordan Devey got the call at left guard in place of Logan Mankins, Kline at right guard and Marcus Cannon at right tackle. (Starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer was a tackle eligible at the start of the contest, while starting left tackle Nate Solder was on the field at his usual position at the start of the game.) One interesting thing that stood out — last year’s starting center Ryan Wendell played late into the contest, running with the third-stringers deep into the second half. Not sure what that means (and how injured rookie Bryan Stork figures into the mix as well), but the center spot continues to be one that bears watching going forward.

The starters that did get the call on defense weren’t in there very long.

Wilfork and Kelly appeared to be active along the defensive front, and went to the bench fairly early on. As for Browner, he was flagged for illegal contact once in the first quarter, a “point of emphasis” call that wasn’t completely a surprise considering who it came against. A veteran who made his bones with the Legion of Boom, he’s acknowledged that he might have to change up his style of play when it comes to this year because of the new spotlight on the rules regarding pass defense. He was out after roughly a quarter, but he’ll be a guy to watch when the referees come to camp next week for the joint practices between the Patriots and Eagles.

When it comes to the rookies, Malcolm Butler had the best performance.

One of the younger players who popped early was undrafted free agent cornerback Malcolm Butler. He was competitive when working with the starting defense on Thursday, and it was only a great throw on a first-quarter pass for the end zone from Griffin to Aldrick Robinson prevented him from knocking the ball away. (The play was later called back.) Later in the first, he was also going man-for-man against a Redskins receiver and knocked a ball away. Other than an unnecessary roughness call early in the second quarter, it was a good first game for the West Alabama product.

Kanorris Davis and Roy Finch made their case on special teams.

Two special teams notes: one, safety Kanorris Davis had his helmet come off on a play where he was working as a gunner, but was able to keep his wits about him, pop back up, race down the field and make a nice tackle. Davis is a really aggressive player with a gonzo attitude — just the kind of guy you need on your special teams unit. (From this viewpoint, his style of play and body type is a lot like former New England defensive back Brandon McGowan, who approached the game in much the same fashion.) And two, Finch had a great return late in the first quarter, but fumbled the ball away at the end of the run. Fortunately for him, officials whistled the Redskins for offsides, and he had another chance. He did not fumble the second time around, but did bobble an attempted punt return in the second half.

Logan Ryan and Will Smith got a long look.

The second-year defensive back out of Rutgers played deep into the contest, and struggled at times with some missed tackles. He and Duron Harmon appeared to get caught out of position when Cousins rifled a first-half touchdown pass between the two to Robinson on a nicely run slant route. Ryan was also caught out of position on more than a few occasions in the second half. With Butler having a good evening, it’s reasonable to think that the rookie could push Ryan for playing time if things continue in the same direction. As for Will Smith, the veteran defensive end also went deep into the contest while working on the edge. It’s debatable as to why he was in the contest so late — as a veteran who sat out all last season, he might have been looking to get his overall fitness back to where it needs to be. Or the coaching staff wanted to get a real sense of where he is and what he has in the tank at this point in his career.

The Patriots need to see more consistent pressure from their backup defensive ends.

It’s the NFL equivalent of a first-world problem, but if the opener is any indication, the Patriots need to see more consistency out of their backup defensive ends. Part of it was likely because guys like Michael Buchanan were playing for most of the night in the preseason opener (and fitness is always a question in the preseason), but the guys who were in there had issues with sustaining pressure on the Redskins quarterbacks. Michael Buchanan was able to come away with a sack midway through the fourth quarter, the only one of the night for New England. Buchanan, Smith and (presumably) Jake Bequette will get more of a chance to show what they can do as the summer continues, but it was a slow start out of the gate for the backup defensive ends.

The Patriots got out of things relatively unscathed on the injury front.

Defensive lineman Chris Jones went down with an injury late in the first half. The injury to Jones, as well as the fact that the Patriots lost Sealver Siliga earlier in the week, is a possible blow to the depth along the Patriots defensive front. There were no other injury issues.

Read More: Jimmy Garoppolo, Ryan Mallett,
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