New England Patriots

By Ty Anderson,

After a 37-20 preseason final at Gillette Stadium on Thursday night, Eagles offensive lineman Lane Johnson might actually have something to cite when talking about the Patriots disrespecting his team.

Up against Nick Foles for the first time since he sliced and dice their defense en route to a Super Bowl (and Super Bowl MVP honors), the Patriots started their night by forcing the Eagles into a three-and-out. It could have been a lot worse for the Eagles on their opening drive, too, as the Patriots’ aggression threw Jay Ajayi into a six-yard loss on his first play of the night, while free agent addition Adrian Clayborn absolutely crunched Foles on a third-down pass that came up short.

And in his 2018 preseason debut, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady found a way to successfully and immediately parlay that aggressive defense he had just watched into an up-tempo attack on the other side of the ball.

In what finished as a five-for-five passing drive from the 41-year-old quarterback, Brady routinely hit James White with quick screens for solid gains, and finished the drive with a seven-yard strike to Chris Hogan. By the half’s end, Brady’s night concluded behind a 19-of-26 showing (with seven different receivers targeted) with 172 yards and two touchdowns.

And by the half’s end, the Patriots found themselves in possession of a 20-point lead.

“We got off to a good start,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick offered after the win. “We were able to play from ahead and made some plays in all three phases of the game. We still have a lot of work to do. We have a long way to go, but I liked the energy we played with and we had some good, productive plays.”

Brady’s performance was… well.. exactly what you could have expected. His release remained quick and effective, and his ball placement was where it needed to be (even if it resulted in Jacob Hollister absorbing what could have been one hellacious hit). You also saw what he can do with some of his newer weapons, namely Cordarrelle Patterson, who would have had a monster gain late in the second quarter had it not been for his foot juuuust barely stepping out of bounds.

It truly felt as if Brady was toying with the defenses that the Eagles threw his way. (His attack was also aided by some personal foul penalties against the Eagles, who were having a visibly hard time adapting to the league’s new helmet rules.)

“It was good,” Brady said of his new offense’s first game with No. 12 on the field. “Challenged by a good team, a good defense, good front. We did some good things, but I’m sure there’s things, a lot of things, we didn’t do very well. I think this is all just part of the building process.”

And though Brady’s performance will be the biggest takeaway from this victory, it was an incredibly disruptive pass rush from the Patriots that seemed to make the difference in the first half. Led by the immediately noticeable Clayborn, the Patriots routinely charged against Philadelphia’s offensive line and forced Foles into bad situations, including a strip sack by Clayborn that ultimately ended with linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley taking a loose ball 54 yards to the house.

In addition to the Clayborn strip sack, the first half also came with sacks for Adam Butler and Patrick Chung, while the Patriots were just a third-down stop away from successfully stopping the Eagles at the goal line.

Rookie Christian Sam added an interception in the second half, and on the ground the Patriots finished the night with just 43 rushing yards against on 16 carries from the Philadelphia backfield (2.68 yards against per rush). They also finished the game with an impressive eight sacks, and the defense’s lone real blemish on the night came late in the first half when Jason McCourty bit on a slant route for a Shelton Gibson touchdown catch.

For the Patriot defense, that step-up and undeniably more bothersome approach — especially from the starters in the first half — was exactly what the team needed to see after some ugly moments against the Redskins last week.

The 29-year-old Foles, who missed Philadelphia’s first preseason game due to neck pain, meanwhile, went just 3-for-9 for 44 yards in his pressure-packed night in the pocket before he left the game with a shoulder strain.

Backup quarterback Brian Hoyer continued the assault on the Philly defense in the second half with a dart right to Patterson. It was upon that catch that Patterson worked some additional foolery against the Eagles, though, with a tremendous juke around the Eagles’ Sidney Jones en route to a touchdown.

While White would finish the game as the team’s leading receiver (six catches for 61 yards and a score), the 6-foot-2 Patterson put forth a solid night thanks to 51 yards and a touchdown on four catches between Brady and Hoyer.

“He’s done a good job,” Belichick said of Patterson, who comes to the Patriots after having spent 2017 with the Raiders. “He works hard. He’s a talented kid that’s made a lot of plays on the practice field; he made some plays in the game.”

With the victory, the Patriots improved to 2-0 on the preseason.

But it wasn’t all wins for the Pats on this night, as 2018 first-round pick Isaiah Wynn suffered an ankle injury in the first half, and needed to be carted off the field. The hits just kept on coming for the Patriots’ wounded offensive live, too, as a late-game injury to Ulrick John forced starter LaAdrian Waddle back into play in the fourth quarter. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski appeared to suffer an upper-body injury on a tackle, too, but ultimately stayed in the game.

New England’s preseason will now shift to Carolina for a head-to-head with the Panthers next week, where the ever-important ‘dress rehearsal’ awaits Belichick’s still-crowded summertime roster.

Ty Anderson is a digital producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Yell at him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.