Patriots can’t get offense cooking in preseason-opening loss to Texans
The opening contest of the Patriots’ 2023 preseason slate did not require face coverings or extra hand sanitizer, as the ‘Bailey Zappe Fever’ that captivated a large and unsuspecting segment of the fanbase a year ago did not come to play, as Zappe’s offense mustered just three points in a 20-9 loss to the Texans at Gillette Stadium.
Given the start with Mac Jones and the rest of the New England starters getting the night off, Zappe went 12-for-14 for 79 yards, but failed to get much of anything for the Patriots despite numerous favorable starting-field positions and in a showdown that was certainly backups-on-backups throughout the majority of the evening.
In fact, the only highlight of the Zappe-led offense Thursday night came early, and with a 27-yard pass to Tyquan Thornton.
Thornton, who has not had the greatest of starts to his training camp (and after what was by all means a lost rookie campaign), needed that catch more than anybody suiting up at the wideout position for the Patriots. It’s also worth noting that Thornton spent the majority of his night going up against a starting-quality cornerback in the Texans’ Steven Nelson.
But beyond that, it was an absolute slog of a night from the Patriots’ second-tier options. And with the offensive undoubtedly hampered by a thin offensive line — and those struggles certainly failed to provide any relief for the New England passing game or ability to turn to the run game for some meaningful gains — there was little to celebrate whenever the offense was at work.
From the @JimLouth stat department: Outside of that 27-yard Tyquan Thornton catch, the Patriots' offense has 62 yards in 34 plays tonight.— Alex Barth (@RealAlexBarth) August 11, 2023
With Zappe done for the night in the third quarter, Trace McSorley entered the game for the Patriots, and complete just one completion for four yards on three passing attempts. McSorley also added one three-yard rush in his showing.
Fourth-string quarterback (and potential wide receiving option) Malik Cunningham also got some second-half run at the position, and was inches away from what would’ve been a tremendous touchdown connection with Tre Nixon on a third-down look with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of action.
Cunningham also led a strong finish to an otherwise nothing night for the offense, with the highlight of the night coming on an 18-play, 75-yard drive capped by Cunningham’s nine-yard scramble into the endzone.
Overall, Cunningham finished 3-for-4 and 19 yards in the passing game, along with 34 yards and a score on five carries.
And though the offense failed to get their game cooking, the Patriots had more than a few strong looks from their defense.
The night started with a bang by way of a Jalen Mills interception, while the true thump of the night came with rookie Keion White absolutely oblittering Houston running back Dare Ogunbowale on the way to a turnover recovered by the Patriots.
In addition to the bone-jarring hit on Ogunbowale, White also came through with a hit on Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud, and was a near-constant disruption and headache for Houston’s offensive line.
Elsewhere on defense, 2023 first-round pick Christian Gonzalez finished his night with three tackles and a forced fumble.
The Patriots will return to game action Saturday, Aug. 19 against the Packers.