Patriots Ups & Downs: The best (and worst) of the preseason opener
August 11th, 2022
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – AUGUST 11: Tyquan Thornton #11 of the New England Patriots celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the preseason game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on August 11, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
The New England Patriots lost to the New York Giants, 23-21, in their first preseason game of the 2022 season. Resting most of their projected starters, the Pats did field a lot of players who will still be on the team – but many others who are fighting for spots.
Based on their individual performances during the game, certain players could be classified as “Up” or “Down.” For some, that could refer to their chances of making the team in the first place. For others, it was simply an up or down night.
There’s not necessarily much to read into from the game, and certainly not the opinions laid out on this list. But here’s who we had as “Up” and “Down” in the Patriots’ 2022 preseason opener…
It appears as though the Patriots have drafted an NFL receiver. We have a long way to go to see how good Tyquan Thornton will be, let alone become a star receiver. But he’s clearly got NFL-level skills, which were on display in his first career game action.
Thornton had a chance to make a big gain on his first target of the night, but Brian Hoyer’s pass appeared unable to keep up with the rookie’s breakaway speed. Thornton tried to adjust and couldn’t complete the catch, but his speed and separation stood out. The only real blemish on Thornton’s night was an offensive pass interference penalty, which he’ll have to clean up.
But Thornton ended up making his presence felt on the next possession, showing off his short-area quickness in the back of the end zone as he broke free for a Hoyer pass and caught it for his first touchdown as an NFL player. Thornton even stuck his nose in on a few blocks, and certainly looks willing.
There may be a long way to go for Thornton to gain enough trust from Bill Belichick to start in the regular season. But he’s looked good throughout camp, and can add a solid preseason debut to that. He’s stacking days.
DOWN: LB Cameron McGrone
Aug 11, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New York Giants running back Gary Brightwell (23) runs against the New England Patriots during the first half of a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
A much-hyped second-year linebacker out of Michigan, McGrone has had a quiet training camp and largely hasn’t been able to crack the starting rotation. On Thursday night, we had him down for at least one missed tackle, and he didn’t seem to have the explosiveness that made him an attractive fifth-round gamble for the Patriots in the 2021 draft.
That was after McGrone had torn his ACL, and now there should be concern that he won’t regain the same explosion he had in college. That, or he may be slow to react and indecisive with his reads. There’s plenty of time for him to learn and get to a better play speed, but Mack Wilson and Raekwon McMillan have clearly blown by him on the depth chart.
For a kid that ESPN’s Mike Reiss said on the Sports Hub Patriots Pregame Show has an “uphill battle” to make the 53-man roster, Thursday wasn’t a promising development.
Mitchell may be classified as a “journeyman,” but he seems like a guy who gets his details down. That’s a good fit for Bill Belichick. Mitchell made the first turnover of the preseason when he punched the ball out for a forced fumble, which Malcolm Butler recovered. Clearly the biggest turnover of Butler’s career.
You may remember, when the Patriots played the Texans during the 2021 season, Mitchell made a huge play in the game at the time when he punched the ball out of Damien Harris’ grasp right at the goal line. Belichick almost certainly liked his instincts when he targeted him in free agency. It looks like Mitchell is going to parlay his spring and summer into a starting cornerback role to begin the season.
DOWN: OT Justin Herron
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 12: Justin Herron #75 of the New England Patriots looks on during the game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Herron started at right tackle, with Yodny Cajuste on the left edge. He committed two false start penalties, which can’t possibly inspire confidence. To be fair, procedural penalties can also be a coaching issue (Matt Patricia), and Cajuste also committed a holding penalty. But Herron could be in a competition for a roster spot at the swing tackle position, and Thursday felt like a step back for him in that progress.
UP: DL Sam Roberts
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – AUGUST 11: Joshua Ezeudu #75 of the New York Giants defends Sam Roberts #96 of the New England Patriots during the preseason game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on August 11, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
One of three sixth-round picks in the 2022 draft, Roberts showed potential as a reserve pass-rusher and special teamer in his first NFL game action. He drew a holding penalty on a play in the first half, as his pure power appeared to give the Giants problems up front. It remains to be seen how much Roberts actually plays as a rookie, but if he keeps playing like that, there will be a spot for him somewhere.
DOWN: CB Joejuan Williams
Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Joejuan Williams (33) covers wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey (83) at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
The clock has been ticking for Williams ever since the Patriots moved on from two other 2019 draft disappointments, N’Keal Harry and Chase Winovich. He didn’t do much to change the narrative on Thursday night. He was targeted and beaten easily on the Giants’ first touchdown of the game, and also committed a facemasking penalty. An uninspiring performance for a player who is hanging by a thread on the roster.
Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. 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 Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.