Patriots Preseason

Patriots-Packers takeaways: Rookie WRs make strong push for 53-man roster

The Patriots offense showed plenty of encouraging signs against the Packers in preseason game No. 2.

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The New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers agreed to suspend Saturday night's preseason game at Lambeau Field with 10:29 left in the fourth quarter after Pats defensive back Isaiah Bolden was carted off the field.

Bolden appeared to get hit in the head on a collision with teammate Calvin Munson. He was down on the field for several minutes as medical personnel loaded him onto a stretcher. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and Packers head coach Matt LaFleur talked on the field during this period and, along with input from the NFL, they decided not to continue the game. The Patriots led 21-17 when play was halted.

Fortunately, Bolden had feeling in all of his extremities as he was transported to a Green Bay area hospital for further examination.

The Patriots selected Bolden in the seventh round of the 2023 NFL Draft out of Jackson State.

Starting quarterback Mac Jones got his first reps of the preseason and completed six of nine passes for 52 yards. New offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien mixed in some RPO and play-action looks -- two things we didn't see much of from the Matt Patricia-led offense last season. Rhamondre Stevenson also shined in limited snaps, picking up 27 yards and a touchdown on four carries. A bunch of wide receivers impressed. The offensive line is very much still a work in progress, though.

Backup quarterback Bailey Zappe had better protection from the offensive line this week compared to the preseason opener. He completed 10 of 22 pass attempts for 117 yards and a touchdown. He also scored a rushing touchdown from six yards out on a fourth-and-2 play early in the fourth quarter.

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Ex-Patriots safety Devin McCourty said on WBZ-TV's broadcast that O'Brien's offense "looks smooth." That said, it won't matter how good the schemes are if the o-line gets beat over and over again.

The defense took a small step back, especially in pass coverage. Packers quarterbacks Jordan Love and Sean Clifford combined to complete 18 of 27 pass attempts for 221 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions. Green Bay's rushing attack also tallied 119 yards (4.1 per carry) and a touchdown. New England's pass rush tallied zero sacks and only one tackle for a loss.

The primary focus after Saturday's game will be on the health of Bolden and that he makes a full recovery, but here are three takeaways we observed from Patriots-Packers prior to the game's suspension.

1. Patriots have tough decisions to make at WR

Bill Belichick and his staff won't have an easy time determining which wide receivers to keep on the 53-man roster. DeVante Parker, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kendrick Bourne and Tyquan Thornton are probably all locks to make it. Thornton has battled injuries during his brief NFL career, but as a 2022 second-round pick with impressive speed, it would be surprising if the Patriots bailed on him after just one season.

Demario Douglas has enjoyed a stellar training camp, and the rookie wideout shined against the Packers with two catches for 17 yards on two targets in the first half. He made a great adjustment against zone coverage to give Jones an option on a third-and-10 play. Douglas hauled in the pass for a 15-yard gain and a first down. He caught a WR screen pass on the next play and made a sweet juke in the backfield to avoid a loss and turn the play into a 2-yard gain.

Kayshon Boutte, who was a sixth-round pick out of LSU in the 2023 NFL Draft, caught a 42-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Bailey Zappe in the second quarter. Boutte made the catch over the middle of the field and turned on the jets to outrun the Packers defense en route to the end zone.

Rookie Malik Cunningham was the star of the preseason opener as a quarterback. On Saturday, he saw a bunch of snaps at wide receiver and even drew a defensive pass interference call to extend a third-quarter drive. He also had some good blocks in the run game and returned a kickoff. He's another guy who likely would be difficult to sneak onto the practice squad.

Teams don't often keep six wide receivers on their initial 53-man roster, but the Patriots have too many good players at this position and the rookies probably wouldn't make it through waivers to get on the practice squad. Trading one of these guys could alleviate the glut of wide receivers. Too much depth is a good problem to have, but these decisions will be pretty hard for the coaching staff to figure out.

2. Offensive tackle still a concern

The Patriots offense did a lot of good things when the starters played, but the offensive line remains an issue. The tackle spot, in particular, struggled against the Packers.

Starting left tackle Trent Brown was penalized for a false start on New England's first offensive play. Sidy Sow was beaten badly by Packers edge rusher Kingsley Enagbare for a sack on third down that led to a punt during the first quarter. Second-year tackle Andrew Stueber replaced Brown and was beaten by Enagbare, who strip sacked Jones with a huge hit early in the second quarter. The Packers recovered the fumble to end a promising drive by the Pats offense.

Jones' night ended after that second sack, which was a good decision. You don't want your No. 1 QB taking too many hits in a preseason game.

Brown, if healthy, should be fine by Week 1. Right tackle is a different story. It's arguably the position of most concern right now. Riley Reiff could play there. Sow, who started there Saturday, could also see regular season reps in that spot. Conor McDermott started at right tackle in the preseason opener last week but struggled versus the Houston Texans. He didn't play Saturday due to injury. Michael Onwenu also has the ability to play right tackle, but he still hasn't participated in a training camp practice as he recovers from offseason ankle surgery.

The Patriots need to figure out their offensive tackle situation ASAP because the Eagles' vaunted pass rush presents a significant challenge in the regular season opener.

3. Kendrick Bourne makes strong impact

Bourne was not used enough on offense in 2022 after a strong first season with the Patriots in 2021. If Saturday's game was any indication, Bourne could have a much larger role in Bill O'Brien's offense this coming season.

He was targeted four times in the first half with the offensive starters on the field and caught three passes for a total of 34 yards.

Jones' first completion was a 4-yard out to Bourne. The second catch came off an RPO where Bourne beat his man inside to pick up a first down on a second-and-11. The result of the play was first-and-goal at 6-yard line, and the Patriots ultimately got into the end zone on a Rhamondre Stevenson run.

The Patriots opened the second quarter with two plays involving Bourne. Jones targeted him on another RPO play that likely would've resulted in a catch if a Packers defensive lineman didn't bat the ball down at the line of scrimmage. The very next play saw Bourne make a tremendous leaping catch for 17 yards and a first down.

Bourne also did a tremendous job blocking in the run game, including a great block on Stevenson's 23-yard run late in the first quarter.

The veteran wideout made the most of his snaps Saturday. Bourne is capable of making a genuine impact for this team, and you can bet O'Brien's offense will feature him a lot more than Matt Patricia's did last season.

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