Patriots-Packers practice observations: Stellar showing by Pats in all areas originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
GREEN BAY, Wis. – If the Patriots wind up having a season exceeding the modest expectations most have set for them, August 17 may be looked at as a turning point.
I don’t want to get over my skis, put the cart ahead of the horse or blow too much sunshine up your tailpipe. It could still just wind up being simply “Thursday” and nothing special at all when we look back on it.
But it’s hard to overstate just how thoroughly the Patriots turned things around after Wednesday’s flat practice with the Green Bay Packers.
We’ll spew forth the details underneath but let me just highlight here a few of the more memorable moments.
Mac Jones hit DeVante Parker deep down the left sideline for a contested catch touchdown to cap a two-minute drill. By this point in practice, there had already been several skirmishes and the Patriots – seemingly hell-bent on bringing emotion and enthusiasm to every positive play – went absolutely bananas after the catch as the sideline spilled forth and ran clear across the field to mob Parker.
Highlighting the celebration was safety Jabrill Peppers – who never stopped chirping at the Packers the entire day – jumping up and down in front of Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander and slapping the top of his own helmet in the universal sign for “ON YOUR HEAD!” Alexander was not in coverage on the play but he and Peppers were jawing before the snap.
As things quieted down, you could see the trace of a smile on Bill Belichick’s face. He also directed a thumbs-up toward the sideline.
Another highlight? Bailey Zappe, who directed a six-touchdown-in-six-play session in the red zone an hour earlier and found Kayshon Boutte inside the right pylon for a diving touchdown, which set off another over-the-top celebration by the Patriots.
Newly-added running back Ezekiel Elliott was one of the first and most exuberant celebrants to reach the field. That fact, in addition to his surprisingly extensive workload with the starters, were an early indication of what appears to be a shrewd and necessary addition.
One more? A supremely athletic pass breakup by rookie first-rounder Christian Gonzalez in which he elevated and got one hand up at the high point to tip away a would-be completion for Jordan Love.
The Patriots significantly outperformed the Packers on both sides of the ball Thursday. Which, after Belichick’s long post-practice meeting with the team on the field Wednesday, seemed exactly what the team needed. The sacks, the penalties, the porousness of the secondary, the inefficiency of the offense. All were left behind on what COULD BE a landmark day.
What they wore
Full pads and navy blue practice jerseys.
The same lot of players who were missing on Wednesday were out of practice again: Calvin Anderson, Mike Onwenu, Kody Russey, Cole Strange, Ty Montgomery, Mike Gesicki and Pierre Strong for the offense. Defensively, there was no Jonathan Jones, Cody Davis, Ronnie Perkins or Trey Flowers.
Conor McDermott was a new absentee. Anfernee Jennings got bounced from practice after he took a run at a Packer who swung on Keion White. White left practice with a lower body injury. Tyquan Thornton also left practice with an upper body injury after a spectacular diving catch. Rookie center Jake Andrews also departed practice with an injury.
Of particular note
Thornton wasn’t out there long, but he was busy. The first offensive rep of the day saw him get horse-collared during a pass breakup, drawing a pass interference flag on a throw from Mac Jones. Soon after, Thornton had a drop on a seam pass from Bailey Zappe before hauling in an all-hands, diving reception of about 30 yards from Jones. Soon after, Thornton was checked by medical staff and exited. He was smiling during the exchange and not appearing to be in “I just dislocated my shoulder” pain.
Demario Douglas continued to be a PROBLEM for defenses. He was utilized early in the screen game and figured prominently in the early part of practice when the Patriots offense had its way with the Packers starters and second-teamers. Late in the practice, just before the aforementioned Kayshon Boutte touchdown, a teammate yelled to Douglas as he lined up, “There’s not one (expletive) on that roster that can guard you, Pop!”
Jones’ first red zone work saw him begin with a sack then follow up with completions to JuJu Smith-Schuster, an end-zone flip to Kendrick Bourne that was complete, and an out for another score to Parker before another connection with Parker for a score. At least two of the TD catches were on Alexander, the Packers’ best corner.
Zappe, who still seems a little slow getting rid of the ball, went off in his red zone period with a completion (the Packers didn’t think so) to Boutte for a score, another connection with tight end Anthony Firkser (who made noticeable contributions on Thursday), an underneath touchdown to Douglas and a nice contested catch touchdown to Parker before he found Douglas uncovered in the right corner of the end zone for a final score.
Elliott then got a pile of work in the next period with the starters, running inside and showing nice hands and burst on a throw to the flat from Jones.
Other noteworthy plays offensively went to Tre Nixon on a nice ball from Zappe, and a nice downfield completion from Jones to Hunter Henry down the middle.
Practice followed the same pattern as Wednesday with the teams gathering on one field to go 1s vs. 1s and 2s vs. 2s for an extended period. This was the first time I gave undivided attention to the defense against Jordan Love, and they made his life miserable. A cloudburst didn’t help the Packers offense either but before the skies opened, Marcus Jones made a nice play on the ball along the sideline for a near pick. Love was forced to scramble and had a couple of misfires on the ensuing plays as the rain started.
When Mac Jones came on, he played well and got much better protection than he had Wednesday.
Jalen Mills and Matt Judon met with the media after practice. We hoped to get Elliott but he was ruled out of talking. Patriots linebacker Jahlani Tavai also spoke and gave an impassioned plea for folks to help any way they can in the wake of the devastating fires in Hawaii.