Ups and Downs from Patriots’ preseason-opening loss to Texans

FOXBORO — Football is back.

It’s not the real thing, but with the Patriots hosting their lone game of the preseason on Thursday night, it was nevertheless a welcome sight to see New England’s football team back in some action against the Houston Texans.

It wasn’t the best game of football ever played. From a Patriots perspective, much of that had to do with an offensive line that was just not very good. The Texans prevented the Patriots’ offense from doing anything until one drive late in the fourth quarter, with Houston doing enough to win 20-9.

Here’s what stood out — good and bad — from Thursday’s game, with the obvious caveat that careers are not made or broken in preseason openers.

UP: Keion White

The rookie defensive end was a MONSTER. Plain and simple. His physicality came as advertised, as he spent the bulk of his night in the Houston backfield. Most of his work didn’t end up in the stat sheet, including the play he made to ensure that Dare Ogunbowale didn’t recover his own fumble.

The 46th overall pick of the draft, White played most of the first half, recording two solo tackles and an assist on another, along with one QB hit. He was a beast.

DOWN: Christian Gonzalez’s first play

The rookie played the first half, and he didn’t do much spectacular — good or bad. But his first play was notable, because he got welcomed to the NFL in violent fashion.

After a short completion from C.J. Stroud to Nico Collins, Gonzalez broke down in the open field looking to make a tackle. But instead of becoming the hammer, he was the nail, as Collins dropped a shoulder and drove through the rookie’s chest.


Gonzalez did make a heads-up play later in the first half, punching the ball free from Steven Sims after the receiver made a catch on a crosser in front of the corner. (The fumble went out of bounds.)

DOWN: Offensive line

The backup offensive linemen were given an opportunity to perform under the lights. It didn’t go well. Through six real drives, Patriots running backs had 12 yards on 10 carries. Bailey Zappe was also absolutely surrounded by a whole host of white jerseys on New England’s first third down of the game, leading to the first of two sacks on the backup QB who got the start. Conor McDermott, who has looked like a real starter at tackle, also had a false start penalty.

It made it difficult for the offense to do much of anything.

UP: Bill Belichick and DeMeco Ryans

This game was ROUGH. Bill Belichick seemed to at least acknowledge that a little bit by deciding to go for it on fourth-and-1 just past midfield on the opening drive of the second half.

It didn’t work out, and maybe in a real game, it’s a bad move. But this game needed a little jolt and the head coach tried to make it happen. The offensive line wasn’t up to the challenge.

For that matter, rookie head coach DeMeco Ryans deserves a tip of the cap for pushing the envelope on a fourth-and-3 in the red zone in the fourth quarter instead of kicking a field goal. That one worked out, with Case Keenum hitting Alex Bachman for a 5-yard touchdown to give Houston a 20-3 lead.

UP: Tyquan Thornton

There’s been a lot of positive talk about young receivers who aren’t Tyquan Thornton all throughout training camp, but it was Thornton who made the one real standout play when the (preseason) starters were still in the game. 

The speedy receiver broke free from a jam at the line of scrimmage and burst straight up the left sideline on a third-and-8 at the New England 14. Zappe fired the ball in Thornton’s direction, and as the safety (playing cover 2) came over to try to pick it off, Thornton went up and got it.

Thornton finished with two catches for 31 yards on two targets.

DOWN: Diego Fagot

The linebacker out of Navy committed a neutral-zone infraction when the Texans were lined up to punt on a fourth-and-1. The mistake gave Houston a free first down which, quite obviously, can’t happen.

UP: Bryce Baringer 

The rookie punter got a lot of work in the first half. His bad punt ended up going 56 yards off a strong bounce, so that’s a good indication of his leg power.

He dropped one punt in at the 10-yard line (a fair catch), he dropped another one inside the 5-yard line (it bounced into the end zone for a touchback), and then he unleashed an absolute bomb of 62 yards on his final punt of the half.

He has looked like he has the upper hand over Corliss Waitman throughout camp, and that appears to be the case in game action too.

UP: Malik Cunningham

It may have happened during garbage time of a preseason game, but college QB-turned NFL wide receiver-turned QB again Malik Cunningham was an electric factory for the Patriots.

On a night when the offense couldn’t do anything, Cunningham did everything. He ran, he threw, he got his dang helmet ripped off.

He even threw what should have been a dynamite touchdown pass a few plays after that, but Tre Nixon couldn’t make the catch.

The rookie made up for Nixon’s drop by scoring himself a few plays later, taking it on the ground and shaking a defender out of his shoes en route to the end zone.

Cunningham was 3-for-4 for 19 yards, with the lone incompletion being Nixon’s drop, and he ran five times for 34 yards and a touchdown. What a debut.

UP: Jalen Mills

The move to safety fit him well in this one, as he picked off rookie C.J. Stroud on the sixth play from scrimmage. He also charged into the backfield for a run stuff late in the first quarter, displaying a noticeable level of energy as he steps up the leadership depth chart in the absence of Devin McCourty.


With the offensive line being what it was, it would be quite disingenuous to try to pretend like it was possible to really evaluate the quarterback, who went 12-for-14 for 79 yards with no touchdowns, no interceptions, and two sacks. 

Bailey Zappe
Bailey Zappe

Omar Rawlings / Getty Images

But he was in the photo for the article, and it would have been false advertising to not have included him in some capacity. And we can’t have that.

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