With the Patriots electing to sit Tom Brady on Monday (more on that later), backup quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett were thrusted into the Monday Night Football (preseason edition) spotlight. Neither did enough though, as the undermanned Patriots fell to the Eagles, 27-17.
Mallett got the start for New England, and while he seemed to look a little sketchy at first, he settled down later on in the game. Hoyer? Well, he didn't look so great. A quick look at the numbers will tell you that much: Mallett was 10-for-20 for 105 yards and touchdown. Hoyer was 5-for-17 for 55 yards.
If Belichick was going to base his decision on who will back up Brady after this game, he'd easily choose Mallett. He's not though, but Hoyer will have show up better the next time he gets a big opportunity. It may not come on Friday when the Pats play the Buccaneers — Brady should play a decent amount — but the fourth preseason game against the Giants should allow for another friendly duel between the two backup hopefuls.
Either way, Hoyer knows he didn't do his job well enough Monday.
“Obviously [Mallett] did a pretty good job tonight and that will make me step up my level too," Hoyer said. "I’m sure when I look at it tomorrow, I’ll wish I took a few more shots, had a few more completions or just gave my guy a better ball. You learn from it, move on and (know that) it’s time to keep working.”
The biggest difference for Mallet is that with a year under his belt, he's starting to feel more comfortable out on the field and in the playbook.
"I know a little bit more of what’s going on," Mallett said. "Last year I didn’t have a very good base; now I have a pretty good foundation that I can keep working to build on. That’s what I’m doing every day is trying to build on that foundation."
Mallett threw the team's lone touchdown pass Monday night, a seven-yarder to converted tight end Alex Silvestro, who separated himself from his defender on his way to the sideline.
"Alex did a good job getting open. I was looking over there to begin with and he beat the linebacker and the corner left, so I gave him a ball and he made me look good."
Much has been made of the communication and play of the Patriots safeties in camp. Pat Chung and Steve Gregory have looked good together out there on the field, but they wouldn't get much time together on Monday. Chung left the game with what appeared to be a shoulder injury and didn't return, but NFL.com later reported it wasn't anything serious.
The minor injury opened the door for rookie Nate Ebner to make an impact — and he did.
Ebner was a special teams guy on Ohio State — and a beast on the Ohio State rugby team. His experience playing defense, though, is little. But Ebner has become a ball hawk, reeling in interceptions the last few days of camp and one more on Monday against the Eagles.
Ebner picked off Eagles QB Nick Foles in the closing seconds of the first half, returning it for 34 yards. While Ebner is by no means ready to start at safety for an NFL team, he's getting much more used to the game.
“I would say I’m starting to get a feel for things," Ebner said, "but you know it [starts] with practice and just getting better and you know just trying to get better every day, every week, so that’s really my focus now.”
Of course, it'll take much more than an interception in a preseason game to earn a roster spot on the Patriots — especially with no real football experience. But the Patriots drafted Ebner because they think they can convert the Rugby star into a real football player starting with special teams. The interceptions — for now — are gravy.
"Nate’s shown up around the ball and that’s good," Belichick said. "There are certainly a lot of things he needs to work on. He has good plays, he makes mistakes and learns from them. He doesn’t have a whole lot of experience, but he works hard, he’s smart, he’s getting better. So, we’ll see how it goes here, how much we can build on tonight and the previous practices and we’ll see how much he improves going forward.
If you were at Monday night's football game expecting to see names like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork, and Jerod Mayo . . . sorry.
But blame the NFL.
The Patriots are scheduled to play three games in 10 days . . . 10 days! Bill Belichick would be a fool to put his players through that grueling stretch of games in the preseason. While it's not set in stone what Belichick is thinking, it's assumed that he'll play the healthy starters this Friday in Tampa Bay after the Patriots partake in two joint practices with the Bucs.
But with all those benching, Belichick was able to evaluate players who may be on the bubble of making the roster. Guys like Nate Ebner and Alex Silvestro made the most of their opportunities. Niko Koutouvides led the Patriots in tackled with seven — all solo — including one tackle for a loss.
There were a few players who didn't do much to help themselves though. The running back corps as a whole was pretty much nonexistent. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen each took 10 carries, finishing with just 25 yards and 20 yards, respectively. Undrafted free agent rookie Brandon Bolden didn't fair any better — seven carries for 14 yards, including a muffed punt that may had more to do with poor blocking by his special teams teammates.
But it's not like the backs had much help from the Pats offensive line, who still look to be a bit over their heads. The return of Logan Mankins will help, but he's only one man. Brian Waters is still M.I.A., and while pretty much every expert expects him to join the team soon, there hasn't been any signs of it happening. And each passing day is one less Waters can use to prepare for the season with his teammates — some of them young and inexperienced and looking for any help they can get. The two names that come to mind are second-year tackles Marcus Cannon and Nate Solder.
With an extremely short week to prepare for the Bucs, it will be interesting to see how those players respond to two relatively poor weeks on the offensive line. Brady should be under center by then, and protecting him and allowing him time to find one of his many receivers is the number 1 goal.
"We got to look at a lot of players [Monday night], evaluate them against a good football team and we’ll take a look at the film and correct our mistakes, build on it," Belichick said. "We’ve got a quick turnaround this week with Tampa. These are the days that we can, as a team, really learn from a lot of these experiences, game situations, training camp practices and so forth, to make our team better, so that’s what we’re going to do."