New England

The Biggest Surprises From Patriots Preseason

Mercifully, another preseason has come to a close and we're less than a week away from the start of the NFL's 100th season.

As far as the Patriots are concerned, they didn't escape the exhibition calendar completely unscathed, losing starting center David Andrews to blood clots in his lungs indefinitely and special teamer Brandon King for the season with a torn quad.

Neither of these injuries will derail New England on its quest for a seventh Super Bowl championship since 2001, though it'll be interesting to see how Ted Karras handles fulltime duties at center and if King's absence opened the door for another core special teamer to make the final 53-man roster.

The Patriots were denied a perfect preseason by the Giants (naturally), falling 31-29 in Thursday night's finale at Gillette Stadium, but the end result of the game equates to zip, zilch and nada. New England hadn't finished off the exhibition season 4-0 since 2003, and it hasn't seemed to matter much when it comes to making deep postseason runs.

In fact, it's hard to recall a more productive preseason in recent memory for the Patriots, with the emergence of young players all over the roster. Wide receivers Jakobi Meyers and N'Keal Harry, left tackle Isaiah Wynn, running back Damien Harris, defensive tackle Byron Cowart, defensive end Chase Winovich, linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley, cornerback Joejuan Williams and punter Jake Bailey all looked the part of capable NFL players who can come in and contribute right away.

That list doesn't even include quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who had an even better preseason as far as rookies go than Jimmy Garoppolo once upon a time, but if he's contributing anything beyond the occasional kneel down at the end of a 38-10 victory over the Buffalo Bills, something will have gone horribly wrong.

The emergence of these young players drafted in 2018 and 2019 — along with running back Sony Michel, a first-round pick who's already paid dividends for New England — is helping to mask the barren wasteland that was the 2017 draft, from which only Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise Jr. remain in Foxboro (and that's just for the time being).

What it also does for the Patriots, perhaps, is give them a reprieve from their notoriously slow Septembers.

The theory that Bill Belichick sees the season's first month as an extension of the preseason may not be completely valid, but it's not completely unwarranted. Think 2014, when Jordan Devey was playing a prominent role along the offensive line, or even last year, when New England admitted it had a deficiency at receiver by rolling the dice on Josh Gordon.

Now, there isn't as pressing a need to figure out what works and what doesn't as the games begin to count.

Even if there were a need to keep tinkering, have you seen the Patriots' schedule to open the season? New England doesn't play a team that made the playoffs in 2018 in its first eight games.

That's not to say it'll be a total cakewalk, with the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6-1 in 2018) looking rejuvenated sans Antonio Brown headed for Gillette in Week 1.

You never know what'll happen in Miami, where the Patriots will face the Dolphins (7-9) in Week 2. But the Dolphins are breaking in a new coach in Brian Flores and are starting Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback.

From there, New England is home against the Jets (4-12), at Buffalo (6-10), at Washington (7-9), home vs. the Giants (5-11), at the Jets and finally home against Cleveland (7-8-1, but with renewed swagger with Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr.) to close out October.

We're not saying to party like it's 2007, or even 2015, when the Patriots started 10-0. Still, it's hard not to look at that slate thinking anything less than 7-1 would be a disappointment of epic proportions.

The semiannual "sky is falling" narrative from Fort Foxboro won't be making a return in 2019. If it does, something may indeed be careening towards Earth's surface.

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