Patriots vs. Titans thumbs up, thumbs down: RB Damien Harris hits the ground running

Andy Hart
August 17, 2019 - 10:09 pm
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After a week of tough, hot, physical joint practices in Tennessee with the Titans, Tom Brady and many of the top-tier Patriots on both sides of the ball once again sat things out for the second week of preseason action on Saturday night.

While New England’s backups were able to dominate a week earlier in Detroit, things didn’t come quite as easily in Nashville. The Brian Hoyer passing game had an early turnover while the budding defense gave up an early score in what ended up a 17-8 halftime lead for the home squad, though New England pulled out the 22-17 victory in the end.

Unlike a week earlier when pretty much everything went the way of Bill Belichick’s team, this trip to Tennessee was more of the preseason norm that included some good things and some other areas/players that still obviously need work.

With that in mind, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from the second week of preseason action as the Patriots prepare for a quick turnaround for next Thursday night’s third preseason game and “dress rehearsal” against the Panthers at Gillette Stadium.

Thumbs up

Damien Harris – Making his preseason debut after reportedly dealing with a hand injury, the third-round rookie impressed against the Titans as both a runner and a pass catcher. Harris had seven carries in the early going for 41 yards, including a 20-yard long that set up New England’s first touchdown of the night. The young playmaker also had four catches totaling 23 yards. He kept it rolling in the second half to finish the night with 14 carries for 80 yards. Harris displayed a combination of burst, vision and cutting ability that should have him in the conversation for at least a complementary role on offense when September rolls around.

Joejuan Williams – The second-round pick saw a lot of Titans receiver Corey Davis early on and did an impressive job. Williams, a Nashville native who played collegiately in Tennessee at Vanderbilt, looked right at home with a pair of passes defensed in the first quarter, one of which held up under replay review. The 6-2 Davis – who had 65 catches last season and certainly gave the Patriots problems last regular season with seven catches for 125 yards – is the type of matchup that New England might want to use Williams in moving forward. On this night at least, that potential looked like it has a chance to become reality.

Isaiah Wynn – Almost regardless of his performance, it was a positive to see the 2018 first-round pick get the start in Tennessee as he continues to work back from the torn Achilles that derailed his rookie season. Wynn was solid in his first-half action, showing the athleticism, power and technique required at the key blindside spot. There is work to be done in terms of a more consistent punch and staying on his blocks, but it’s getting easier to envision Wynn as the opening night starter and guy charged with protecting Brady’s blindside this season.

Jakobi Meyers – After opening eyes and making a summer name for himself in the preseason opener against the Lions, the undrafted rookie receiver was back making plays in Tennessee. Meyers led the Patriots with five catches, hauling in all five passes thrown his way, for 66 yards. He also had two-point conversion catch in the back of the end zone. The only real negative this summer for Meyers was seeing him tended to by the trainers on the sideline late Saturday night in Tennessee, possibly with a shoulder issue. Though he’s yet to catch a pass from Brady in exhibition action, Meyers appears to have already locked down a roster spot.

Thumbs down

Penalties – A week after his team had 12 penalties for 135 yards in Detroit, Belichick’s team didn’t play a much cleaner game in Tennessee. The flags started piling up early, New England keeping the unimpressive pace up with nine penalties for 69 yards in the first half against the Titans. They came in all forms, including a holding call on Lance Kendricks in the end zone that was a safety as well as a 12-men call on the defense on the ensuing series that had linebackers coach Jerod Mayo and safeties coach Steve Belichick looking to each other for answers on the sideline. By the time the game concluded the Patriots had racked up another 12 penalties for 99 yards. It might be the preseason, but it’s not good enough to have a dirty dozen penalties every time you take the field.

Brian Hoyer/Jarrett Stidham – As good as he was a week earlier in Detroit, the veteran got off to a tough start in Tennessee. Hoyer got hit while floating a deep ball on his first snap and then threw a floating interception to former Patriot Logan Ryan on his second throw targeting a crossing Berrios. The rookie Stidham didn’t throw an interception in his action, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. He had one throw at the goal line in the third quarter that easily could have been a 100-yard pick-six. Then later in the quarter he threw an out route in the middle of the field that went right through the hands of the Tennessee defender. He was fortunate that a fourth-quarter throwaway was intercepted just out of bounds. Stidham also had a particularly ugly, low throw on a screen pass before bouncing back late with a pretty nice touchdown throw to Damoun Patterson to cap a 99-yard drive. It wasn’t horrible for the Patriots backup QBs, but it wasn’t nearly as efficient as we’ve seen. Brady had a great week of practice action and unlike a week earlier, the New England offense looked like it missed him quite a bit during the preseason game action.

Backup offensive line – Hoyer was hit a couple times in early throws, including a sack that was wiped out by penalty. James Ferentz, who struggled at times in action at both center and guard, and Hjalte Froholdt allowed immediate penetration when Harris was stuffed for a loss on third-and-1 early in the first quarter. Ferentz allowed Hoyer to take a big hit on a sack that did count in the second quarter. Overall it wasn’t the best night for the backup guys up front.

Stephen Gostkowski – Two weeks into the preseason the veteran kicker has two missed field goals. After missing a 37-yarder in the opener in Detroit, Gostkowski missed a 40-yard attempt (with rookie punter Jake Bailey as the holder) in the fourth quarter in Tennessee. Re-signing as a free agent this offseason and with no competition in camp, Gostkowski is still very much the guy in New England. But he’s not off to a very good start this summer.

Related: Patriots 22, Titans 17: 10 quick thoughts from second preseason game