Patriots-Packers practice observations: Stellar showing by Pats everywhere originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
GREEN BAY, Wis. – If the Patriots end up having a season that exceeds the modest expectations that many have set for them, August 17th could be viewed as a turning point.
I don’t want to overstep my skis, put the cart before the horse or blow too much sunlight down your tailpipe. It could still be “Thursday” and nothing special if we remember it.
But it’s hard to overstate how completely the Patriots have changed after Wednesday’s flat practice with the Green Bay Packers.
We’ll spill the details below but I’ll just highlight some of the more memorable moments here.
Mac Jones hit DeVante Parker deep down the left sideline for a contested catch touchdown to end the two-minute drill. By this point in practice, there had already been several scrambles and the Patriots — who seemed hell-bent on bringing emotion and enthusiasm to every positive play — went completely bananas after the catch as the sideline came out and ran across the field to in pursuit of Parker. .
Highlighting the celebration was safety Jabrill Peppers — who didn’t stop booing the Packers all day — jumping in front of Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander and slapping the top of his own helmet with the universal sign for ” ON YOUR HEAD!” Alexander wasn’t in coverage of the play but he and Peppers were jawing before the snap.
As things quieted down, you could see the smile on Bill Belichick’s face. He also pointed a thumbs-up on the sideline.
Another highlight? Bailey Zappe, who led a six-touchdown-in-six-play session in the red zone an hour later and found Kayshon Boutte inside the right pylon for a diving touchdown, highlighted in an over-the-top celebration of the Patriots.
Newly added running back Ezekiel Elliott was one of the first and most joyous celebrations to hit the field. That fact, in addition to his surprisingly extensive work with starters, is an early sign of what seems like a smart and necessary addition.
One more? A super athletic pass breakup by rookie first-rounder Christian Gonzalez where he raised and raised a hand at the high point to deflect a possible Jordan Love completion.
The Patriots significantly outplayed the Packers on both sides of the ball Thursday. Which, after Belichick’s lengthy post-practice meeting with the team on the field Wednesday, sounds like exactly what the team needs. The sacks, the penalties, the porousness of the secondary, the inefficiency of the offense. All were abandoned on what could have been a landmark day.
What they wear
Full pads and navy blue practice jersey.
The same number of players who were missing on Wednesday were out of practice: Calvin Anderson, Mike Onwenu, Kody Russey, Cole Strange, Ty Montgomery, Mike Gesicki and Pierre Strong for offense. On defense, there is no Jonathan Jones, Cody Davis, Ronnie Perkins or Trey Flowers.
Newly absent is Conor McDermott. Anfernee Jennings was bounced from practice after she ran over a Packer tackle 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 left practice with an injury.
Of particular note
Thornton wasn’t there long, but he was busy. The first offensive representative of the day saw him get horsed 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-hand, diving reception about 30 yards from Jones. Shortly after, Thornton was checked over by medical staff and released. He was smiling during the exchange and didn’t appear to be in pain “I just dislocated my shoulder”.
Demario Douglas continues to be a PROBLEM for defenses. He was used early in the screen game and featured prominently early in practice when the Patriots’ offense had the Packers’ starters and second-teamers going their way. Late in practice, before the aforementioned Kayshon Boutte touchdown, a teammate yelled at Douglas as he lined up, “No one (expletive) on that roster can guard you, Pop!”
Jones’ first red zone work saw him start with a sack then followed by a completion to JuJu Smith-Schuster, an end-zone flip to Kendrick Bourne that was complete, and an out for another score to Parker before another Parker connection for a score. At least two of those TD catches went to Alexander, the Packers’ best corner.
Zappe, who seemed a little slow to get rid of the ball, went into 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 notable contributions on Thursday), a low touchdown to Douglas and a nice controversial catch touchdown to Parker before he found Douglas uncovered in the right corner of the end zone for the final score.
Elliott then got a ton of work in the next period with the starters, running inside and showing great hands and blasting a throw downfield from Jones.
Other notable plays hurt Tre Nixon on a nice ball from Zappe, and a nice completion downfield from Jones to Hunter Henry over the middle.
Practice followed the same pattern as Wednesday with teams gathering on a field to go 1s vs. 1s and 2s vs. 2s for extended periods. This was the first time I paid full attention to the defense against Jordan Love, and they made his life miserable. The cloudburst didn’t help the Packers offense either but before the skies opened up, Marcus Jones made a nice play on the ball down the sideline for a close pick. Love was forced to scramble and there were a few misfires on the next few plays as the rain started.
When Mac Jones came in, he played well and got better protection than he did on Wednesday.
Jalen Mills and Matt Judon meet with the media after practice. We were hoping to get Elliott but he was prevented from speaking. Patriots linebacker Jahlani Tavai also spoke and gave an impassioned plea for people to help in any way they can in the wake of the devastating fires in Hawaii.