PHILADELPHIA — August is a time of overreaction in the NFL, when one exhibition game is used to predict the fortunes of a team and the roster status of its players.
So to people looking to overreact based on the Patriots’ first two offensive series against the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday night, the only two series quarterback Tom Brady played, the new-look unit is in midseason form.
As in, midseason 2012, when it was rolling to 45-, 59-, and 49-point games against St. Louis, Indianapolis, and the Jets.
Brady kick-started New England to a 31-22 win over Philadelphia, a game that saw more Tim Tebow at quarterback than planned, after Ryan Mallett suffered what the team called a head injury in the first half.
Who needs Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, or Rob Gronkowski?
If you’re the overreacting type, you may have uttered that during Brady’s brief, 16-snap appearance.
And for every overreaction, there is an equal and opposite Bill Belichick reaction.
“Everybody did some good things out there but we are far from perfect,” he said. “I think we played competitively, but we all made mistakes out there. There are things we can learn from; we are certainly not in midseason form by any stretch.”
Running back Stevan Ridley took the first snap of the game and broke loose for 62 yards. Brady did nothing but hand off that opening possession, to Ridley and LeGarrette Blount, and the running backs made his job easy.
Blount followed up Ridley’s 62-yard burst with 12 yards on three carries, then Ridley came back in, punching it into the end zone from a yard out.
The running backs are just dandy, and the offensive line too, with Will Svitek at right guard in place of injured Marcus Cannon and Dan Connolly.
“It started with what we did up front,” Brady said. “To hand the ball off as many times as we did on that first drive was great; the offensive line took a lot of pride in that.
“It’s my offensive line; I always give credit to them and my quarterback,” Ridley said of his opening burst. “Because without them in front of me, I couldn’t do it. They are blocking right and the hole was wide open and all that’s left for me to do is hit it.”
The second time out, Brady looked often to undrafted rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins. He found Thompkins on third and 4, with Thompkins picking up the first down, then went to him three more times during the drive, which ended with a beautiful back-of-the-end-zone fade from Brady to running back Shane Vereen. Vereen was lined up wide at the snap.
“I was trying to figure out what to do,” Brady said of the touchdown pass. “It was a great catch, he got his feet down, it was a tight area. [Vereen’s] really come on, and he’s continuing to improve.”
It did look fairly easy, just as it did for Brady and his mostly-new teammates for much of the time they shared the practice field with Philadelphia during the week. Some of it could be that Brady is still just that good, and the Patriots chose well in signing Danny Amendola as a free agent, drafting Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, and picking up Thompkins.
And some of it could be that the Eagles are coming off a 4-12 season, with a new defensive system and new players in the secondary who aren’t that good.
Brady wouldn’t talk much about Thompkins or Dobson or any other receiver individually, but said the week in Philadelphia was definitely good for the offense and the Patriots.
“After 22, 23 practices [between OTAs and training camp] against your defense, everyone kind of knows each other. It was good to go against another team and see what you’ve got,” Brady said. “We’re a better football team now than we were at the start of the week, but we have to be a better team next week. It’s not going to be easy.”
Of course, if you were to overreact, you’d also be looking at the first-string defense after and wondering what, if anything, was better about it.
Michael Vick started and played the first two series for Philadelphia, and he also made short work of his opening drive, completing a 22-yard pass to Jason Avant on third and 6 and then a 47-yard touchdown over the top to DeSean Jackson, who got separation from Aqib Talib.
It didn’t look much different from the group that gave up an NFL-worst 74 passes of 20-plus yards last year.
“A lot of guys played [on defense], and that is an offense we practiced against, but it’s still a tough offense to play against and we got a lot of looks on it and I think that will serve us well when we have to go up against that again,” Belichick said. “We learned how to play some of their option schemes; they have several different ones and they do a good job.”
As for his team’s pass rush, Belichick mused, “We had our moments. It was all right, but I wouldn’t say it was great.”
The point is, it’s Game 1 of the exhibition slate and nothing is settled. Lest we forget, the Patriots were 2-2 in the 2007 preseason before their 16-0 regular season, and the 0-16 Lions were 4-0 in the 2008 preseason.
This is not meant to diminish the positives for the Patriots on Friday night. It’s more a reminder that August events do not always predict January (or February) success.
Brady was sharp, though that is to be expected; it’s news when he isn’t sharp. And Ridley is coming off a 1,200-plus yard season with a dozen touchdowns, so he is not an out-of-the-blue revelation either.
But Thompkins genuinely is. The Miami native bounced around quite a bit in high school and college; He was expelled three times from high school and attended two junior colleges in California before signing a letter of intent with Tennessee. But when Lane Kiffin bolted for Southern California, Thompkins initially opted to go to Oklahoma.
He couldn’t play for the Sooners because of his past legal issues (he was reportedly arrested seven times by age 18), and ultimately ended up at Cincinnati, where he recorded 78 catches in two seasons.
Thompkins has declined to talk about his past when he’s been asked, saying it doesn’t matter to his present and that he’s simply trying to do what he’s being asked by the coaching staff.
He received a $2,500 signing bonus from the Patriots.
From what he’s shown over the opening two weeks of camp, Thompkins could be the best dollar-for-dollar investment the Patriots made in the offseason.
And that might not be an overreaction.