The Patriots lost their second consecutive preseason game Saturday night, falling, 27-23, to the Texans.
But Bill Belichick seemed to be in a much better mood Sunday than he was following the opening preseason loss to Jacksonville the week before.
That loss to the Jaguars featured several long touchdowns given up by the Patriots’ defense, including a 97-yarder, prompting Belichick to say, “We don’t have any defenses where we want to give up plays like that. There are a lot of things we did wrong and there are a lot of things we need to correct.”
But Belichick was full of praise Sunday for several players who have had an inconsistent camp or appear to be long-shots for the roster.
Belichick gave a nice pat on the back to second-year cornerback Cyrus Jones, who had a terrible rookie season and allowed that 97-yard touchdown to Jacksonville. Jones returned four punts for 58 yards, including a 32-yarder in the second quarter, and returned one kickoff for 17 yards.
“I thought Cyrus did a good job in the return game, both punts and kickoffs,” Belichick said. “Ran hard, ran aggressively, made good decisions with and without the ball. I thought he did a nice job.”
Belichick was asked about the performance of veteran defensive end Kony Ealy, who hasn’t been able to stake his claim to a starting spot, but played 42 snaps against the Texans (second-most among defenders) due to injuries to Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers, and Geneo Grissom.
But in his answer about Ealy, Belichick went out of his way to single out young tight end James O’Shaughnessy , rookie receiver Austin Carr, and defensive end Caleb Kidder.
“I thought that Kony and Kidder, O’Shaughnessy, Carr, guys like that, that played a high number of snaps, did some very positive things,” Belichick said. “I thought they showed up positively a number of times.”
O’Shaughnessy played 34 snaps and led the Patriots with five catches for 41 yards. Carr played 63 snaps and had three catches for 31 yards.
Neither Ealy nor Kidder (21 snaps) made a play that showed up on the stat sheet. But Belichick said Saturday’s game was a good opportunity to evaluate those players to see how they held up in a game.
“We were able to look at not only the plays that they had, but kind of the progress that they made over the course of the game,” Belichick said. “Evaluate their conditioning, evaluate the consistency of their performance, because they had an opportunity to do it over an extended period of time.”
The Patriots may have to adjust their practice format a bit this week, as they are banged up at two specific positions.
The Patriots are down several offensive tackles right now — starting left tackle Nate Solder hasn’t practiced in the last couple of weeks, rookie third-round pick Tony Garcia has been out that long as well, and backup tackle LaAdrian Waddle is dealing with a concussion suffered last week, though a league source said he was feeling better over the weekend.
That leaves Cam Fleming as the only player with any experience at left tackle. Sixth-round pick Conor McDermott and undrafted rookies Cole Croston and Max Rich can also play the position. McDermott and Croston each played 63 snaps against the Texans.
And the Patriots are perilously thin at defensive end, with Rivers reportedly done for the season, Wise dealing with a concussion, and Grissom an undisclosed injury. Shea McClellin, who can play defensive end or outside linebacker, is also dealing with an undisclosed injury.
“Team drills are team drills, and if our depth affects the team drills we have to decide how to do that — maybe we run fewer plays, or we space them out a little bit more with special team periods in between,” Belichick said. “[But] there are times where we can adjust our practice schedule, but we still got to play the game, and the game’s not all 9-on-7 or it’s not all nickel, however you want to re-manage your practice time.”
Tough on himself
Jimmy Garoppolo played the majority of Saturday’s game and did some good things, completing 15 of 23 passes for 145 yards, a touchdown, and an interception.
But after the game, all he could do was take the blame for two negative plays.
Garoppolo was upset with himself for throwing an interception to Texans cornerback Denzel Rice in the fourth quarter. Garoppolo had avoided the pass rush rolled out to his right, and tried to throw the ball out of bounds, but didn’t get enough on his throw.
Garoppolo had hoped to atone for his mistake, but the Patriots pulled him from the game after that play. Jacoby Brissett played the final 11 minutes.
“It was just a bad play. Rough way to end the night,” Garoppolo said. “It’s frustrating when you can’t go back out there and make up for it.”
Garoppolo also took the blame for a sack-fumble late in the third quarter by Texans defensive end Tony Washington, who came into the backfield untouched. Though it appeared one of the offensive linemen missed his assignment, Garoppolo took blame for the play.
“I’m the quarterback. It’s just my fault,” he said. “They’ve been great, the whole O-line, whoever it is in there. They mix and match a lot. Coach [Dante] Scarnecchia does a great job with them, getting them ready, and they’ve done a phenomenal job for us.”
The Patriots will get Monday off following a grueling week in West Virginia and Houston. They will practice Tuesday and Wednesday in Foxborough (sessions that are now closed to the public), head to Detroit that night to participate in a walk-through with the Lions on Thursday, then play their third preseason game at Ford Field on Friday night.