FOXBOROUGH — Normally, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, and Demaryius Thomas would be nothing but expensive cheerleaders during the fourth preseason game.
But on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, when Jarrett Stidham took the first snap of the game, he had Edelman and Gordon on the field starting with him. On the very next snap, Thomas came in for a three-receiver set.
“It was really good, obviously [Thomas] is a phenomenal player who has been around for a really long time. It was good to get some throws into him and to Josh [Gordon], guys who have been in the league a long time. They’re great players for a reason,” Stidham said after the Patriots lost to the Giants, 31-29, on the last play of the game.
The three veteran receivers were out there — Edelman for less than a series, Gordon and Thomas for several — because they hadn’t played in a preseason game. All three joined the Patriots’ active roster last week.
Edelman had been sidelined with a broken thumb for most of training camp and preseason, and came off the non-football injury list. Thomas was on the physically unable to perform list, still recovering from a torn Achilles’ suffered last December, and was activated the day after Edelman. Gordon rejoined the team after having his suspension lifted by the NFL, but was prohibited from playing in the third preseason game as one of the conditions of his reinstatement.
So, three players who might not normally sniff this game wound up getting work.
Edelman didn’t make it to the end of the first offensive series. He fell on his hand diving for a catch on third and 2 and, though he gained 20 yards and a first down, walked off afterward flexing his hand and looking at his thumb. Edelman spoke to trainer Jim Whalen on the sideline, then sat on the bench without needing much medical attention.
Gordon played into the second quarter. He got his first catch out of the way early, snagging a ball on the sideline, juking a defender and rumbling a few extra yards for a gain of 19. He finished with two catches on six targets for 30 yards and drew a DPI penalty.
“I’ve really thought he’s been doing some really good things. Josh is obviously very talented,” Stidham said.
Thomas had a big night. At 31 and coming off a major injury, it’s fair to wonder how much he has left, physically. It’s difficult to get an answer to that question from a preseason game in which Thomas was playing against second-and-third string defensive backs, but his performance was good.
Thomas played most of the first half and finished with seven catches on eight targets for 87 yards and two touchdowns. The first was a gorgeous back-shoulder ball from Stidham that went 35 yards, the second was a 3-yard grab with Stidham throwing on the move, rolling left.
“We’ll take a look at the film and see how it looks,” was all coach Bill Belichick said of Thomas or anyone else.
Thomas wasn’t winning with pure explosion, but he looked smooth and plenty savvy finding open spaces and making catches. He said it was a comfort to take the field, and spend a little time in the end zone, for the first time in a game since his injury.
“To get the game pace, to get the calls, line up, see different coverages, different guys than I see at practice, I think it’s a great start and I can build on it,” Thomas said.
Thomas, who has been a customer at the TB12 Sports Therapy center, said he feels healthy, and that he’s playing a little heavier and stronger than he was last year before his injury.
He said he didn’t feel tenative on the field. He didn’t look that way, either.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the end zone and to have on the Patriots jersey to score, it was big for me,” Thomas said.