FOXBOROUGH — He may have had just three carries for 23 yards, but Brandon Bolden was a do-it-all running back for the Patriots in Thursday night’s 35-14 win over the Giants.
He got things started when he blocked his man back into Giants punter Riley Dixon, leading to a blocked punt that rookie defensive end Chase Winovich took in for the Patriots’ first touchdown of the game.
“I just made contact with him and as I was driving him back, I really had two options,” Bolden said. “Either throw him into the punter or just stick my hand up. I stuck my hand up and the ball just hit off of my hand. Luck at that point.”
The Patriots then turned to Bolden at the 1-yard line in the second half, tapping him as the goal-line back after they’d struggled in earlier short-yardage situations. That decision led to their first offensive touchdown of the game.
Bolden said it meant a lot to him to be trusted in that situation.
“A lot. They trust me with the ball,” he said. “As much as I can, I show I appreciate them and get it in there.”
It was Bolden’s second touchdown of the season. His career high is three touchdowns, which was his total during the 2013 season.
Not just another guy
Dont’a Hightower is quick to the ball. And he’s also pretty quick with a response when asked what it’s like to play with Lawrence Guy.
“He’s a damn tank out there,’’ Hightower said matter-of-factly. “He’s a big leader for us in the front seven — he does a lot of stuff for us.”
Guy has quietly become one of New England’s most versatile defenders, taking on added roles and responsibilities ever since arriving via free agency in 2017.
The 6-foot-3-inch, 300-pound widebody is hybrid defensive tackle/end but can also find himself on the nose.
“He was a good player in Baltimore. He’s been a good player for us, but he continues to improve,’’ coach Bill Belichick said before Thursday night’s win. “His role varies from game to game and sometimes [within] the game. Sometimes he’s on the tackle, sometimes he’s on the guard, sometimes he’s on the center. He can do different things.’’
Versatility has been one of the buzzwords for a Patriots defense that went into Thursday night’s game against the Giants leading the NFL in points allowed (6.8 per game), total defense (239 yards per game allowed), and turnover differential (plus-7). Guy is one of the players that embodies that adaptability.
“If you look at our defense, everybody is pretty versatile and that’s what we’re built on — being able to play in multiple positions and roles on the team. It works out for us,’’ said Guy. “We’re able to replace [players] if someone goes down or if someone gets sick, we have guys that can move around or we can put different packages out there. It makes us who we are as a team.’’
Guy’s physical skills are obvious, he’s strong as an ox and his hands are like vice grips to redirect and overpower opponents. He’s also adept at the mental part of the game.
“Assignments — there’s never a problem with assignments with him,’’ said Belichick. “He’s a good communicator, makes sure the other guys on the line or if he’s playing next to a defensive end or an outside linebacker that they’re coordinating with what they’re doing.’’
Guy has a knack for always being in the right place at the right time. Guy might not always be the guy that makes the tackle but he’s almost always the guy whose actions resulted in a teammate’s tackle.
“His overall recognition and reactions and instincts are good,” said Belichick. “Sometimes things happen that we haven’t gone over or they’re a little bit different and he seems to kind of always do the right thing. Do what you would instinctively want the player to do. So, he’s been really good for us.’’
Guy does a lot of his work in anonymity, clogging lanes, occupying bodies, and creating space for his more well-known teammates to make plays and headlines.
“We actually just joked about that today,’’ said Hightower. “You know, a lot of times, on a lot of teams there’s always that unsung guy. Ever since that guy’s been here he’s done so much for us. But he doesn’t get talked about a lot but he doesn’t really care about that . . . he doesn’t get a lot of gratitude or a lot of rah-rah, which again, he’s OK with. At the end of the day, he knows how much we appreciate him.’’
Rob Gronkowski made his debut on Fox’s pregame show, but his name cropped up on the NFL Network lead-in show, too, when Robert Kraft gave hope to all those thinking the All-Pro tight end might make a comeback.
“We all love Gronk and I think the bottom line is, he hasn’t put his retirement papers in, so we can always pray and hope,’’ Kraft told the network.
The Patriots currently are rolling with young tight ends Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo. Veteran Ben Watson, who was viewed by many as Gronkowski’s replacement, was released Monday after his four-game suspension ended.
LaCosse (3 catches, 55 yards) and Izzo (4 catches, 83 yards, 1 touchdown) had their best showings Sunday in Washington, when the Patriots featured a heavy dose of two tight end sets in the second half.
Burkhead, Harris out
Running backs Rex Burkhead (foot) and rookie Damien Harris led the Patriots’ list of inactives. It was the second straight missed game for Burkhead, who has been limited at practice the last two weeks. Harris has yet to play an offensive snap this season.
Quarterback Cody Kessler, offensive tackle Korey Cunningham, defensive tackle Byron Cowart, and cornerback Joejuan Williams rounded out the gameday inactives. Receiver Phillip Dorsett (hamstring) had been ruled out on Wednesday.
Six of the Giants seven inactives came on the offensive side of the ball: running backs Saquon Barkley and Wayne Gallman, receiver Sterling Shepard, tight end Eric Engram, guard Chad Slade and tackle Eric Smith. Starting linebacker Tae Davis was the lone inactive player on defense.
Nugent settling in
It’s only been a week since he joined the Patriots, but Mike Nugent feels like he’s had enough time to feel comfortable with the whole kicking operation in New England.
That’s in part because his tryout last Wednesday was fairly long and involved.
“I think if it’s someone in college it would be a little bit longer but these guys are so good it’s unbelievable. Luckily I got to hit about 20, 21 kicks with these guys, almost 25 in my workout, so my workout was a full day,” Nugent said. “But it took two kicks, maybe one to be like OK, we’ve got this down.”
Nugent, who said he kept up a routine of kicking off once a week and practicing field goals three days a week while he was a free agent, said he was happy he’d gotten the call from his agent telling him the Patriots wanted him to come try out early enough Tuesday that he knew not to kick that day so he’d be rested for what turned out to be a long audition.
Since his was a successful tryout, those kicks ended up becoming like practice reps he took with long snapper Joe Cardona and holder Jake Bailey.
Nugent said he’s pretty easy-going about how he likes the hold and that there aren’t any particulars he prefers from Bailey. He said he missed his first kick against Washington because he wasn’t fluid on his follow through, not because of any issue with the operation overall. He expects the same to be true going forward — if the results aren’t there, blame lack of execution on Nugent’s own abilities, not the operation as a whole.
“I’ve just got to do my job because I know the other 10 guys are going to do it perfectly,” he said.
He missed a 40-yard field goal against the Giants, clanging it off the left post.
It’ll be worth monitoring Nugent’s performance as the weather gets more difficult. The former Jets and Bengals kicker’s comfort kicking in the elements seems like an obvious factor that would have drawn the Patriots to Nugent in the first place, and helped him on his tryout day. It was windy and rainy that day, but Nugent felt like it was nothing in comparison to other bad-weather days he’s kicked in Foxborough.
“It was the nicest I’ve ever been in that stadium, actually,” Nugent said.
He was either exaggerating or forgetting, since a perusal of Nugent’s past games against the Patriots includes a few early season contests with lovely conditions on record, but he’s definitely correct that he’s kicked at Gillette during some gross ones, a rainy December game in 2005 in which the temperature at kickoff was 26 degrees and another December game in 2007 that was 36 degrees with a wind chill of 25 and winds around 17 miles per hour.
The Patriots took both those games from Nugent’s Jets and he was 2 for 3 on field goals, making kicks of 38 and 33 yards but missing from 35.
Honors for Harrison
Rodney Harrison, who was enshrined in the Patriots Hall of Fame this summer, was honored at halftime. The hard-hitting safety spent the final six seasons of his 15-year career with the Patriots and won back-to-back Super Bowls in 2003 and ’04. Belichick greeted Harrison, Willie McGinest, and Deion Branch as the club left the field following warmups. “I’d like to thank the greatest coach in the history of the NFL. Coach Belichick. I love you, coach, and I appreciate you,’’ said Harrison . . . More than 2½ hours before kickoff, Belichick, in a hoodie and shorts, walked from the north end zone to midfield, checking the swirling winds to see how it would affect strategy and play-calling. “I think [the wind will] be a factor in the game,’’ the coach said during his pregame spot on 98.5. “It’ll affect the kicking game first and then we’ll see how it affects the passing game.’’