Patriots preseason: Top three players from Game 1

Published On August 11, 2012 | By Tanya Ray Fox

The New England Patriots kicked off the 2012-2013 season with a 7-6 win over the New Orleans Saints at Gillette Stadium on Thursday night. So now that the first preseason game is out of the way, we can start focusing on the real stuff: waiting for the next three preseason games to get out of the way for the regular season.

Of course, it is hard not to get fired up about the return of New England’s favorite pastime. With the exponentially worsening situation known as the Boston Red Sox cluttering our TVs with oft-injured mediocrity and blabbermouth-ing, it’s refreshing to enjoy some summertime sport with a team that has their act together.

There really isn’t much logistically to take away from the commencement of the Patriots’ season. The game was more of a coming out party for this year’s team than anything else. It’s just how it goes. Everyone just gets pumped up to see Tom Brady suited up and leading his teammates into another season in which they are again favorites to make a Super Bowl run. The execution of plays and how the team functions as a whole is secondary to the “debut”.

Still, there were a few game highlights worth noting. Even at 50 percent, the New Orleans offense is a force to reckon with and therefore a perfect first test for the Patriots’ defense. If Thursday’s game was any indication, Bill Belichick has put together a group that is on the rise, as they stifled the Saints in every way. So in no specific order, the top three players of Game 1 of the New England Patriots preseason:

  1. Shane Vereen – Although it was last year’s breakout back Stevan Ridley that started the game, it was fellow second-year back Vereen that stole the spotlight. Vereen had 11 carries for 64 yards on the night, adding another 17 yards on two catches as well; most of which he achieved in the opening drive of the third quarter that led to the only touchdown of the night from Brian Hoyer to Britt Davis. His talents as a smaller and faster back with great pass-catching ability distinguish him from Ridley, who gains his yards by pounding the line of scrimmage with his much larger six-foot frame. Their contrasting styles and skill sets should give the Patriots the versatility they need at the position to make up for not having a top-tier running back.
  1. Chandler Jones- The Patriots drafted Jones out of Syracuse in the first round with the 21st overall pick of this year’s draft, and so far, it’s easy to see why. Although Jones finished the game with just two tackles, the box score didn’t exactly tell the whole story. His presence on the defensive line was the talk of the game. His NFL debut also featured him drawing two consecutive holding penalties from former Pro-bowl tackle Jermon Bushrod and hurrying Drew Brees from the pocket to force a throw-away. His power and motor off the line in addition to his size and speed even inspired Bushrod to say he looks a little but like elite pass-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul. Although it might be a little too soon to tell whether he possess JPP-type talent, he’s definitely an exciting young addition to the re-vamped Patriot defense.
  1. Jerod Mayo- Two seasons ago, Mayo led the league in tackles. Despite a downhill year last season, Mayo is a leader and a defensive staple on a unit that features an inordinate amount of young, albeit talented, players. While his decision-making wasn’t perfect all game, he had some seriously standout plays, including demolishing Darren Sproles for a loss of yards and tipping the Chase Daniels pass that was subsequently intercepted by Steve Gregory. If Thursday night’s game was any indication, Belichick is going to continue to switch back and forth between the 3-4 and the 4-3 defense. Mayo and fellow veteran Vince Wilfork’s steady performance and play-reading ability will be vital to the teams’ overall defensive success. 

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