TAMPA - Computer issues. I don't even want to talk about it. The first half. It was 20-7 at the break with Tampa scoring on its opening drive, a methodical nine-play number, an interception return (we'll get to that) and two 50-plus field goals. Assorted notes. The initial dime defense featured Devin McCourty, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling and Steve Gregory on the field. Ebner played at the linebacker level. He showed nice coverage ability dropping on Dallas Clark on one play. On the Bucs initial drive, Doug Martin went in from the 1 and Jerod Mayo, who tried to time his leap to meet Martin at the goal line, got flipped over the pile dangerously but was fine. The starting offensive line featured Dan Koppen at center. The second offensive line had Dan Connolly in there. Ryan Wendell also took a series there. The rotation continued through the game. Marcus Cannon gave up a costly sack. He got beat off the edge by Michael Bennett after making an initial push to redirect Bennett then Cannon kinda stood there and Brady got lit up. His fumble was recovered by Spencer Larsen. On the ensuing third-and-14, Brady got picked by rookie Mark Barron who returned it for a score. And Cannon's weak summer continues. Stevan Ridley ran very well for most of the first half. He finished with 52 yards on 10 carries including a 29-yard run well-blocked by Donald Thomas and Deion Branch. Ridley had a blitz pickup mistake that led to another Brady sack. Long snapper Danny Aiken had a shaky snap that was well-handled by holder Zoltan Mesko on a PAT attempt. Daniel Fells saw his first action of the preseason at tight end. Marquice Cole came in to play the "Star" position on a few nickel defense plays and was very competent. Julian Edelman had a solid 15-yard punt return where he buzzed straight upfield. Logan Mankins played a portion of the first half before Thomas went in for him at right guard. The Patriots used a fleet of return options. Devin McCourty (twice) and Kyle Arrington returned kickoffs. Sketchy decision on the first one by McCourty to bring out a bouncing kick. Aaron Hernandez was in for a punt return late in the first half. (STRAY THIRD QUARTER NOTES) Chandler Jones got himself a third-quarter sack and Brandon Bolden was on the field for the first series of the second half at running back.
This felt like a step backward for Jimmy Garoppolo.
The preseason had been shaping up so nicely for him, too. He'd be able to ride the wave of momentum following his strong performance last week against the Bears, and carry that into Carolina, where he would take on a very good defense on the road. What better way to simulate what he'll see in Week 1 of the regular season in Arizona?
Then something happened. Garoppolo, who looked cool last week at Gillette Stadium, seemed rattled by the Panthers defense. The quarterback who hadn't turned the ball over all preseason very nearly gave it away twice. Whereas he made calculated risks in the red zone last week, this week there were head-scratchers in the same area.
"Ups and downs," said Garoppolo, who beat the Panthers, 19-17, and finished the game 9-for-15 for 57 yards. "Just little things here and there we need to get corrected. We’ll take care of it."
Garoppolo's first third-down throw foreshadowed what was to come for the Patriots on third down Friday night. He threw what should have been an easy interception for linebacker Luke Kuechly when there was a miscommunication between him and receiver Julian Edelman.
Edelman stopped and turned for a pass a few yards off the line of scrimmage. Garoppolo targeted him as though he was still moving, hitting Kuechly between the numbers at the Carolina 12-yard line.
The team started the night 0-for-7 on third down.
"It’s my fault. I can’t put it in the linebacker’s hands like that," said Garoppolo, who insisted splitting reps in practice wasn't to his detriment. "It’s just bottom line. Just got to be smart. It’s tight windows, tight throws. Just got to finish with touchdowns."
Later in the game, Garoppolo didn't recognize a Panthers pressure, he took a glancing blow from a defender and escaped the pocket. Rather than throw the football away, he tried to make a positive play and was stripped from behind by linebacker Thomas Davis.
Patriots running back James White was there to pounce on the ball, and Garoppolo was fortunate to escape with his turnover column clean.
Still, Garoppolo knows there are adjustments to make. In order to give the Patriots a chance to beat the Cardinals in Week 1, he'll probably have to play better than he did on Friday.
“We’ll do our best to get in there,” Garoppolo said. “We have two weeks until then and we’ll work. There’s little things here and there. Overall, there’s some good things that we did tonight.
"We just have to get the little things corrected or they’re going to bite us in the butt. We’re going to work our tails off to get to that point. We’ll get there.”
CHARLOTTE – D.J. Foster began making his case to stick on the Patriots’ 53-man roster Friday night against the Panthers.
An undrafted pass-catching back from Arizona State who’d missed almost all of training camp with an unknown injury was pretty persuasive. He caught three passes for 33 yards, showing nice burst, carried twice for 9 and returned a punt for 16. He saw his action late in the third with fellow rookie Jacoby Brissett in at quarterback.
Foster punctuated his first reception – an 11-yard screen that Brissett (9-for-9 for 85 yards and a touchdown) – by lowering his shoulder and delivering a blow that Foster said he wanted to “get that adrenaline going.”
“It felt great,” said Foster. “It had been a long time. I was telling some guys, that was the first time I’d gotten hit since college. It felt good to get back out there. The coaches gave me a chance to get out there and show what I could do.”
James White will be the Patriots sub-back (or third down back or pass-catching back or whatever you want to call him) until Dion Lewis returns from his knee malady. But Foster showed the acceleration and quickness that made him such a productive player for the Sun Devils. With 222 receptions for 2,458 yards and another 2,355 on the ground, Foster would fit nicely in an offense like the Patriots that uses the short and intermediate passing game so well.
He hasn’t had much chance to make a case to stick and the Patriots – with White, LeGarrette Blount, Tyler Gaffney, Brandon Bolden and Joey Iosefa all in the mix – may have to take their chances with releasing Foster and hoping he goes unclaimed so New England can bring him back for their practice squad. It’s a risk, but other teams are encountering the same issues at cutdown time. Do they pluck a player they passed on in the draft and put him on their roster ahead of players they’ve been working with since the spring?
Bill Belichick wasn’t effusive in his praise for Foster but did indicate it was a good opportunity to at least see him in game action.
“We played a couple of guys that haven’t gotten much playing time so we got a chance to look at them,” he explained. “D.J. is one of those so we wanted to give him a few opportunities to handle the ball because he hasn’t done it this year. I thought he did some good things. There are a couple of things that he could do a little better but we’ll look at the film and see how it goes. He did a couple of things with his chances out there.”
To make the most of those chances, Foster said he avoided getting too hyped before getting on the field.
“Just keeping my calm and hearing the playcall and just doing the mechanics and all the fundamentals of being in the backfield (was the focus),” said Foster. "Coach Ivan (Fears, running backs coach) did a great job of keeping me mellow. I felt healthy, I felt really good. I got some punt returns, some kick returns, some special teams. I was seeking contact to get that adrenaline going.
“It’s a long process,” he acknowledged. “Talking to the veteran guys, they said it’s a long process. I knew battling my injury and come back healthy, I came back strong and I felt ready.”
We’ll see if it’s enough to carve out a niche on the roster. The cutdown to 75 players comes Tuesday.
Logan Ryan, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, all Rutgers alumni, brought a smirk to Bill Belichick's face. Also, Mike Giardi and Tom E. Curran analyze Jimmy Garoppolo's peformance