Five takeaways from Patriots-Texans: All-purpose backs Burkhead, Lewis look sharp

Five takeaways from Patriots-Texans: All-purpose backs Burkhead, Lewis look sharp

HOUSTON -- We'll have plenty of analysis and reporting from the Patriots and Texans locker rooms later, but here are five quick-hit takeaways from Saturday's preseason matchup at NRG Stadium . . . 

1. ALL-PURPOSE BACKS COULD BE HEADACHES FOR OPPOSING DEFENSES

Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis both looked quick on their feet and showed off their well-rounded games against Houston's defense. Burkhead finished with seven carries for 20 yards and caught three passes for 50 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown where he freed himself from linebacker Zach Cunningham with a nifty move over the middle of the field. Burkhead also showed up in pass protection. Lewis, meanwhile, had seven carries for 34 yards and caught one pass for nine yards. He also returned a kick for 29 yards, flashing his impressive burst and vision. Both players have value as between-the-tackle runners and receivers and seem to be ideal fits for the Patriots offense when they run their hurry-up. Should Josh McDaniels break out his "pony" formation, using both players in the backfield, it could be a nightmare for opposing defenses this year. Keep them in the backfield? Flex them out wide and hope to get linebackers on them in coverage? Their versatility gives the Patriots all kinds of options, and with Mike Gillislee still out injured, both had plenty of opportunities to play on Saturday. 

MORE: Gronkowski takes the field vs. Texans for first preseason action since 2012

2. GOSTKOWSKI ON THE MARK

Stephen Gostkowski hit all three field goals he attempted as well as all three of his extra-point attempts. He shanked a 56-yarder last week against the Jaguars, but he was on point against the Texans, making kicks of 51, 42 and 38 yards. 

3. ROBERTS CARTED OFF, FURTHER THINNING FRONT-SEVEN

The Patriots are already dealing with a number of injuries to their front-seven and they suffered another on Saturday. While in coverage of running back D'Onta Foreman on a slant, Elandon Roberts collided with teammate Jonathan Freeny and stayed down. He was eventually carted from the sideline area with what the team announced as a rib injury. Should Roberts miss significant time, the Patriots would be left with David Harris, Kyle Van Noy and Freeny as their primary off-the-ball 'backers. Shea McClellin and Dont'a Hightower (PUP) figure to play big roles when healthy, but they have not been available for some time. Second-year player out of Maine Trevor Bates and undrafted rookie out of BYU Harvey Langi have both been utilized as linebackers of late. 

4. GAROPPOLO TURNS IT OVER TWICE UNDER PRESSURE

Jimmy Garoppolo got plenty of work in preseason game No. 2, subbing in for Tom Brady after Brady saw 17 snaps. It was not the clean-and-tidy performance he put together against the Jags last week. He missed two throws on his first two drives, he was the victim of a strip-sack when Tony Washington charged completely unblocked into the Patriots backfield, and he was picked by Denzel Rice when he rolled out to his right and threw high on the run to Jacob Hollister. That play looked like the type of throw Garoppolo made more regularly in training camp earlier this summer when interceptions in practice were an issue. 

5. NO SIGN OF FLOWERS

It's worth keeping an eye on Trey Flowers' availability moving forward. He did not see any playing time on Saturday despite being the team's top defensive end. Perhaps it was simply a way for Bill Belichick and his staff to ensure they didn't lose another defensive end to injury. They're hurting at that spot with rookies Derek Rivers (knee) and Deatrich Wise (head) dealing with injuries. 

Goodell statement calls Trump's comments 'divisive'

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Goodell statement calls Trump's comments 'divisive'

In separate statements Saturday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith each criticized President Donald Trump's verbal attack on NFL players. 

Goodell's statement: 

The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we’ve experienced over the last month.  Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.

 

And Smith's statement: 

Whether or not Roger or the owners will speak for themselves about their views on player rights and their commitment to player safety remains to be seen. This union, however, will never back down when it comes to protecting the constitutional rights of our players as citizens as well as their safety as men who compete in a game that exposes them to great risks. 

 

NFLPA president Eric Winston, a tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals, also tweeted a statement critical of the President:

At a rally in Alabama on Friday night, Trump said NFL owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem. And he encouraged NFL fans to walk out of games in protest. 

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ’Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,” Trump told the rally. 

He also lamented that football has become less violent.

“They’re ruining the game,” he complained.

McCourty tweets criticism of Trump's shot at NFL players

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McCourty tweets criticism of Trump's shot at NFL players

Patriots safety Devin McCourty tweeted criticism of President Donald Trump's harsh words toward NFL players who have been kneeling in protest during the national anthem.

McCourty shares a Twitter account with his twin brother Jason of the Cleveland Browns but put his DMac signature on this tweet. Devin McCourty was one of several Pats who didn't go to the White House this past spring to celebrate the team's Super Bowl championship with Trump. 

At a rally in Alabama on Friday night, Trump said NFL owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem. And he encouraged NFL fans to walk out of games in protest. 

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ’Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,” Trump told the rally to loud applause.

McCourty and then-teammate Martellus Bennett raised clenched fists in protest after the anthem at the Patriots opening game last season and McCourty said he received plenty of criticism for it. 

“I got a lot of [backlash],” McCourty told CSN Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran last year in the days following that protest. "You gotta remember, a lot of these people, they don’t know me. They like the way I play football and they like some of the things I do in the community but they don’t know me. I talked to my brother [then with the Tennessee Titans] because we have the same Twitter and the Titans got a bunch of calls from people saying they don’t respect [the Titans who made symbolic gestures] and they need to be gone. He said their community relations people said, ‘If you just knew them, your opinion would change.’ ”

Several NFL players and other athletes, most prominently former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have refused to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest the treatment of African-Americans by police.