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HOUSTON -- It wasn't the mechanics of his throwing motion that he was concerned about. For Jacoby Brissett, it was the way in which he was seeing the Texans defense, the length of time it took to get a feel for the game, and how his night ended that bothered him.
"I felt like I was getting my rhythm," Brissett said after the Patriots lost their exhibition with the Texans on Saturday, 23-20. "But you can't really remember all that stuff when the last play happens like that. It's the last one."
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Though the outcome of the game meant nothing, Brissett and his teammates were looking for a game-winning touchdown with less than a minute left when Brissett had the ball knocked from his hands and out of the back of the end zone for a touchback.
Brissett's night finished up with him going 5-for-10 for 36 yards. He was sacked twice and pressured on seven of his 15 drop-backs.
The reserves playing for the Texans in the fourth quarter made life difficult for Brissett and his teammates as their first two drives resulted in punts. Brissett was hit twice on those drives, and his first third-down attempt failed when Houston sniffed out a screen. The Patriots had what looked like a third-and-21 conversion on their next sequence, but Devin Lucien bobbled a catch deep over the middle of the field that fell incomplete.
Brissett seemed to make a couple of relatively difficult throws during his time on the field -- he nearly had a game-winning touchdown pass completed to Cody Hollister on a fade to the back corner of Houston's end zone, but Hollister got just one foot in-bounds -- yet he wished he could have done more to spark the Patriots offense quickly.
"I think I'm throwing the ball good," he said. "I don't think that's the issue. I think it's more so just my eyes and the timing of everything. I don't think it's throwing -- actually throwing. I think it's the mechanics of playing the game."
There was some good to be taken from Brissett's brief outing. After taking over possession with less than two minutes left, he helped the Patriots get deep into Texans territory with completions to Lucien, Sam Cotton and a third-down strike to DJ Foster. He also avoided a near sack, getting out of bounds to stop the clock, and he wisely spiked the football into the turf when he realized Houston had figured out another screen was coming.
Brissett looked back on where the third-team offense was at the start of camp -- with players like receivers Tony Washington and KJ Maye having just been added to the roster -- and pointed out that he felt they were significantly ahead of where they were then.
"I think we've gotten a lot better," Brissett said. "Just this two-minute drive is a good example. Last week we didn't make it past, what, the 40-yard line [against Jacksonville]? This week we're in the red zone with a chance to win the game. I think a lot of our young guys are stepping up and making plays and we're getting a little continuity together."
As for Brissett himself? The 2016 third-round pick has been the subject of some media speculation as to whether or not his spot on the 53-man roster is safe. After seeing some inconsistency in his play during camp practices and last week's game against the Jaguars, there were those who wondered if he was progressing at a rate that would help him survive this year's cutdown date.
Asked to give a self-evaluation after the Texans game, Brissett said, "I definitely want to do more and play better, but there are good things getting done, good learning experiences. Moving in the right direction . . .
"I feel like I'm still getting better. I think I'm doing good things. I mean, this league is hard. You just continue to work on things and continue to get better. Yeah, [tonight] the end result is a loss, but there were some good things we did out there. Some things it's good to get on film and learn from. It's a learning experience. That's what this is right now."
Whether the coaching staff sees the improvement Brissett described is unclear.
"We've all got a long way to go," Belichick said following Saturday's game when asked about Brissett's progress. "I don't think anybody's where we need to be. Any player. Any coach. Any anybody . . . Just grinding it out. It's going to take a while."
Brissett insisted that coaches have been just as tight-lipped behind the scenes when it comes to how they've seen him grow summer.
"I don't know what they think," Brissett said with a smile. "They don't tell me . . . I'm putting my best foot forward. It's up to them if they think I've been getting better or not."
I think we can all agree that the Patriots have a stacked roster, one that had us opining about the potential for a perfect season. But as training camp has shuffled along, this deep roster has shown it’s not laden with all-world pieces at every spot. Thus, we have questions about defensive end, linebacker and who is that third tackle. Not exactly Jacksonville Jaguars problems, but certainly something for us to chew on, and, to a degree, Bill Belichick as well.
Appearing on Dale, Holley and Keefe on WEEI Monday afternoon, Belichick said it will be awhile before he really knows what kind of team he has, especially when you factor in injuries, growth of players and, in some cases, decline.
“Midseason to me is always about the time where I think you kind of know what you have," Belichick said. "September, I think we’re all trying to figure out a little bit. You go into the season thinking one thing and then after you play three or four games, a lot of time you’re not as good at some things as you thought you were or maybe you’re better at some other things than you might have thought you were. Maybe some guys are performing higher, some guys lower, whatever. It takes a little while to find that equilibrium."
Belichick has a deep reservoir of knowledge acquired over some 43 years of coaching. It’s clear, that even after all these years, his passion for the game is as strong as ever. You can see it in the way he interacts with just about everyone on the roster, from Tom Brady to Danny Amendola to some of the undrafted players who don’t have a snowball’s chance of making this - or any other - roster in the NFL. Which may be why Belichick explained in great detail why everyone, including Brady, need to start over every year.
“As it relates to training camp, look I have been coaching for 43 years, but at the start of training camp as a coach I have to refine my on-field coaching skills," Belichick said. "I have to refine my in-game coaching skills. It is something I haven’t done for six months and it’s with a different team. It’s with different players, different options than a year ago or two years ago. There is a whole preparing process involved there that I don’t care how long you played, each year is different because you have to start all over again. You have a new team and you’re doing something you haven’t done in six months. If you stopped doing something for six months and tried to pick it up later - it might be related, scouting players or going through draft process, things like that, but it’s not the same - it’s on-field coaching decisions, that didn’t start until two weeks ago.
“Then as it relates to players in general, experienced players know a lot about the game, but again there are new players. Every team you play is different. Each opponent is different. They have different players, different strengths and weaknesses and they have made changes to their system just like we made them to ours. So, I think that is important to tell any player. I don’t care how long he’s played in the league. If he’s been in the league 17 years it doesn’t mean he knows the team we’re playing because whatever changes they made from last year to this year, or maybe we’re not familiar with that team, then it is your job as a coach to try and get him prepared for that team. There’s a lot of things as a coach you try and do for every player, not just the rookies.”
So whereas Brady may think he has all the answers to the test, Belichick will be there to keep hitting him with pop quizzes - just like he will with the rest of the roster - to make sure they’re at the level he wants them to be, when he wants them to be there.