Even without Brady, Patriots are in high gear in exhibition rout
FOXBOROUGH - If you traveled to Gillette Stadium last night to see Chad Ochocinco in his first game as a Patriot, you got to see how he looks in the uniform, but not much else.
A host of offensive and defensive players were on the sideline for New England’s preseason-opening 47-12 win over Jacksonville, from Ochocinco to Tom Brady to Wes Welker and the top linemen.
But that didn’t mean the impressive plays at Gillette Stadium last night ended with the tight-formation, six-jet flyover before kickoff.
The stars of the night for the Patriots were second-year receiver Taylor Price and rookie running back Stevan Ridley (three touchdowns), as well as the solid play of quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett.
“It was good to get started after a couple of weeks of practices against ourselves,’’ coach Bill Belichick said. “I thought there were some positive things tonight. We got off to a slow start . . . But we got a good look at a lot of people, the young players, got to see them against [Jacksonville’s] top people, so we’ll have some good film for evaluation.’’
A third-round draft pick last year, Price was a game-day inactive for every contest, save the regular-season finale against the Dolphins. Belichick noted that Price came from an unsophisticated offense at Ohio, so his rookie season was essentially like a college redshirt year - Price practiced and learned, asking questions of receivers coach Chad O’Shea and Deion Branch, whose locker is two stalls away.
Price showed early in the second quarter that he’s capable of making the tough catch. He reached way behind him to pull in a pass from Hoyer in the back of the end zone, and got both feet inbounds for the score.
The play came on third-and-8 from the 11-yard line.
Price finished with five catches for 105 yards.
It was Hoyer’s only touchdown pass of the night, but he showed why the coaching staff has faith in the former undrafted rookie. Playing largely against the Jaguars’ expected defensive starters, he completed 15 of 21 passes for 171 yards. He absorbed a couple of hits, but was not sacked.
Hoyer said the offense began to execute better after some early fumbles. It also picked up the pace of play. Overall, he called his effort “good’’ but knows he has room for improvement. His first self-criticism was on the touchdown to Price, wishing it had been a better throw.
Because of the lockout, rookies in particular have been in a tough spot since training camps opened - they didn’t have the rookie camps and other team camps with their coaches during the offseason.
But the Patriots’ drafting of Mallett raised some eyebrows. The Arkansas product was considered to have an arm worthy of a first-round pick, but because of off-field concerns, he slid to New England in the third round.
Mallett was impressive last night. He looked comfortable in the pocket, and the extra time he has been putting in doing drills to improve his footwork seems to be working.
But any belief that Hoyer might be supplanted as the top backup to Brady was squashed; he ran the offense well, moving the ball after some early struggles - he completed his first pass, to Aaron Hernandez, but the tight end fumbled it away to the Jaguars’ David Jones.
The Patriots’ second possession was a three-and-out, hurt by another fumble, this time by Danny Woodhead. Woodhead recovered the ball, but lost the 5 yards he’d gained.
Mallett played the second half, completing 12 of 19 passes for 164 yards, with the touchdown to Ridley.
“I felt like I was comfortable after the first play. I had fun going against a different defense,’’ Mallett said. “Working the different situations, even though there weren’t two minutes on the clock, we wanted to work it.’’
Ridley, one of the Patriots’ two third-round picks this year, showed impressive versatility. It was believed that injured second-rounder Shane Vereen was the back who was capable of being a third-down weapon, but Ridley had 16 carries for 64 yards and two TDs, and added seven catches for 47 yards and another score, a 16-yard screen pass from Mallett in the third quarter.
“I just went out there and played ball,’’ Ridley said. “Just to get out there and do a lot of things - catching the ball and running, try to be an all-around back. I’m nowhere close to perfect and I just have a lot of work to do. I’m not satisfied. I’m sure the coaches aren’t either.’’
Hernandez regrouped after his early fumble and finished with six catches for 68 yards.
Defensively, New England went without Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Albert Haynesworth, and Devin McCourty; Dane Fletcher was a standout at linebacker, dropping running back Rashad Jennings for a 6-yard loss in the first quarter, and also filling the hole to stop fullback Montell Owens for no gain.
The 47 points were the most for New England in the preseason.