FOXBORO – In the final seconds, a Graham Gano field goal clinched a New York Giants victory against the New England Patriots. But regardless of the final score, the Patriots had some solid contributions from some of their youngest players. Here is who stood out on Thursday’s preseason opener
STUD: WR Kristian Wilkerson
With all the attention surrounding the bigger names in the receiving room, Wilkerson might slipped through the cracks during training camp. Well, slipping no more as the third-year pass catcher led the Patriots in receiving yards. Highlighted by a stunning diving grab in the first quarter, Wilkerson grabbed eight passes for 99 yards during the contest. With only a few roster spots available for wide receivers, Wilkerson certainly did all that he could to earn a role.
DUD: CB Joejuan Williams
Williams had a really confusing night. He would break up a pass and then follow that up with a touchdown given up. Then he would drop not one, but two interceptions. Certainly not the best day for the former Vanderbilt star. The crowd seemed almost fed up with Williams after an ill-timed facemask penalty extended the Giants drive.
STUD: WR Tre Nixon
Just like Wilkerson, Nixon is fighting for one of the few spots on the offense and he did fantastic on Thursday. Other than a costly third-down drop in the first quarter, Nixon had some of the best catches of the night, including two jumping grabs that led to the Patriots’ second touchdown. The second-year receiver also saw some work as a kick returner and was able to make some noise on special teams.
DUD: OT Justin Herron
Herron entered camp as the favorite to be the team’s top swing tackle, but after the opener, that role may be given to someone else. Two false start penalties, both on separate drives, were costly to the Patriots offensive production and then an injury late in the game spelled an end to Herron’s night. Not the finest start to his summer.
STUD: LB Mack Wilson
Man, oh man. Gone are the days of the Patriots’ linebackers struggling to catch up. Wilson was flying around the ball on Thursday, racking up multiple tackles and contributing in rushing the passer. He forced a big incompletion on the team’s first defensive series after knocking New York’s Daniel Jones to the ground and making him throw the ball away. Coming over in the Chase Winovich deal, the new linebacker is looking like a stud in this New England defense.
DUD: RB Pierre Strong Jr.
Head coach Bill Belichick told the media that the rookie needs to catch up after missing the beginning of training camp and that was evident come game time. Strong carried the ball six times, resulting in only 25 yards. The entire Patriots run game was off and Strong seemed slower than most of the other running backs. With James White now out of the picture, the South Dakota State rookie will need to improve from this game.
The Patriots will have three straight off-days to recover from this game and will get ready to host joint practices against the Carolina Panthers on both Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.