The Patriots won first preseason game Friday night, a 30-28 decision to the Lions at Ford Field, but the team is dealing with a potential huge loss.
Top receiver Julian Edelman suffered a right knee injury on the fifth play of New England’s initial drive of the game. Coach Bill Belichick had no update on Edelman after the game, but according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who was at the game, the Patriots fear Edelman tore his ACL and he’s scheduled to have an MRI on Saturday.
Edelman took a quick pass from Tom Brady and started weaving through the Lions defense. He planted his right foot and his leg bent awkwardly at the end of the 18-yard gain. He appeared to be wincing and grabbing behind his knee as he hit the turf.
He limped to the sideline and went to the medical tent. After Brady hit Chris Hogan for a 7-yard touchdown to cap the drive, the quarterback sped to the tent to check on Edelman.
“I was just checking on him. We’ll see what the extent of it is. We’re all hoping for the best,’’ said Brady. “It’s tough anytime a teammate goes down . . . He’s just an incredible teammate and player, so like I said, we’re just hoping for the best.’’
After a short stay, Edelman was carted to the locker room, his head hanging down.
Edelman, who had three catches for 52 yards on the drive, was the Patriots’ leading receiver last season, catching 98 passes for 1,106 yards.
The nine-year veteran is the premier slot receiver in the league and a prolonged absence would create a huge void in an offense that relies on his quickness and consistency.
Edelman is a master at getting open quickly and is always on the same page with Brady.
New England has a deep receiving corps and while veterans Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks have slot experience neither are as accomplished in that role as Edelman. Undrafted rookie Austin Carr was an exceptional slot receiver at Northwestern and has had a solid camp. He could get a long look this week.
“You never want to see a guy go down, especially a guy like Julian with how hard he works,’’ said Rob Gronkowski. “I don’t know what’s going on with him but hoping for the best.’’
Here are some observations from New England’s first win of the preseason, which wraps up Thursday when they host the Giants.
■ Brady was in command. Playing six series, he led the Patriots to scores on their first four drives. He hit on 12 of 15 passes for 174 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Hogan. It felt like he could have carved up the Lions all night as the Patriots raced to a 24-0 lead.
His second scoring strike was a beautifully timed 32-yard sideline toss that came one play after a Patriots fumble recovery. He did have a bitter ending as his last pass of the first half was intercepted in the end zone on what appeared to be a miscommunication with Hogan.
■ Hogan was uncoverable. The Lions had no answer for the slippery speedster, who consistently got behind the defenders on go routes and crosses. He had four catches for 70 yards and his importance to this offense is now magnified by Edelman’s injury.
■ Yet another running back emerges. Mike Gillislee became the latest rusher to have a strong preseason performance. Seeing his first action of the preseason after being limited by a hamstring injury, Gillislee ran for 38 yards on eight carries, including a 27-yard run. He had a 1-yard touchdown run and a 2-point conversion rush.
Gillislee follows in the footsteps of Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, Brandon Bolden, and D.J. Foster, all of whom have shone at times in early going.
■ Don’t sleep on James White. The Super Bowl hero did some tough runninghimself, collecting 25 yards on four rushes. The Patriots showed the pony backfield a couple of times with White and Lewis flanking Brady in the shotgun.
■ James Develin’s contributions can’t be overlooked. The rugged fullback played a ton of first-half snaps and was a bear. His best block came on Gillislee’s 27-yard run when he flattened linebacker Jarrad Davis to create a lane.
“We ran that play earlier in the game and I didn’t do the right thing so we came back to it and I was able to make the right read and Mike just sprang it,’’ said Develin. “It was really a well executed play by everyone.’’
■ The offense struggled when Brady and Co. exited. Jimmy Garoppolo couldn’t get anything going with the second team as the line didn’t give him a lot of time and couldn’t get a consistent push for Foster until their final possessions.
The penultimate drive was a 13-play, 68-yard that led to a short Stephen Gostkowski field goal that trimmed Detroit’s lead to 28-27. The last drive led to Gostkowski’s winning 45-yarder.
■ Kony Ealy again battled inconsistency. On a day when NFL Media reported he was being shopped by the Patriots, the defensive end never looked comfortable and was late on several plays.
Prior to the game, Belichick had said Ealy had been on the “upswing” but that trend didn’t continue against the Lions.
■ The secondary had a mixed night. Eric Rowe’s interception of a deflected ball was the best play. The toughest was Malcolm Butler getting beaten down the right sideline for a 23-yard Matthew Stafford to Marvin Jones TD.
■ Jordan Richards gets a new role. The third-year safety, who has struggled in coverage the last two weeks, played closer to the box and on the edge. He was active and physical at the point of attack but did miss a tackle on Dwayne Washington’s touchdown catch.