Wednesday, May 22, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - At some point Thursday night, Chandler Jones became very popular.
The New England Patriots rookie defensive end from Syracuse was one of the top trending topics on Twitter sometime around 10 p.m.
What's that mean? Well, people were tweeting -- or talking -- about Jones and his performance in the Patriots' opening preseason game, a sleep-inducing 7-6 win over the New Orleans Saints at Gillette Stadium.
Statistically, Jones didn't show up as one of the leading Patriots. He was only credited with two tackles.
But if you watched the game closely, you knew he had an impact, even if the Patriots weren't going to talk about it. (He is a rookie after all.)
"I think really all the players that I saw, especially the rookies, some of them did some good things but they've got a long way to go, a lot of work to do," said Bill Belichick, the Patriots head coach who seldom praises even his most veteran players. "I don't want to get too up or too down on anything. I just want to keep working to get better."
Going against 2011 Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Jones displayed the speed, strength and agility that prompted the Patriots to take him with the 21st pick of last April's draft.
He played almost the entire first half and had his biggest impact in the second quarter.
On successive plays Bushrod was called for holding penalties against Jones, putting the Saints in a big hole. Later in that same drive, Jones broke off a block and tracked down scrambling quarterback Chase Daniel, preventing him from getting a first down.
As a rule, the Patriots don't want rookies to talk to the media. Ever.
And so Jones was unavailable.
Other players were willing to talk about Jones and some of the other rookies who could impact the Patriots chances this year, like linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who also started and played both outside and inside positions, defensive end Jake Bequette and safety Tavon Wilson, who saw extensive action.
Hightower was credited with four tackles and a quarterback hit. Wilson was in on three tackles. Bequette had three tackles and a sack.
"Those guys play hard and they fly around," said safety Steve Gregory, who had one of New England's two interceptions. "I'm sure there's areas where they can get better. We'll get back and watch the film and see those areas.
"But it's good to have some young guys out there who can lay some thumpings."
Wilson, the only rookie who talked to the media, liked how things came together. But he realizes this is just the first preseason game of the season.
"It was important for us to get in there and show what we can do," he said. "But we've got to get better. We can't stop. We've got to keep going forward."
Linebacker Bobby Carpenter, like Gregory a free-agent signing in the off-season, liked what he saw from the young blood.
"It looked like those guys made some plays," he said. "We'll see on tape. But I think they work hard and study up so hopefully they're in the right spots."
It is important for the rookies to be in the right spots. The Pats had one of the league's worst defenses last year and need to catch up with one of the NFL's most prolific offenses -- Thursday's lackluster performance notwithstanding.
To do that, Jones, Hightower and the others need to step up.
"We're just trying to go out there every day and trying to be great teammates," said Wilson. "We try to encourage each other to get better each day."
Spoken like a true Patriots veteran.
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: