FOXBOROUGH — Tyquan Thornton knew the recent history of No. 11, his new jersey number, when it was presented to him before the New England Patriots’ preseason opener against the New York Giants Thursday.

“Julian (Edelman) was a great receiver. I’m proud to wear that number after him,” said Thornton, who wore both 81 and 9 during his college career at Baylor.

As is tradition in recent years under Bill Belichick, rookies wear wonky jersey numbers in the 50s during training camp before being given more traditional digits for the preseason games. Thornton traded his awkward No. 51 practice jersey for No. 11 and got started on adding to the legacy Edelman started.

“I feel a little better in 11. I feel like it fits me more,” said the Patriots’ second-round pick who started was in the starting lineup. The Giants won the game, 23-21, on a last-play 24-yard field goal from Graham Gano.

With 3:10 left in the first quarter of the Patriots’ preseason opener, Thornton broke down the sideline, racing past Aaron Robinson, a projected starter at cornerback for the Giants, who’d played him close at the line of scrimmage.

Thornton’s speed was his calling card when the Patriots drafted him, and it was on display right away. He had to slow up to avoid outrunning Brian Hoyer’s throw, allowing Robinson to catch up and separate Thornton from the ball at the last second.


The play was called back for a penalty elsewhere on the field, but it planted a seed that playing up on the line against Thornton is a risk.

“Someone presses one of your guys and you know he’s fast, you’re going to give him a chance,” Hoyer said.

Later in the drive, on second-and-goal from the 2, Robinson tried to slow Thornton in the back of the end zone by grabbing his jersey and was flagged for it. But this time, the rookie slipped free and caught Hoyer’s touchdown pass despite the penalty.

“The touchdown was just basic fundamentals, something that we worked on throughout the week,” said Thornton, who had two catches for nine yards. “Hard work definitely pays off.”

Even Belichick, who often hesitates to praise a rookie by name, liked what he saw.

“In a scramble, I thought he just came back out of the route when Brian scrambled to his right and Tyquan came back out, and that was a good red area scramble play,” he said. “Those happen a lot. But they did a nice job executing it.”


The Patriots, like many NFL teams, didn’t play most of their likely starters in the preseason opener, so quarterback Mac Jones and receivers Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor were all spectators. Without them, Thornton quickly rose to the top of the list of players whose performance was most anticipated by fans watching the game. He was one of the few skill players active in the game who has a chance to carve out a role for New England when the games start to count.

Thornton’s display of speed and his touchdown catch were among the most encouraging things for an offense that’s lacked much to be excited about so far. At 6-foot-2, 182 pounds, he’s thin for an NFL player, but still handled the game’s physicality effectively. His teammates came away impressed.

“He’s a good player,” Meyers said. “He’d be a nice fit anywhere. He’s a smart player and he catches the ball well. I’m excited to have him with us.”

COLE STRANGE was the only projected offensive starter who saw the field Thursday night for the Patriots.

Such is life as a rookie in the NFL. Strange played two series at left guard – one of which culminated in Tyquan Thornton’s touchdown.

Oftentimes, first-year players can be overwhelmed by the speed of the game at the professional level, but Strange said he wasn’t because the Patriots had practiced with the same tempo.


“We’re just playing football, so I had fun. It’s kinda childish,” he said.

So how would he assess his first performance?

“For the two drives that I was in, I think fairly well,” Strange said. “But it’s kinda one of those things, you kinda have to watch the film and see how you did. Because sometimes it feels a certain way but then it’s not necessarily that way when you watch it.”

In Foxborough, the first-round pick has found fast development. When asked where he feels he’s improved, Strange cast a wide net.

“I guess in every way possible,” Strange said. “In college a bunch of the time – coaches have pointed out to me, there were times where I would hesitate off the ball and I think maybe because I was thinking. Not all the time, but every now, and then you could see me doing that. So that’s something I’ve worked on. I feel like my technique in pass protection has gotten better just because we’ve been hammering the fundamentals. So I feel like I’ve improved in that, too.”

BAILEY ZAPPE played the entire second half at quarterback. His performance wasn’t perfect, but the way he finished did impress teammates and coaches.


With Mac Jones sitting out and Brian Hoyer’s snaps limited, Zappe was given plenty of opportunities under center, throwing the ball 32 times. The rookie kept his cool, with Bill Belichick praising the rooking quarterback for staying calm. Zappe finished 19 of 32 for 205 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.

“I thought he was calm all night,” Belichick said. “Again, we’re all going to learn from things. He’ll learn from things. He made some good plays. There’s some other things that – it’s part of the learning process.”

Zappe’s lone touchdown put the Patriots ahead with 4:51 remaining.

With the Patriots trailing 20-14, he led the offense on a nine-play, 69-yard drive that ended in a 20-yard touchdown reception by Lil’Jordan Humphrey. The touchdown, Zappe’s last play of the night, was a perfectly placed throw over the middle that came as a linebacker was baring down on him for a hit.

“Showed a lot of grit,” Hoyer said about Zappe. “That’s not easy to go in your first NFL experience, especially with what they were throwing at us defensively. A lot of blitz zero, a lot of tight man coverage, some overload blitzes, so some stuff that we haven’t seen, and he hung in there. Made some great throws.”

Zappe said he was ready for the pressure.


“We prepared all week for multiple pressures that the Giants were going to give us, and that was one of the occasions that we practiced for,” Zappe said. “It came to fruition. We were able to score a touchdown, and (Humphrey) made a great play, and the O-line blocked really well and was able to let me get the ball off, and it was an overall good play.”

Zappe’s interception came with 13:41 to go when a pass intended for Josh Hammond was tipped and intercepted by Austin Calitro.

Quarterbacks coach Joe Judge was on the headset relaying plays to Zappe during the game, and the two went over plays together on the sideline when the Giants were on offense.

A few times, Hoyer grabbed the tablet Judge and Zappe were using and gave Zappe coaching points when the rookie came off the field. Jones was also nearby and provided some feedback.

By the time the team’s final offensive drive came along, Zappe felt relaxed and confident.

“My coaches, my teammates helped me a lot throughout,” Zappe said. “We all helped each other out throughout this last week of practice. … We had a bunch of good things happen this evening and a bunch of bad things or mistakes that we made, and we’re going to correct those tomorrow and this next week.”

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