FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Some may never see the field in a regular-season game, while others may be beginning of a decade-long run in the league.

But for all the rookies, New England’s 26-17 preseason win over Washington on Thursday was the realization of a lifelong dream.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Ralph Webb, the rookie running back who enjoyed a breakout performance. “I’ve been working my whole life for this, to come out here and get a chance to compete. I’m just happy and I’m blessed to be able to be here, and say that I did it.”

After toiling through training camp wearing odd placeholder numbers, being given an official number was a small but meaningful acknowledgment of their achievement thus far. Webb was issued No. 22 and by the end of the night it seemed appropriate. He entered the game in the second half, rushed for two touchdowns and added two 2-point conversions to help the Patriots rally.

Webb was singled out and congratulated by Coach Bill Belichick in front of the whole team, and his teammates couldn’t contain their excitement in the locker room.

Of all the rookies to sign with the Patriots this offseason, Webb had mostly flown under the radar. An undrafted free agent, Webb was a four-year starter at Vanderbilt and is the sixth-leading rusher in SEC history (4,178 yards), on a list that includes Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson.


Webb wasn’t alone among rookies who made an impression Thursday. Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley tied for the team lead in tackles with six and even got several reps as the defensive play caller. Defensive end Trent Harris had a strip sack that led to Geneo Grissom’s near-touchdown return in the fourth quarter. Receiver Braxton Berrios was the primary punt returner and quarterback Danny Etling came in to lead three series in the fourth quarter.

“It was a pretty surreal feeling,” Etling said. “You work your whole life for this one moment, to run out there and throw your first pass, run your first play. It was a pretty awesome moment of an accumulation of a lot of years of hard work and a lot of years hopefully to come.”

SHORTLY AFTER the end of Belichick’s press conference Thursday night, a report surfaced that Tom Brady wasn’t available to play because of a sore back.

It’s unclear whether he would have played anyway, as Brady has often been held out of the first preseason game.

On Friday, Belichick offered no update or even confirmation when asked if he had an update on Brady’s condition.

“No, sorry, I don’t,” he said.


BACK FROM a torn ACL last summer, Patriots defensive end Derek Rivers couldn’t have asked much more from his first game action than a shot to clobber Washington running back Rob Kelley for a 1-yard stop.

A second-year player still without any regular-season game or practice experience, Rivers finds himself in a unique situation. He’s young and raw yet familiar with NFL life. But as far as Belichick is concerned, Rivers, while showing steady improvement, is basically in the same boat as every player at this stage of training camp.

He has lots of work to do.

“He’s still got a long way to go, and there’s an element of him making up the reps and experience that some of the players last year who were rookies, either on the practice squad or on the 53-man active roster, were able to gain some experience that he wasn’t able to gain,” Belichick said Friday via conference call.

“But as I said, there’s nothing we can do about that now. The good news is he works extremely hard, he’s in good shape, he hasn’t missed anything out there, so he continues to practice hard, to learn, to get better, to make adjustments and improvements and just keep grinding it out.”

Rivers recorded three tackles and a quarterback hit. He entered off the bench and barring injury, should do so in the regular season.

Known for his pass-rushing ability coming out of Youngstown State in 2017, Rivers projects to be an integral part of New England’s plans to generate more pressure this season.

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