New England Patriots played their fourth and final preseason game Thursday night against the New York Football Giants and lost 19-14 thereby going 0-4 in their preseason games. Further, QB Tom Brady did not play a single down in all four games with a reported foot injury. This I believe was intentional on HC Bill Belichick’s part to save the wear and tear on Tom Brady’s arm and most importantly not expose him to further bodily injury behind the Patriots surprisingly porous offensive line. Those same O-line deficiencies which have been well-documented were also the main reason their RBs were held in check generally throughout the preseason although LaMont Jordan was successful in spots.
After falling behind 19-0 to the Giants at the end of three-quarters, the Patriots came alive in the 4th quarter with two touchdowns to make the final score appear to signal a close, hard-fought contest. First, it was reserve WR CJ Jones who jump-started the Patriots with a kickoff return of 44 yards that culminated in a 16-yard TD pass from rookie QB Kevin O’Connell to WR Chad Jackson. That was followed shortly thereafter by Jones’ punt-return of 42-yards resulting in a 5-yard TD by O’Connell late in the quarter. One got the feeling that if the Patriots had gotten the ball back again their reserves were on such a roll that they would have scored to win the game, thus finishing the preseason with a 1-3 record.
The one group that consistently played well throughout the game if not the preseason were the rookie linebackers. Specifically, Jerod Mayo, Shawn Crable, Gary Guyton and Vince Redd surprised the coaches and the fans (and maybe themselves) with their overall stellar play on defense and special teams. Further, the same positive case could be made for the rookie CBs Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite along with second-year reserves Ray Ventrone and Antwain Spann. Defensive linemen Jarvis Green and Kenny Smith played well against the Giants especially in goal-line situation.
However I got just the opposite feeling regarding the defensive secondary as far as the veterans were concerned. Offseason free agent acquisitions led by CB Fernando Bryant (who was penciled in to replace top free agent defector CB Asante Samuel), Jason Webster and Lewis Sanders were major disappointments this preseason leading one to believe that a trade for a No. 1 CB may still be necessary at this late date. In CBs Ellis Hobbs and the aforementioned Wheatley, the Patriots feel they have the No. 2 CB and the Nickel-Back positions adequately covered.
With the 2008 season fast approaching, the Patriots must pare the roster down to 53 players by this Saturday, formulate an 8-man practice squad and then prepare for the Kansas City Chiefs visit to Gillette Stadium next Sunday. Fortunately, it appears that most of the veterans who were held out of and/or nicked in the preseason games will be ready for the Chiefs starting with QB Tom Brady. When you are scheduled to play 16 regular season games plus hopefully 3 postseason games like the Patriots did last year to reach the Super Bowl, having the Patriots veterans not playing much, if at all, in 4 preseason games seems to make a lot of sense.