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Quick hits: Giants 20, Patriots 17

09.02.10 at 10:01 pm ET
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The Patriots have wrapped up both a 20-17 loss to Giants and their preseason. Notable things included the return of a certain running back, Tom Brady playing, Zoltan Mesko pinning the G-Men deep multiple times, Tyrone McKenzie leading the team in tackles, and Brian Hoyer getting hit hard by the Giants reserves.

Up next is Week 1 against the Bengals on September 12, but first, here some observations from the Pats’ final tuneup:

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE PATRIOTS

- The Giants’ first drive was easier than Jerod Mayo’s pick on the corresponding PAT’s botched snap. Eli Manning threw on the Patriots, but there can’t be much blame placed on Darius Butler or Devin McCourty. Instead of picking on the cornerbacks, the Giants quarterback utilized his checkdown and threw over the middle a ton. With Manning constantly hitting receivers and tight end Kevin Boss underneath the safeties, the Giants were able to move down the field rather quickly.

The good you take from that is that there can’t be any jabber about how the Pats miss Leigh Bodden already. Talking about the linebackers on a night such as Thursday, however, would be completely different.

On two series, Manning completed seven of nine passes for 91 yards and a 13-yard touchdown to Boss. He had a quarterback rating of 145.8.

- Though it was good to see Maroney, not everything involving the Patriots’ running game was encouraging. With what appeared to be a very manageable 1st-and-goal from the 3 yard line late in the third quarter, the Patriots failed to run it into the endzone on four consecutive attempts and turned it over at the 1. Thomas Clayton picked up two yards on first down but the next three attempts between himself and BenJarvus Green-Ellis yielded nothing positive.

- Brady to Moss is a near sure-thing… except when it’s horribly underthrown, which Brady, Moss, and now Antrel Rolle can attest to. Brady wasn’t under much pressure on the first-down play, but he threw an absolute duck down the field that the safety picked off in front of Moss late in the first quarter.

Brady was out on the field for two series, completing four of the eight passes he threw for 51 yards. He had the touchdown to Gronkowski, the Rolle interception, and a quarterback rating of 70.3.

- Hoyer was pressured heavily and left the game late in the fourth quarter to get stitches on his face (he did take a beating, and at one point had his helmet on almost diagonally). Not much concern for injury, but if there is, that’s a big problem for the Patriots. Zac Robinson is nowhere near ready to be a No. 2 (or No. 3, depending on who you ask) quarterback. As was evident when he overthrew Taylor Price twice late in the game (the second pass of which the rookie reeled in for a phenomenal, though out of bounds, catch) his lack of accuracy absolutely cripples his game. Robinson is still young and can develop, but it’s far from unfathomable to suggest he threw his last pass as a Patriot on Thursday.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE PATRIOTS

Laurence Maroney played, and even though Bill Belichick said he would, there was still some question as to whether or not he’d be seen Thursday night. His numbers weren’t outstanding, as he went from having seven carries for 32 yards to having, well, nine carries for 32 yards.

Maroney entered into the game in the second quarter, with Fred Taylor getting the start. Assuming there are no issues with injuries or the head coach, Maroney figures to get a lot of carries after a season in which he scored nine touchdowns.

- More praise for Rob Gronkowski, because even though he only had one catch, it put an exclamation point on a very good preseason. Capping the Patriots’ first drive was Gronkowski on a play in which both he and his quarterback had to overcome Giants defenders that were closer than they would have liked. After Gronkowski was handled at the line by New York safety Antrel Rolle, an under-pressure Brady hit Gronkowski over the middle from five yards out for the score, the rookie’s fourth of the preseason.

The tight ends looked pretty good for the Patriots, though their first offensive play of the game wouldn’t have told you that. For a guy who made a great catch while staying in bounds last week against the Rams, Alge Crumpler sure didn’t look good dropping an easy pass in open space thrown in front of him. Carson Butler made two catches on the night for 23 yards.

- On a deep ball that Manning did throw down the sidelines in the first quarter on 3rd-and-8, Devin McCourty was so all over Hakeem Nicks that Manning deserved to be picked off by Brandon Meriweather (which he nearly was) for even throwing the ball. Quarterbacks are going to throw on the youngster, but he’s had flashes that suggest they could regret it.

People may be scared of a rookie starting, but let this be said: McCourty has a way of staying with his receiver so closely that its astonishing no contact is being made. Such was the case with Donnie Avery last week against the Rams and he kept it up tonight.

Buddy Farnham, ladies and gentlemen. The rookie receiver out of Brown was seen playing defensive back in the first half, but he made his first noticeable statement of the game in the third quarter by breaking up a pass in the endzone from Rhett Bomar intended for former Dolphins receiver Derek Hagan.

Farnham was a very unlikely candidate to ever receive a Troy Brown comparison, but with the team thin at cornerback and the rookie fighting to make the team, the versatility could go a long way for Farnham.

The 2009 Ivy League Player of the Year is also capable of contributing in the return game, as he fielded the kick that followed the field goal caused by his nice defensive play. He picked up 15 yards on the return, though he did struggle with handling the ball.

- Speaking of receivers fighting for a spot, Darnell Jenkins was on the recieving end of the easiest touchdown of Brian Hoyer’s career. Jenkins took a screen pass from the backup quarterback and simply teleported into the endzone for a 66-yard score. He led the Patriots with four catches on 87 yards.

Halftime analysis from Patriots-Giants

09.02.10 at 8:34 pm ET
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The Patriots hold a 10-9 lead on the Giants after two quarters at the New Meadowlands Stadium. Here are a few quick notes:

After some debate, the Patriots did indeed open with their complete group of starters on both sides of the ball, with the majority of each group on the field for two series’ each. Tom Brady, in his first action in a preseason finale since 2003, finished 4-for-8 for 51 yards with one touchdown (to Rob Gronkowski) and one interception (on an underthrown deep ball to Randy Moss).  Among the starters, tight end Alge Crumpler had one catch for 22 yards, Wes Welker added one catch for 14 yards and Randy Moss had one catch for 10 yards.

The Giants opened with a nine-play, 86-yard drive that took just 4:17. It was a bad series for the New England defense, as New York chewed up ground easily, on the ground and in the air, culminating the series with a 13-yard pass play from Eli Manning to tight end Kevin Boss. The Giants did a nice job exploiting some open space underneath — New York’s gains on its pass plays on the opening drive were for 22, 2, 12, 17 and 13 yards, the last being Boss’ score. No big gains, but a steady consistent series of passes that wore down the Patriots’ passing defense.

New England’s best defensive play — and one of the best examples of team defense it has shown all preseason — came on a third and 8 with just over three minutes to go in the first quarter. The Patriots, and Mike Wright in particular, did a good job pressuring Manning. When Manning got the pass off, rookie cornerback Devin McCourty did a nice job in coverage on Hakeem Nicks, and the ball went incomplete.

After the Giants’ first drive went for a touchdown, the Patriots answered with an eight-play drive of their own that went 45 yards (thanks to a nice 56-yard return by Thomas Clayton) and ended with a five-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski, who ran a sharp route over the middle and hauled in the pass. It was a drive that culminated with a score and featured some nice work in the passing game (with passes to Crumpler and Moss), but unlike the first two games, New England struggled to execute on the ground — the Patriots ended the first half with 137 yards in the air, but just 46 on the ground.

While the Patriots opened with Fred Taylor at running back, Laurence Maroney saw his first action since the preseason opener when he came on with the backup offense on New England’s third offensive series of the night. He had two carries for seven yards on his first series, which ended with a three-and-out, and ended the first half with seven carries for 32 yards, tops among both teams. At the tight end spot, if Week 2 was Aaron Hernandez’s time in the spotlight and Week 3 was Gronkowski’s turn, the first half was Crumpler’s chance. Crumpler was targeted three times, but had one drop and wasn’t on the same page with Brady on another red-zone pass play. He did end up with one catch for 22 yards. Brian Hoyer relieved Brady, and went 7-for-12 for 86 yards. He got knocked around pretty good behind New England’s backup offensive line, with his helmet almost getting knocked clean off at one point.

Read More: Giants, Patriots, training camp,

Dozen players not on the field for warmups

09.02.10 at 6:42 pm ET
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According to multiple reports, the following Patriots’ players are not on the field for warmups prior to Thursday’s game against the Giants: wide receiver Julian Edelman, wide receiver Matthew Slater, cornerback Terrence Wheatley, cornerback Kyle Arrington, safety Brandon McGowan, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick, offensive lineman Nick Kaczur, tight end Aaron Hernandez, defensive lineman Myron Pryor, outside linebacker/defensive end Jermaine Cunningham and defensive lineman Ron Brace.

Read More: Giants, Patriots,

Belichick: Starters will play in preseason finale

09.02.10 at 3:25 pm ET
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Rams Patriots Football

Bill Belichick. (AP)

Patriots coach Bill Belichick told New York’s WFAN Radio Thursday afternoon the New England starters are going to play in Thursday night’s preseason finale.

The fourth and final preseason game is usually the exclusive domain of the backups and other players who might be on the bubble before final cuts are made over the weekend. But in the wake of an uneven performance against St. Louis this week, that thinking may have changed according to Tom Brady. Brady said Belichick ripped into his team pretty good in the wake of the postgame film session.

“I think we’re all playing,” Brady told WEEI on Monday when he was asked about the starters. “[Belichick] told everybody, ‘Get ready to play.’”

It’s not known which starters will play and how many snaps they will see, but seeing some of the Patriots’ starters on the field for the preseason finale wouldn’t be unprecedented. In 2003, Brady and New England’s starting offense got the call in the fourth preseason game and played just over one quarter, finishing 8-for-10 for 63 yards and a touchdown against the Bears.

“I tell everybody to be ready to play every week — that’s what we do,” Belichick said earlier this week when asked about the possibility of the starters playing on Thursday. “Coaches control playing time, but players should be ready to play every week regardless of the score, situation, field conditions, or anything else. That’s their job. That’s their responsibility. That’s what it is every week. And that’s not going to change.”

Read More: Bill Belichick,

Surgery for Bodden Thursday

09.02.10 at 12:05 pm ET
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While the rest of his teammates were set on spending the day gearing up for their final preseason bout in tonight’s game with the Giants, cornerback Leigh Bodden had other, less exciting plans.

Bodden, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Tuesday, tweeted this morning that he would be getting surgery on the rotator cuff that will cost him 2010-2011.

“Up early in the morning for Surgery[.] Hungry as hell[.] I couldn’t eat after midnight…. I knew I should have set the alarm and ate at 11:50,” he tweeted.

Bodden was entering his second season as a member of the Patriots. He had five picks last season, one short of his career-high six that he recorded in ’07 with the Browns. A veteran of seven seasons spent between Cleveland, Detroit, and New England, the 28-year-old had signed a 4-year, $22 million dollar deal to stay with the Patriots in the offseason.

With Bodden out, it is likely that Darius Butler and Devin McCourty will emerge as the top two corners, with Terrence Wheatley potentially earning an increased role after an encouraging training camp.

Read More: Darius Butler, Devin McCourty, Leigh Bodden,

Nuggetpalooza’s Pats schedule preview: Pittsburgh

09.02.10 at 11:07 am ET
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nuggetpalooza-small7The Patriots play the Steelers on Sunday night, Nov. 14, at 8:20 p.m., in Pittsburgh.

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What The Steelers Did Well last Season:

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* – Bendt But Didn’t Break: Opponents put together 23 drives of 10+ plays against the Steelers last season, but scored on just 57% of those possessions, tied (with SF) for the lowest percentage in the NFL.

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* – Few Gashing Runs Allowed: The Steelers allowed opponents just 35 runs of 10+ yards last season, the fewest in the NFL.

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* – Efficient Tackling On Defensive Line: Pittsburgh’s defensive linemen were credited with 160 tackles last season and ZERO broken tackles.  Their was the only defensive line in the league that did not allow a broken tackle.

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* – Avoided Three & Outs: Only 17% of Pittsburgh’s offensive possessions were “three and out” in 2009, the 4th lowest percentage in the league (Dallas, 16%).

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* – Avoided Opponents Goal-To-Go Situations: Steelers’ opponents managed just 15 “goal to go” situations last year, the fewest in the NFL:

15 – Pittsburgh Steelers
16 – New England Patriots
17 – Dallas Cowboys

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* – Stopped Receivers In Their Tracks: Pittsburgh stopped 76 different pass completions with zero (or negative) YAC (yards after catch), the most in the NFL.  That’s a big reason why YAC accounted for only 41.6% of the total passing yardage against Pittsburgh in 2009, the 2nd lowest percentage in the league:

41.0% – Indianapolis Colts
41.6% – Pittsburgh Steelers
41.8% – Atlanta Falcons

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* – Completed Long Passes: Pittsburgh QB’s combined to go 25-59 (42.4%) on passes of more than 20 “air” yards (where the first touch was 21+ yards beyond the line of scrimmage).  That was the 3rd highest percentage in the league:

47.5% – New Orleans Saints
42.6% – Houston Texans
42.4% – Pittsburgh Steelers

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Patriots schedule preview,

Ochocinco taking aim at a Gillette Stadium celebration

09.01.10 at 1:52 pm ET
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Chad Ochocinco has never been the shy, retiring type, and what he says he has planned for the regular-season opener against the Patriots is no exception.

Ochocinco said Tuesday on Twitter that if he scores against the Patriots on Sept. 12 at Gillette Stadium, he’s going to take one of the muskets from the Minutemen — who traditionally stand in the end zone each game and fire after each New England touchdown — and fire it, “as they do when the [Patriots] score” he wrote.

Ochocinco has traditionally engaged in some offbeat end zone celebrations, including jumping into the stands at Lambeau Field, “proposing” to a cheerleader and giving CPR to the football after a touchdown.

Read More: Chad Ochocinco,
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