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For Patriots, sitting out the preseason finale is usually a good omen 09.01.15 at 3:22 pm ET
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Julian Edelman has been sidelined since early in camp with an ankle issue. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Julian Edelman has never played in a preseason finale in his six years in the NFL. Expect that total to hit seven this week. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Even for hardcore football fans, the final preseason game can be a bit of a slog. But when it comes to finding hints as to who might be on the bubble and who might have already secured a roster spot, there are a few things to look for, including whether or not a player simply gets into the game.

In the last six years, the only players who were held out of the fourth preseason game and did not survive the final cut were quarterback Andrew Walter (2009), safety Brandon McGowan (who ended up going on season-ending IR), offensive lineman Nick Kaczur (2010), offensive lineman Matt Kopa (2012) and defensive end Justin Francis (2013). Last summer, quarterback Ryan Mallett and offensive lineman Chris Martin both took DNPs in the preseason finale, and neither were on the 53-man roster for the opener. (For the record, Martin ended up on the practice squad, while Mallett was dealt to the Texans on Aug. 31.)

Bottom line? If you’re a veteran who doesn’t play in the preseason finale, chances are pretty good that you’ve made the final 53-man roster.

Of course, if you’re a veteran who finds himself playing deep into the final preseason game, it can be an indication that you’re not long for Foxboro. John Lynch and Tim Tebow were  recent examples of a veteran playing healthy snaps late in the preseason finale, only to be cut days later. (In addition, Adrian Wilson was in the same boat, but ended up being put in season-ending IR before the start of the regular season.)

There are always exceptions to the rule — last year, veteran Brandon Browner was on the field in the fourth preseason game, but that was more of an instance of a newcomer needing as many snaps as possible as quickly as possible. (Browner was facing a four-game ban to start the regular season, and so the idea of getting him as many reps as possible as quickly as possible went into the thought process in that instance.) That could be the case this time around, as veteran receiver Reggie Wayne might be interested in getting as many game reps as possible before the start of the regular season.

But more often than not, it’s a chance for veterans to take the night off. Don’t expect to see the likes of Julian Edelman, who has skipped every preseason finale since he entered the league in 2009. (It’€™s the longest such streak on the roster. Even quarterback Tom Brady played in the fourth preseason games in 2010 and 2011.)

Of course, a solid performance by a youngster over the course of the summer, capped off by a nice showing in the preseason finale, can be enough to keep you around. Last summer, Malcolm Butler got the start in the fourth preseason game, and while it wasn’t the only thing that allowed him to win a job on the roster, another good showing certainly didn’t hurt his chances.

Ultimately, when it comes to the back end of the roster, the race to land a spot on the final 53 is always going on.

“I think we still have a lot of decisions to make,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday, just over two days removed from the 2015 preseason finale against the Giants. “There are a lot of decisions that we still need to make. What will affect those decisions, I don’t know — a practice, a game, other circumstances that right now maybe aren’t even in play. Maybe something will happen over the next few days that right now we’re not taking into consideration, but we will have to.

“And again, 53-man spots are one thing, practice squad spots are another thing. You’€™re talking about going from 75 to 53 plus eight; maybe there is an injured player in there somewhere? It’s really not that many … It’s not as big as it seems, I’ll put it that way.”

In the end, whether or not a player makes it through to the final 53-man roster will depend on more than whether or not they’ll suit up for one preseason game. But history tells us that when it comes to players who might be on the bubble, their status on Thursday will provide a big sizable hint as to what their future in Foxboro might hold.

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Read More: Adrian Wilson, Bill Belichick, John Lynch, Julian Edelman
Countdown to camp: Quarterback 07.25.15 at 3:09 pm ET
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Tom Brady led the Patriots to a fourth Super Bowl title last season. (Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

Tom Brady led the Patriots to a fourth Super Bowl title last season. (Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

As training camp approaches, we’ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2015 Patriots. We started with the wide receivers and moved on to the tight ends and offensive line. Now, it’s the quarterback.

Depth chart (regular-season stats via Pro Football Reference): Tom Brady (373-for-582, 64 percent, 4,109 yards, 33 touchdowns, nine INTs), Jimmy Garoppolo (19-for-27, 70 percent, 182 yards, one touchdown), Matt Flynn (8-for-16, 50 percent, 66 yards, one INT with Green Bay).

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. Tom Brady has done things that no other quarterback has managed to accomplish. In what was one of the most challenging seasons of his career, he capped it off with a fourth Super Bowl title. And while measuring a quarterback using “wins” is a dicey proposition at best, now he can add lines to his resume that no other quarterback can claim. No quarterback has gone 13 years between Super Bowl titles. No other quarterback has won four titles in the salary cap/free agent era. And no other quarterback has won his first title (like Brady did in Super Bowl XXXVI) and then, come back to win a championship with a completely different roster around him while still with the same franchise (like Brady did in Super Bowl XLIX). While there will be debate about Brady’s status among the greats of the game, at this point, even the most ardent Deflategate truthers have to acknowledge his accomplishments. What he did against the Seahawks last February — particularly in the fourth quarter — was awe-inspiring stuff. In the final quarter against a terrific pass defense, Brady went 13-for-15 for 124 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 140.7. Given the magnitude of the moment as well as the skill set of the opponent, it was perhaps the finest late-game performance of his career. In the end, Julian Edelman is admittedly a little biased, but he summed up the feelings of many after the Super Bowl when asked about Brady. “Tom is the best ever,” Edelman said. “I’m a big Joe Montana fan. I thought he was the best and everything. He’s won four, he’s undefeated in four. But they didn’t have the salary cap back then. He had some great players around him and some great defenses and all that. Tom Brady came out here and he’s been to six Super Bowls (and) he’s won four with the salary cap. It’s hard to argue against that.”

2. Brady doesn’t go deep like he used to, but for what the Patriots ask him to do, he’s still the best in the league at following through with the game plan. It feels like we’re nitpicking here, but Brady’s deep attempts have been limited over the last two seasons. Last year, he averaged 7.06 yards per pass attempt (21st in the league) and he was at 6.92 in 2013 (22nd in the league). That’s down from a career-best of 8.6 in 2011. (He was second to Aaron Rodgers that season.) There are a few factors at play here, including the lack of a consistent deep threat in the New England system. (Would that number increase in 2015 if Aaron Dobson were on the field consistently?) And part of it is playing to the strengths of the passing game, particularly Rob Gronkowski and Edelman, who excel in short and intermediate work. But part of it is also Brady’s accuracy on the deep ball, which is not what it used to be. At the same time, he’s still doing an excellent job of hitting his targets, as his 64.1 percent completion rate in 2014 was fifth best in his career. The same is true when measuring his performance via quarterback rating, where his 97.4 mark last season was also fifth best in his career. In the end, the Patriots will likely take the tradeoff.

3. It sounds like Jimmy Garoppolo is ready to go for 2015. In an interview with his personal quarterbacking guru over the offseason, it was revealed that the backup is more than ready to go for the start of his second season in New England. “I talked to Bill (Belichick) at the combine, and I asked him how Jimmy was doing,” recalled Jeff Christensen. “He said ‘(Jimmy) looks like a linebacker. He works out like a linebacker. He acts like a linebacker. I really like him a lot, coach. You did a great job with him. Thank you.'”

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Countdown to Camp, Jimmy Garoppolo, Matt Flynn, Ryan Mallett
3 Patriots-related thoughts as clock ticks down to official start of free agency 03.09.15 at 1:50 pm ET
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It appears that two of Tom Brady's old backups -- Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer -- are headed for a reunion in Houston. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

It appears that two of Tom Brady‘s old backups — Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer — are headed for a reunion in Houston. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The free agent running back market is expected to receive a bit of a jolt with the news that LeSean McCoy and the Bills have set on a five-year deal with $40 million with $26.5 guaranteed. (In addition, any deal free agent running back DeMarco Murray receives should also be in that same range.) Those will undoubtedly impact the Patriots and any plans they may have for Shane Vereen. While Vereen won’t be in that neighborhood, McCoy’s deal could be a sign that the market for third-down backs like Vereen could be better than it has been in recent years.

For the Patriots, the idea of facing Ndamukong Suh twice a year certainly isn’t appealing, especially when he’s paired up with two excellent edge rushers in the likes of Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon. Suh is one of the most complete young defensive tackles in the league, as he’s managed to build a resume not just as a run stopper but as an interior pass rushing presence as well. But at the same time, New England has always found a way to neutralize Suh — in two career regular-season games against the Patriots, he is 0-2 with one sack and seven tackles. Ultimately, in a division that was already full of really good young defensive fronts, this creates an even greater priority for New England when it comes to protecting quarterback Tom Brady. Several mock drafts have already marked the Patriots as needing an interior offensive lineman in the draft, and Miami’s pickup of Suh likely adds to that need.

Tom Brady‘s backups continue to find work, as it was reported Monday that Brian Hoyer appears to be on the move to Houston to join the man who supplanted him in the No. 2 role in New England back in 2011, Ryan Mallett. (Mallett reportedly agreed on Monday to a two-year, $7 million deal to stay in Houston.) Meanwhile, it’s expected that Hoyer’s move will be made official when free agency officially begins on Tuesday, although ESPN reported Monday that Hoyer will get an offer from the Jets. Including Matt Cassel (who signed with the Bills), the Patriots could face former QBs in as many as three games in 2015.

Read More: Brian Hoyer, DeMarco Murray, Ndamukong Suh, New England Patriots
Former Patriots OC Bill O’Brien: ‘I felt great watching the Patriots win’ Super Bowl XLIX 02.19.15 at 8:40 pm ET
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Houston head coach Bill O'Brien had high praise for Ryan Mallett on Thursday. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Houston head coach Bill O’Brien had high praise for Ryan Mallett on Thursday. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Although Bill O’Brien is the head coach of the Houston Texans, he made a name for himself as an assistant coach with the Patriots, his first NFL gig, so he had a rooting interest in Super Bowl XLIX.

In the end he couldn’t have been happier for the Patriots, which include some of his best friends in the league.

“It was an unbelievable game,” O’Brien told reporters at the NFL combine Thursday. “It was fun to watch. A lot of those guys are my close friends. A lot of those coaches, Josh McDaniels, Nick Caserio, the director of player personnel there, those two guys are two of my best friends. Obviously my relationship with Bill [Belichick], I felt great for those guys. Tom Brady, what more can you say about a guy that has persevered throughout his career and played at such a high level, goes and wins another Super Bowl. You can’€™t say enough about him.

“At the same time, you’€™re watching that game and you’€™re wishing and you’€™re hoping that some day the Houston Texans are in that game. That’€™s the nature of the business. I felt great watching the Patriots win that game for those guys that were in it.’€

O’Brien got his start in the NFL as an assistant with the Patriots in 2007. He then was the wide receivers coach in 2008 before being elevated to quarterback’s coach from 2009-10, and finally he was the offensive coordinator in 2011 before departing for the head coaching job at Penn State. O’Brien did make it back to the NFL taking the head coaching job with Houston.

It was during that time in New England where O’Brien coached quarterback Ryan Mallett who was traded to Houston during training camp, and started two games in Houston before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury. O’Brien was happy to get a chance to coach Mallett again.

Now with Mallett being a free agent, he wants him back in a Texans uniform.

“Whenever the date that we actually executed the trade with New England, that’€™s really when
we knew it was going to happen,” said O’Brien. “I’€™ve known Ryan since his rookie year. I coached him his rookie year. Really have a good connection with Ryan. George Godsey our quarterback coach was a real good connection, too. He enjoys playing in our system. We enjoy coaching him.

“Unfortunately, he only played two games due to injury. He played on good game and then one game where he was out there playing hurt. That’€™s not why we lost the game, but he tried to struggle through a chest injury there. He’€™s doing better. He’€™s rehabbing and we’€™d like to have him back in Houston.”

Read More: 2015 NFL combine, Bill O'Brien, Ryan Mallett,
Report: MRI reveals pectoral muscle tear, ending the season for Ryan Mallett 11.24.14 at 1:48 pm ET
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Former Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallett played with torn pectoral muscle and is out for the season.  (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Former Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallett played with torn pectoral muscle and is out for the season. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Ryan Mallett‘s first chance as an NFL starting quarterback lasted just two weeks.

An MRI performed Monday on the Houston Texans quarterback revealed a torn right pectoral muscle that he played through in Sunday’s 22-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The news was first reported by John McClain of the Houston Chronicle and Ian Rapoport of NFL Media.

The former back-up to Tom Brady, who is a free agent after this season, suffered the injury in his first career start Nov. 6 against the Cleveland Browns. He practiced fully all week but was on the injury report with a chest injury throughout the week leading up to Sunday’s game against the Bengals.

In his first start Nov. 16 in Cleveland, Mallett completed 20 of 30 passes and threw two touchdowns and one interception. He had the 10th-best rating of any Texans starting quarterback since 2001. On Sunday against the Bengals, Mallett completed only 21 of 45 passes and looked off target all afternoon.

Mallett won the job from Ryan Fitzpatrick just before their bye week in early November as head coach Bill O’Brien turned to the quarterback he coached in New England in 2011 and 2012. The Patriots traded Mallett to the Texans on Aug. 31 after spending the first three years of his career in New England. Mallett threw only four passes in those three years.

The Texans acquired him for a conditional draft pick. The pick is a sixth-rounder if Mallett plays 40 percent of the team’s snaps this season and a seventh-rounder if he plays less.

Read More: Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, houston texans, New England Patriots
Tom Brady sends good wishes to former backups Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer via Facebook 11.13.14 at 1:48 pm ET
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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady gave a Throwback Thursday shoutout to two of his former backups — Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer — who are slated to meet this weekend when the Texans face the Browns.

Read More: Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, Tom Brady,
Tom Brady thinks Brian Hoyer against Ryan Mallett is ‘pretty cool’ 11.12.14 at 11:20 am ET
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Ryan Mallett will be running the show for the Texans this Sunday in Cleveland. (Getty Images)

Ryan Mallett will be running the show for the Texans this Sunday in Cleveland. (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Tom Brady can’t wait to see his last two back-ups square off against each other.

Brian Hoyer will lead his 6-3 Cleveland Browns into battle against the 4-5 Houston Texans Sunday in Cleveland. The Texans starting quarterback will be Ryan Mallett, getting his first career NFL start.

Hoyer has his team all alone in first place in the AFC North while head coach Bill O’Brien decided to make a change, giving Mallett the chance after Ryan Fitzpatrick struggled heading into last week’s bye.

“It’s pretty cool,” Brady said. “It speaks to their work ethic and I think what they’ve been able to accomplish. They’ve both overcome quite a bit in their career, so it will be fun to see. We play at 8 o’clock, so I’m sure a lot of guys from our team will be paying attention.”

Of course, Brady will have some extra time to pay attention Sunday afternoon if he’s not napping. The Browns and Texans play at 1 p.m. in Cleveland while the Patriots don’t kick off in Indianapolis until 8:30 p.m.

Brady has already faced another former back-up this season head-to-head, when the Patriots beat Matt Cassel and the Vikings, 30-7, in Week 2.

Read More: Brian Hoyer, Cleveland Browns, houston texans, Matt Cassel
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