NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
The New England Patriots wrapped up their preseason tonight, emerging from a closely contested game with a 28-20 victory over the rival New York Giants in a game which may ultimately have earned a few players, including divisive quarterback Tim Tebow, spots on either the active roster or the practice squad. Read on for five key takeaways from tonight’s exhibition.
1. Undoubtedly the biggest story of the preseason from New England’s perspective was the progress of quarterback Tim Tebow, and, after two considerably disappointing performances against Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, he did turn in a more encouraging performance this week, potentially earning a roster spot in the process. Tebow was sacked four times, threw one interception on an ugly pass down the left sideline, and did miss a wide-open Jake Ballard on a deep throw while rolling out to the right, but demonstrated intermittent accuracy, finishing with 6/11 passing for 91 yards and two touchdowns, both to undrafted rookie Quentin Sims. Tebow added 30 yards over six carries on the ground in reserve duty.
Second-string passer Ryan Mallett was fairly impressive as well, turning in a 10/16 passing performance, with 117 yards, one touchdown, and one interception through the air. Mallett’s official interception came on a tipped pass intended for Aaron Dobson, but he also threw one ugly pass in the end zone, also intended for Dobson, which was eventually called back after a booth review. His 40-yard touchdown to Josh Boyce was a thing of beauty, however, with the ball exploding out of the Arkansas alum’s hand.
2. New England’s running back usage was one of the most interesting topics heading into the game from my perspective, and the results were ultimately significantly more interesting than originally anticipated. Both LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden finished the game without a single carry, the majority of the work going instead to undrafted rookie George Winn, who had a fairly successful game, finishing with 54 yards on fourteen carries and potentially locking up a role with the team moving forwards, most likely as a practice-squad option.
Leon Washington’s roster spot should be in danger as well after fumbling away a punt and gaining just nine yards on his three carries. Whether the absence of Blount and Bolden indicates that they’ve fallen out of favor with New England’s coaching staff, or whether the final makeup of the running back group had been determined prior to this game remains to be seen.
3. At wide receiver, most of the attention has been focused on rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson this preseason, but it was actually Josh Boyce, the team’s fourth-round pick, who stood out the most during the early going, catching two passes for 44 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown down the left sideline from second-string quarterback Ryan Mallett; Boyce also added 21 yards on two reverses.
Thompkins and Dobson, on the other hand, caught just five of ten targets, with Dobson being targeted on Ryan Mallett’s sole interception and another near-interception which was eventually called back. Fellow rookie Quentin Sims may have locked up a spot on the practice squad after an impressive adjustment led to a 52-yard touchdown, which Sims followed up by catching a leaping last-second touchdown down the right sideline, both throws coming from Tim Tebow.
4. Defensively, if there was one standout, it was rookie seventh-round pick Michael Buchanan, who finished the game with 1.5 sacks, a pass defensed, and two quarterback hits. The performance likely solidified Buchanan’s standing ahead of 2012 third-round pick Jake Bequette, who may be released during final cutdowns on Saturday. At this point, it would come as a surprise if the Patriots released Buchanan, who pending a final, official tally, likely finished the preseason having taken the most snaps among New England’s defensive linemen.
Bequette is eligible for the Patriots’ practice squad, but would most likely be claimed by another team interested in seeing whether they can take advantage of his impressive size, length, and athleticism. Marcus Benard recorded a sack, two tackles for loss, and a quarterback hit, likely locking up a roster spot as well. As anticipated, Jermaine Cunningham was nowhere to be seen; his status for the final roster is very much in question considering the team’s overall depth at the position.
5. New England’s punter situation appears to have been resolved as well, as long-standing Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko will likely hold off rookie and Ray Guy Award winner Ryan Allen, who did turn in an impressive performance, punting three times, two of which landed within the opposing twenty-yard line. However, Mesko was the first punter to see the field, mirroring last week’s snap distribution, and appears to have won over the team with his situational/directional punting.
In tonight’s game, Mesko punted five times, averaging 43.2 yards per attempt compared to Allen’s 40.3 yards. Although Allen probably won’t end up on the final roster, it’s possible that he could draw interest from the organization for one of their eight practice squad spots, or be signed by another team looking for a starting punter, as he demonstrated his worth this preseason. The situation may end up mirroring New England’s past decision to release kicker Robbie Gould, who resurfaced as a quality kicker in Chicago.