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Competition analysis/reaction: Giants-Pats

It's not the score that matters most in the fourth preseason game. It's who plays, when they play, and how they perform.

Most of New England's starters played the full first quarter, and many of them well into the second, while their opponents, the New York Giants (who just played Monday night), went with an all-backup lineup throughout the game.

Nevertheless, in this final preseason contest, several Patriots who are fighting to remain on the roster were hoping to make a lasting impression. For better or worse, many of them did just that.

The following is an overview of the key areas of competition – who appeared to help themselves and who may not have – in all three phases of Thursday's Giants-Patriots contest:

OFFENSE

Matthew Slater continues to impress as a wide receiver. He caught his third pass of greater than 40 yards this preseason. He and newcomer Tiquan Underwood, just picked up this week from the Jaguars, both showed more ability as pass catchers than Brandon Tate as the bottom of the receiver depth chart continues to take shape. Underwood, in fact, led the team in receptions with four.

Slater, though, seems to know where his bread is buttered.

"I take a lot of pride in special teams," he told reporters shortly after the game. "That was my ticket into this league and it will be my ticket to stay."

Rookie running back Shane Vereen didn't pile up a ton of yards, but he did show some nifty moves to shake defenders in the backfield and pick up extra yardage. On the other end of the spectrum, fellow rookie ball carrier Stevan Ridley hasn't made an appearance since his outstanding debut in the opener versus Jacksonville. He was not in uniform for Thursday's game and hasn't practice of late either.

Judging by playing time in games the past few weeks, and again Thursday night, the battle for the third tight end's job appears to have been won by rookie Will Yeatman. He has been getting his number 88 called far more frequently than fellow rookie Lee Smith, a fifth-round draft choice.

DEFENSE

With cornerback already a thin area minus Leigh Bodden, the position took another hit on the opening kickoff when Kyle Arrington was injured and did not return.

On the ensuing play from scrimmage, rookie corner Ras-I Dowling appeared to get shaken up as well. He spent the next few minutes running along the Patriots sideline and trying to put pressure on his legs.

Luckily for Dowling – and the Patriots defense – he managed to return on the following defensive series and rotated in and out of the lineup for the remainder of the game.

Staying in the secondary, safety Brandon Meriweather saw action only in the second half. Josh Barrett, making his debut in a game, started and rotated with Sergio Brown, Patrick Chung, and James Ihedigbo during first-half action. Meriweather's demotion could simply have been a case of the coaching staff wanting to get a good look at Barrett, who was acquired last September but immediately went on injured reserve.

Meriweather was asked at his locker afterward if he was concerned at all about his status with the team.

"No, not really. Coach [Belichick] is going to do what he thinks is best for the team and everybody just has to live with it," he replied matter-of-factly.

"I don't know my situation. I think our coaches do a great job of rotating all of us in and getting guys a lot of playing time to see how they play together. You know, you never know your situation until it's time."

At linebacker, veteran Niko Koutouvides appeared to suffer a concussion early on, opening the door for Ricky Brown to get more opportunities. With the absences of Dane Fletcher and Brandon Spikes, one of these predominantly special teams contributors could sneak their way onto the 53-man roster, at least temporarily. Koutouvides seemed to have an edge entering Thursday's finale.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Long snapper James Dearth, making his first game appearance as a Patriot, appeared to have no trouble connecting on field goal, extra point and punt snaps with holder/punter Zoltan Mesko. The 11-year vet was brought in this week after the Patriots cut incumbent Matt Katula. He didn't appear to do anything that would prevent him from being the team's long snapper for the opener in Miami.

On the return side, Tate did little to boost his chances of remaining on the squad as the primary returner and reserve receiver. His returns were lackluster and on a fake punt by the Giants, he took a poor angle on the ball carrier, resulting in a 65-yard touchdown.

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