FOXBOROUGH – The fourth preseason game, the finale of the summer exhibition season, is meaningful for very few people. Most notably, the people on the field.
You don't want to be suiting up and seeing action in the finale, because it most likely means you're clinging for dear life to a spot on the roster.
Jobs can be won and lost based on a player's performance in this game, and there were a number of such examples when the Patriots hosted the New York Giants Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.
Who stood the most to lose
The cornerback position was an intriguing one to watch. In pregame warmups, just three players at that position were on the field: veterans Logan Ryan, Robert McClain, and Daxston Swanson. They were the only three corners who played the entire game as well.
Throughout the summer, Ryan had been in my sights as a possible "surprise" veteran cut at the end of this preseason. He sounded confident afterward that he'd done enough to hang onto his job in Foxborough.
Ryan appeared to recover a muffed punt by the Giants in the first quarter, but it turned out the ball actually hit Ryan first and remained in possession of New York. Ryan also benefitted from a re-scoring of a Ryan Nassib scramble from a one-yard gain to a zero-yard sack. Ryan was involved in a mostly positive way against the Giants. At the start of the third quarter, he made a nice tackle on a running play, then had a nice pass breakup late in the third quarter, but gave up a big play right afterward.
McClain had a tougher night. He was flagged for a holding penalty (Giants declined because the pass was complete), then got an unnecessary roughness call against him in the second quarter. The free agent acquisition looked like he had a missed assignment early in the third quarter, allowing his man to get by him and go down the sideline. Luckily, the pass was underthrown and incomplete, but McClain looked lost on the play.
Of the three corners who played Thursday, Ryan, who stood the most to lose, looked the best, even though he wasn't perfect by any means. He may have saved himself with that effort.
At safety, there appears to be a roster battle between fellow fourth-year players Nate Ebner and Tavon Wilson. Both saw action throughout the night, as did rookie Jordan Richards. By virtue of Richards' second-round pick status this year, it's a virtual certainty that he'll be on the team, but there likely isn't enough room for both Ebner and Wilson. In the fourth quarter, Wilson gave up a 33-yard completion down the right sideline, his most egregious error of the night, it appeared. Ebner did not factor into the game much either positively or negatively. Could be a tough call for the coaching staff between those two.
Who stood the most to gain
Veteran Ryan Wendell got the start at center in place of injured starter Bryan Stork. Wendell had been on PUP most of the summer and was likely just getting some back-in-shape reps and is probably not in jeopardy of losing his job.
However, rookie center David Andrews could be one of the annual undrafted players to make the squad. He is vying for a spot with veteran Josh Kline, who has the experience and versatility to play both center and guard. It's conceivable that both Kline and Andrews could make the 53, but more likely that only one will.
Andrews came into the game at center midway through the second quarter, while Kline took over at right guard for rookie starter Tre' Jackson at the same time. Andrews remained at center into the second half. Kline meantime, was replaced at right guard by Ryan Groy, who finished the game spelling Andrews at center in the fourth quarter.
Andrews stands a very good chance of remaining on the Patriots during final cuts this weekend, either on the 53 or the practice squad. Kline has appeared in too many regular season games to be eligible for the practice squad.
Elsewhere on offense, QB Ryan Lindley was in all likelihood auditioning for the other 31 teams in the league. While it's possible the Patriots could keep three QBs on the 53-man roster, chances are, they'll go with just two, as they have more often than not in recent seasons. Lindley didn't look great, but in fairness, it was his first action in a game this preseason and his o-line didn't always help him.
At running back, I wouldn't read too much into LeGarrette Blount's extended action against New York. He's suspended by the NFL for the season opener, so, the coaching staff probably just wanted to give him some extra work before his forced hiatus. Much like Brandon Browner was active in last season's finale before the former corner faced a month-long suspension.
Looks, however, like veteran Dion Lewis has won himself a job with New England as a third-down back. Lewis didn't play against New York, while second-year man James White was given a heavy dose of work.