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Lots to look at in this preseason thriller

New England showed off its running game along with some of its new talent in a 26-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in preseason game 1.



]()As preseason games go, this one was pretty entertaining.

New England overcame a 10-point deficit with 10 fourth quarter points only to see the Falcons win the game with four seconds left on a 40-yard Michael Koenen field goal to make the final score 26-23.

Some nice moments from the likes of newcomers Patrick Cobbs, Garrett Mills and Willie Andrews sparked the comeback and have Patriots fans intrigued as the exhibition season heads to week 2.

Tom Brady was only 3 of 4 passing for 24 yards in his one series but those modest numbers didn't matter because the story was the Patriots running game when the ones were playing the ones.

Both Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney looked exactly like the one-two punch many hoped for when New England selected the Minnesota back in the first round this year. Behind some steamroller blocking, the two looked dominant. Dillon finished with 27 yards on 5 carries for a 5.4 average. He was his punishing self. Maroney extended his playing through two quarters and wound up with 66 yards on 9 tries for a 7.3 average.

Here's how New England started the game on both sides of the ball: On offense, Reche Caldwell and Kelvin Kight were the wide receivers. Tom Brady and Corey Dillon made up the backfield. The line was left to right: Matt Light; Logan Mankins; Russ Hochstein; Stephen Neal and Brandon Gorin. Walter Rasby and Ben Watson were the tight ends.

The base defense started Mike Wright at right end and Ty Warren in his usual left end spot. Vince Wilfork manned the nose. Mike Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin were the outside linebackers. Barry Gardner and Don Davis were inside. Ellis Hobbs and Asante Samuel started on the corners while Artrell Hawkins and James Sanders played the safety spots.

The opening kickoff was performed by Stephen Gostkowski who sent it about a yard deep into the end zone.

Atlanta scored on that opening drive, a 44-yard field goal by Koenen. On the drive which went 10 plays and 50 yards, Warrick Dunn had a 17-yard run while Mike Vick scrambled for another 16. Things stalled in part due to a 7-yard Mike Vrabel sack on first and 10 from the 20.

Trying his hand at the Patriots first kickoff return was Andrews who only made it to the 18.

New England played power football on its first drive, benefiting from nice runs with the combination of Dillon and Maroney. But a clipping call on Stephen Neal set up a second and 18 from the Patriots 42 where Kevin Faulk was dropped for no gain by DeAngelo Hall to make it third and 18. That was when Maroney showed off his first round promise with a gallop right up the middle for 27 yards. It was a strong run that had Maroney hitting the hole quickly and running through a tackle around 15 yards downfield.

Dillon continued the running attack with a gain of 8 to the 7-yard line but Caldwell could not hold on to a quick slant over the middle and Martin Gramatica put 3 points on the board with a 26-yard field goal. The 13-play drive was a decent start to the preseason. Between Maroney and Dillon, New England had 66 yards rushing in that one drive.

For those on the kicker watch, Gostkowski took the ensuing kickoff and boomed it for a touchback.

On the Falcons second possession, Samuel broke up a third down pass from Matt Schaub and the Falcons punted to Andrews who got clobbered after a 14-yard return.

Matt Cassel replaced Brady after that first series and immediately took his lumps. On his third play, he was stripped of the ball by John Abraham. Patrick Kerney of the Falcons recovered and on the next play, Schaub hit Michael Jenkins over the middle for a 21-yard score.

New England got three back on a 34-yard field goal by Gostkowski early in the second quarter. Once again, New England ran the ball well calling Maroney's number for gains of 8, 5 and 9. But it was a 44-yard pass from Cassel to a wide open Watson that put the Patriots within striking distance.

The Falcons added three more to their 10-6 lead with a 50-yard field goal by Koenen with 36 seconds left in the first half.

A few individual highlights for the Patriots were a beautiful 40-yard Josh Miller punt downed inside the 10 by Andrews, a Samuel interception on a 20-yard fade pass by Schaub into the end zone and an 11-yard sack of Schaub by Pierre Woods. Tully Banta-Cain also had a 5-yard sack that forced the 50-yard field goal attempt for Atlanta.

Atlanta went up 16-6 in the third quarter. Quarterback Bryan Randall's 29-yard scramble to the Patriots 31 set up the 45-yard field goal by Koenen. On the play, Santonio Thomas was cut down getting upfield to Randall. Assuming the pass was off, he didn't hurry back to his feet when in fact if he had, he might have had a sack for himself. By the time he realized the ball was still in Randall's hands it was too late. Randall evaded Thomas and was off to the races, Vick style. Beisel almost had an interception on the next play but could not hold on. Chad Scott broke up the third down pass intended for Kevin Youngblood to force Keonen on the field.

Cassel bounced back on his next series. He kept it alive with a 12-yard scramble and then dumped a second down pass off to Patrick Cobbs over a Falcons blitz. Cobbs took the pass and scampered downfield, outrunning everyone until he cut it in inside the 10-yard line to the end zone. The play went 57 yards and made the score 16-13 with the point after (Gostkowski).

Randall quickly returned the favor, first with a 29-yard pass over the middle to Daniel Fells and then rolling right and dumping off to Jerious Norwood from 34 yards out. Norwood did all the work, high-stepping one would-be tackle and then sprinting into the end zone.

That essentially ended the third quarter play with the Patriots starting the fourth frame first and 10 at their 23 after the ensuing kickoff.

That's when Cassel mounted his most impressive drive of the night to that point. It was Garrett Mills who was the main recipient. From New England's 44, Cassel hit him for 15 yards after scrambling away from pressure. Then, from the Falcons 32 Cassel found Mills again. Mills took the short pass and headed down the left sideline, just nearly missing the goal line after diving for the pylon. He wound up at the 1 where Heath Evans ran it in on the next play. The drive went 8 plays and 77 yards for the Patriots backup QB.

Andrews came up big on defense during Atlanta's next drive. He broke up two DJ Shockley passes, one with a big hit over the middle on Jason Randall, to force the Falcons to punt. On the night, Andrews saw a lot of action on special teams as well. He had two punt returns for a total of 32 yards and three kickoff returns for 63 yards. None of his returns threatened big yardage but he looked confident back there which is half the battle.

The defensive stops allowed New England to tie the score at 23 on a 30-yard Gramatica field goal. Early in the drive, Cassel escaped a third and 13 from his own 5 when Cobbs took a little pass for 15 yards. Two plays later it was Cobbs on the ground for another 11. Mills had a nice series as well with catches of 17 and 9. Cassel showed his speed with another scramble, this one for 15 yards on third and 11. It was the length of this drive that was most impressive -- 16 plays, 80 yards.

It looked like the game was heading to overtime but the Falcons and Shockley managed to get within field goal distance despite some sketchy clock management near the end. The big play was a third and 7 pass over the middle to Youngblood for 14 yards to the 24.

Matt Cassel started slow but finished strong with 13 of 26 passing for 229 yards and a touchdown. Cobbs had 25 yards on the ground on 5 carries to go along with a team-best 3 catches for 80 yards and a score. On defense, Jeremy Mincey led in the tackle department with 5.

Prior to the game the Patriots announced the following players would not suit up: John Stone; Chad Jackson; Randall Gay; Patrick Pass; Rodney Harrison; Tedy Bruschi; Dan Koppen; Nick Kaszur; Daniel Graham; Deion Branch; Marquise Hill; Richard Seymour; Jarvis Green; Chad Brown.

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