Beautiful, new Gillette Stadium was the center of Patriot Nation Saturday night as fans witnessed the team christen the world-class facility with a 16-15 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles to improve to 1-1 on the preseason.
Although not officially the grand opening, that honor being saved for the Monday night regular season opener, the game gave fans and players alike a first look at life in a top-notch stadium. And while the action on the field was a bit sloppy at times, the game came down to the wire as the Eagles scored a late touchdown to pull within a point, but failed in their bid for the victory when a two-point conversion pass fell incomplete in the end zone.
The Patriots had an opportunity to put the game away on an Adam Vinatieri 37-yard field goal attempt with just under three minutes to play, but the kick sailed wide left. The Eagles took over at their own 31-yard line and proceeded to march 69 yards in nine plays and culminate the drive with an A.J. Freeley to Sean Morey eight-yard touchdown pass with just 55 seconds remaining. Following the missed conversion attempt and an illegally touched onside kick, the Eagles successfully recovered an onside kick at their own 36-yard line. They then advanced the ball to midfield before time ran out.
Similar to the preseason opener, the Patriots offense began the game with a flash. This time it wasn't a long pass, but rather an end around to rookie Deion Branch for an 18-yard gain. The drive stalled though and the two teams traded punts on the first two series.
On the next possession the offense put together a 71-yard drive that lasted 11 plays and culminated with the first points in Gillette Stadium history with a Vinatieri 27-yard field goal. On the drive quarterback Tom Brady completed three of four passes for 42 yards including a 19 yarder to Branch and a 14 yarder to David Patten. Running back Antowain Smith added five rushes for 23 yards on the drive that showed a good mix of the run and the pass.
The Eagles looked to answer on the next series as they drove into Patriots territory, but as was the case much of the last season the New England defense tightened down in their own territory and forced an Eagles punt.
As the action moved to the second quarter the teams traded punts and the Patriots escaped unscathed following a Brady interception to Eagles safety Brian Dawkins, who made a nice play to step in front of a seemingly open Patten. The teams then traded another few punts before a second Patriots turnover, this time on a Branch fumble following a reception at the New England 18-yard line. Four plays later, after losing a six yards thanks to two penalties, the Eagles tied the game 3-3 with a 42-yard David Akers field goal.
The Patriots were on the move again late in the second quarter with the first offensive still on the field as they moved to the Eagles 11-yard line. Following the two-minute warning, Brady tried to hit wide receiver Donald Hayes on a fade into the corner but the ball was slightly under thrown and subsequently intercepted by Eagles rookie cornerback Lito Sheppard. Philadelphia then moved 60 yards on just 5 plays in 1:55 to and Akers hit on a 38-yard field goal with just five seconds left in the half. The drive, led by backup quarterback Koy Detmer, was greatly aided by four New England penalties totaling 40 yards including two consecutive on defensive end Richard Seymour to give the Eagles first downs. The teams went into the locker room with the Eagles leading 6-3.
Following a three-and-out by the Eagles, a Patriots offense led by backup quarterback Damon Huard marched 64 yards on 12 plays to score the first touchdown in Gillette Stadium history on a Kevin Faulk one-yard run. Faulk accounted for 48 yards on the drive, rushing for 31 yards on six carries and adding a 17-yard reception from Huard.
Taking a page out the Patriots book, the Eagles answered with a drive that was dominated by rookie running back Brian Westbrook and marched 66 yards to put three more points on the board on an Akers 23-yard kick to pull within one at 10-9. Westbrook rushed five times on the drive for 32 yards and finished as the Eagles leading rusher in the game with 64 yards on 11 carries.
The Patriots opened the fourth quarter with two scoring drives that were capped by Vinatieri 46 and 37-yard field goals to take a 16-9 lead. The game looked to be all but over as Eagles kick returner Sheppard fumbled as he was hit by Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham at the Philadelphia 29-yard line with 3:41 to play. But the ensuing missed field goal and Eagles quick touchdown strike kept the remaining fans in attendance on the edge of their seats until the clock expired on the Patriots 16-15 victory.
J.R. Redmond did not suit up for the game as Head Coach Bill Belichick said the running back had tightened up a little in pregame warm-ups. … Damien Woody and Jarvis Green were both banged up in first half action and did not return to the game. Woody re-injured a left shoulder that had bothered him earlier in camp. … The Patriots rushed for 155 yards on 33 carries, led by Kevin Faulk's 12 carries for 69 yards. … Former Boston College quarterback Tim Hasselbeck struggled in action for the Eagles as he completed just one of five passes for four yards. … The game was a bit sloppy, as both teams were heavily penalized. The Eagles had eight penalties for 60 yards, while the Patriots were flagged 11 times for 87 yards