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Pats-Giants analysis: Make or break performances

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QB Kevin O'Connell

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Thankfully, the pre-season's over. Four games, four losses by the Patriots, who dropped their fourth and final exhibition contest 19-14 to the New York Giants at the Meadowlands Thursday night.

As is customary throughout the NFL, the starting units only played a couple of series before giving way to the backups, who needed to turn out impressive displays to prove that they deserve a spot on the Patriots' opening day roster.

Overall, the offense again had trouble staying on the field, converting only 33 percent of their third-down opportunities. The running game also struggled to produce consistently throughout the evening.

The defense also had a difficult time on 3rd down, both in rush and pass defense, allowing 66 percent of those plays to go New York's way. The defensive backfield continued to give opposing receivers too much of a cushion on most plays, which the Giants took advantage of time and again.

"What counts is how you play in the regular season," head coach Bill Belichickreasoned afterwards, adding, "that doesn't mean the individual performances weren't important."

WHO HELPED THEMSELVES

Kevin O'Connell– The kid from San Diego State accounted for both of New England's scores on the night. The first was a perfectly thrown TD pass to wide receiver Chad Jackson. The play was actually a check-with-me, giving O'Connell the chance to decide what to call.

"We had an option on the play," said Belichick, "based on the look they gave us [defensively]. Yeah, Kevin did a nice job on that. He made a great throw, and Chad ran a good route."

O'Connell admitted that combining the physical dexterity to float the pass with the mental ability to choose that option was something he may not have tried earlier in the pre-season.

"Yeah, it's not something I could've done three weeks ago. But I'm getting the opportunities in practice and trying to come out and apply that [in games].

"That's what this whole process has been for me," O'Connell continued. "Learning from Tom [Brady] and the other quarterbacks and then getting my opportunities and applying it."

O'Connell also ran for a score on a designed QB draw late in the fourth quarter.

Matthew Slater– The fifth-round pick returned kicks and played significant snaps at safety. He also served as the personal protector at times on the punt team. Slater got banged up a few times, but kept at it. His hustle and versatility will make it hard for the team to part with him when final cuts are made on Saturday.

Gary Guyton– The rookie free agent linebacker led all Patriots with 10 tackles, all solo.

*WHO NEEDED MORE HELP *

Matt Gutierrez– New England's second-year QB looked like he was going to put some points on the board at the end of the first half, but his interception in the end zone (after intended receiver Chad Jackson fell down) thwarted that effort. Goots was also sacked a couple of times and couldn't connect with his receivers on most third-downs, bringing drives to a halt.

"It's a stressful time of year for a lot of people," he observed when asked about this weekend's cut-down. "But I know that I've worked hard and played hard."

Whether that's enough to earn him another year in New England remains to be seen.

"We'll have to figure out how we want to manage the roster," Belichick noted. "That'll certainly be one of the decisions – the QB position."

Victor Hobson– The veteran free agent linebacker did have seven tackles, but they all came late in the game when the third-teamers were playing on both sides. Hobson is fighting for a spot in the Pats linebacker corps and probably needed more of an impressive effort than he gave Thursday to secure one.

Bo Ruud– Sixth-round picks need to stay on the field as much as possible, but what looked like a knee injury sent Ruud back to the sidelines after just a few plays. After missing significant time early in training camp, Ruud couldn't afford such a setback.

MIXED RESULTS

Chad Jackson– After falling down on that potential TD from Gutierrez before halftime, Jackson recovered by making the nice scoring reception in fourth quarter.

Asked about whether he felt nervous or excited about this weekend's cuts, Jackson answered honestly, "Kind of both. You never know what's going to happen, especially with Bill Belichick."

But did Jackson do the best he could to impress Belichick and the rest of the coaching staff? His reply could apply to any number of players.

"I think so … but that might not be enough. We'll see what happens in the next few days."

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