Half the Patriots roster played Thursday night. And half of them may not be on the roster by the time Labor Day rolls around.
In this fourth and final preseason game of 2007, none of the Pats' regular starters saw any action. The three dozen or so players who did eventually beat the New York Giants 27-20, but the final score is less significant than how they performed.
We'll know for sure on Saturday (when final cuts are made) who makes the 53-man roster. For now, let's examine who stood out in Thursday's contest, and why.
DB Brandon Meriweather
The rookie first-round pick started the game on the kickoff team and at free safety (he'd been playing nickel corner prior to this game). He was on the field nearly the entire night, making a few dizzying hits on Giants receivers.
"There were a couple of plays that looked like he might have been a little out of position on, but I think that's true of everybody," head coach Bill Belichick said afterwards. "I thought he did some good things."
Unfortunately, Meriweather appeared to hurt an ankle, or some other part of his leg, with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter as the Giants scored their final touchdown. It will be interesting to see if his name appears on the first injury report of the season, due out on Wednesday.
DL Le Kevin Smith
Smith has quietly put together an impressive preseason. Versus the Giants, he had seven solo tackles, including three sacks. At the very least, he seems to have secured a spot on the practice squad. But he may have done just enough this August to warrant a space on the 53-man roster.
QB Matt Gutierrez
He tossed his first NFL TD (a 12-yard floater to WR Bam Childress), and even got in as a gunner on the kickoff team late in the game.
"Yeah, I had an idea I might get an opportunity [on kickoffs]," Gutierrez said in the post-game locker room. "Any opportunity to get on the field is valuable."
"[The touchdown], that was exciting. The offensive line held up great. I felt like I was standing back there for quite a while. The guys did a great job on their routes and it all worked out."
Whether it works out long-term for Gutierrez here in New England remains to be seen. Vinny Testaverde got most of the reps at QB once starter Matt Cassel's night was over. So, Gutierrez may end up being a Saturday casualty, but don't be surprised if he ends up on the practice squad on Sunday.
LB Justin RogersSince the first preseason game, Rogers has been a fixture on the first-unit kickoff team. That could be a good omen for the rookie linebacker, who's also made at least one standout play in each game this preseason.
"It was a learning curve," Rogers said of his NFL experience to date. "I made a lot of mistakes, but worked every week to correct them."
He understands that his performance in Thursday's game could determine whether or not he's still employed by the Pats next week.
"It was a lot of pressure," he admitted, "because the final cuts are being made, so you just go out there and try to play your hardest. You're playing for a spot on the team or the practice squad. The coaches put a lot into that performance."
Though New England seems stocked at linebacker, Rogers likely has earned a roster spot as a special teams ace.
LB Oscar Lua
Lua suffered a leg injury early in the game and never returned. But that might not be such a bad thing for the rookie. He was fighting for a spot on the team, but it's not out of the realm of possibility that he could end up being placed on injured reserve. That might at least earn him an invitation back to training camp next summer.
WR Bam ChildressHe made great catches, showed excellent after-the-catch moves, and even got a few plays in at running back. But there are just too many wide receivers on the Patriots. Childress may be destined for another year on the practice squad, if he's lucky.
K Stephen Gostkowski
The struggling Gostkowski had a good effort Thursday night. He was 2-for-3 in field goal attempts (good from 37 and 23 yards), with his lone unsuccessful attempt, from 56 yards, being blocked. His kickoffs were tremendous, at least three of which landed eight yards into the end zone. Gostkowski could be on his way out of his recent mini-slump.
P Chris Hanson
Less than 24 hours after being picked up by New England, Hanson punted four times for a 35-yard average. The left-footed veteran was brought in to replace first-year punter Danny Baugher, who seemed to have won the job a week ago.
"I thought it was okay," Belichick said of Hanson's Patriots debut. "I've seen a lot worse, put it that way."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement. We'll have to keep an eye on this position.