The all-important fourth preseason game came to an anti-climatic end when Ryan Lindley was strip sacked inside the Giants 10-yard line and the Patriots closed things out with a 12-9 loss at Gillette Stadium.
Here are some random thoughts from the finale:
Veteran appearances –LeGarrette Blount and Reggie Wayne saw extensive action in a game that is normally reserved from rookies and other inexperienced players. But there were some extenuating circumstances in each case as Blount was getting some extra work in before he serves his one-game suspension and Wayne is obviously trying to play catch up after being signed last week. Blount's playing time was reminiscent of Brandon Browner's last season in the finale when the corner was set to serve a suspension to open the season. Blount continued his sluggish preseason with just 24 yards on 10 carries but he also caught four passes for 54 yards. Wayne was even less impressive with just two catches for 24 yards despite being targeted 10 times. Not all of that was on Wayne as Ryan Lindley had his struggles, but it's clear Wayne had a tough time getting open.
Rookie flashes –Trey Flowers enjoyed a strong night playing all over the defensive line. He applied some heat on Giants quarterbackRyan Nassib and was an active force throughout the night. His best play came in the fourth quarter when he made a terrific athletic move that nearly resulted in a turnover. Nassib faced a third-and-two inside the red zone midway through the quarter and tried to dump a short pass in the flat to his fullback. Flowers provided pressure and made a leaping deflection, knocking the ball in the air and nearly picking it off. Nassib actually made a nice play to break it up, but Flowers' athletic prowess was impressive.
Wilson/Ebner –It's always dangerous to try to predict Bill Belichick's moves but it would seem that the players who saw extensive action against the Giants for the most part are facing battles to make the roster. Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner are two such players and they could be fighting for a final safety spot. If so it would appear that Wilson has much more to offer. Both see plenty of action on special teams but Wilson's is much more suited to contribute defensive if needed. Against the Giants he made a handful of terrific plays, the first on a solid tackle after a 2-yard completion followed by a nice pass breakup in the second half and later provided excellent coverage on a deep ball down the seam. He did get beat for a 33-yard completion by Jerome Cunningham but even on that play he was competitive. Ebner struggles in coverage and was late providing deep help on a couple of occasions Thursday night but the Giants failed to complete the passes. If there's room for just one, and both could certainly stick, then Wilson should be the pick.
White stuff –James White got a final chance to stake his claim as the third-down back and continued his momentum. He carried the ball 10 times for 36 yards, many of those coming after contact on plays that didn't offer much promise. White added a pair of catches for 21 yards, and he capped off a strong summer with the ball in his hands. He and Dion Lewis both appear to be worthy candidate to replaceShane Vereen, especially as Travaris Cadet missed the entire preseason with a hamstring injury. Based on tonight's action it would seem that Lewis is in line to fill the role in the opener against the Steelers while White, after tonight's heavy workload, is more likely to be in a reserve role – or inactive.
Edge problems –Starting tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer got the night off but their replacements – Cameron Fleming and Chris Martin – had their struggles. Because he's more likely to stick on the roster, Fleming was the more troubling player and he really struggled on the right side. Lindley was sacked four times and faced plenty of pressure off both ends, and Fleming had his hands full. The second-year tackle served as an extra tight end often last year, and he projects as the fourth tackle behind the starters and Marcus Cannon in 2015. His performance probably did not leave him with a comfortable feeling.
Highs and lows –Rufus Johnson had an interesting preseason and more than likely finds himself squarely on the roster bubble. The first-year linebacker out of Tarleton State has great size (6-5, 280) as an edge presence and he applied plenty of pressure throughout the summer – both in camp and during the games. Against the Giants he made life difficult for first-round pick Ereck Flowers, beating the left tackle of a couple of occasions in the first quarter. But Johnson seemed to tire after his initial flash, and later in the game he failed to hold his edge containment while rushing the passer. This allowed Nassib to get outside the pocket on a few occasions, and the lack of discipline will certainly catch the eye of the coaches. Johnson might be worth keeping based on his ability to get after the passer and it will be interesting to see how it unfolds.