Utilizing a roster of mainly young players and those veterans trying to make a last-ditch effort to earn a roster spot, Bill Belichick's Patriots pulled out a big play-filled 17-12 win over the Giants in New York in the teams' traditional preseason finale.
Rookie passer Danny Etling played wire to wire and had an exciting 86-yard run on an option game-clinching touchdown that had Bill Belichick smiling to open his postgame press conference.
"When's the last time a quarterback has run more than 85 yards for the New England Patriots," Belichick joked. "At least 20 years."
"I've never really run that far in my life," Etling joked.
Belichick also noted that his team played barely more than three dozen players as the bulk of the top of the roster sat out the contest, as has been the case in each of the last two preseason finales.
There were plenty of ups and downs on both sides of the ball for both teams. For every positive big play there seemed to be an equal number of bad ones. That's probably to be expected considering the guys on the field seeing their most significant playing time of the summer, some of the start to their NFL careers.
Now, Belichick and his staff will have to finalize the New England roster ahead of the start of the regular season. And even if most of the Patriots on the field on Thursday night won't be on that final roster, they put plays on tape that could help them keep their football careers moving forward in some form or fashion.
"Really proud of our team tonight. These guys played hard," Belichick said. "Those guys really did a good job. It was a good warm night. I thought they showed up well. We'll see on film but I think I learned a lot about these guys. I like the way they competed. We'll see.
"It was a good competitive football game."
Before turning the page to Saturday afternoon's cutdown to a 53-man roster, ensuing roster moves and preparations for the opener against the Texans, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from the finale victory:
J.C. Jackson – The undrafted rookie cornerback made some big plays in his extended playing time, including a pair of interceptions, one setting up a touchdown. He also saw plenty of reps on special teams as he continued to make a case for making the 53-man roster. The game wasn't without warts, though, as Jackson was caught chasing receivers on too many occasions, including on Amba Etta-Tawo's 41-yard catch-and-run touchdown. The man becoming known as Just Cover later left the game with dehydration and some cramping. Still, it was a big night for the young cornerback.
Ralph Webb – The undrafted rookie running back continued to find the end zone, scoring on a 1-yard touchdown with a pretty nice catch on the ball thrown slightly behind him. Webb finished with a game-high 12 carries for 41 yards and may have done enough to warrant development on the practice squad.
Danny Etling – Much like Jackson, the rookie quarterback had an up-and-down plays against New York. He gets the positive nod for making some things happen both in the air and on the ground, most notably his 86-yard touchdown run on a perfectly executed option play. Etling also had the short touchdown to Webb. Overall he completed 18 of 32 passes for 157 yards with one score and a pair of interceptions. He rushed for 113 yards on seven attempts. He was far from perfect and inconsistent accuracy continues to be an issue, but Etling is another guy who seemingly earned the right for some developmental time on the practice squad this season. He spins a nice ball and has athletic upside for sure.
Kenneth Farrow/Khalfani Muhammad/K.J. Maye – The trio signed with the Patriots this week to fill open spots on the roster and got thrown to the fire in the finale. All three represented themselves quite well, even more so considering the circumstances. Farrow had five rushes for 24 yards. Muhammad had four carries for 21 yards. Maye, who's been with the Patriots in the past, had game highs with five catches on eight targets for 71 yards. He was the best receiver on the field for New England. All three deserve credit for the work they put in on a short week.
Mike Gillislee/Riley McCarron – The veteran running back and former practice squad receiver both sat out the preseason finale with so many other veterans likely to earn roster spots. While it's not a sure thing that means they will both be on the roster come weekend, it could be a good sign for the two players who otherwise seemed to be firmly on the roster bubble.
Jason McCourty – The veteran defensive back started and played the first few series in New York at safety. It's a position he hadn't played until last week's preseason action. He was late to arrive on a 20-yard pass on the Giants first play of the night. McCourty then returned for a few more snaps in the third quarter. Devin's twin appears to be squarely on the roster bubble after a pretty lackluster summer.
Keionta Davis – After spending his rookie season on NFI, Davis entered his second NFL season looking to make a mark. The defensive end certainly looks the part of an edge presence at 6-4, 280 pounds. But with extended action over the final few weeks of the preseason he just doesn't seem to flash playmaking to go with his physique. Davis had one particularly bad play on a reverse against the Giants when he got caught inside and allowed the big run to the back side behind him. Davis' best chance to stick around at this point may be on the practice squad.
Ulrick John – The veteran offensive lineman appeared to be battling for a backup job on the roster. He opened the Giants game starting at right guard a week, showing versatility after he was the first tackle off the bench in the third preseason game. Unfortunately John limped off with a lower left leg/ankle injury against New York and limped to the locker room in the first half. Though the severity of the injury was not immediately known – John wore a walking boot in the postgame locker room – the ailment could derail the journeyman veteran's road to a roster spot.
What do you think of our lists? Additions or alterations?
Check out photos from the Patriots preseason game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on Thursday, August 30, 2018.