The bulk of Bill Belichick's players who'll have a significant role next Thursday night in the NFL opener against the Steelers got the night off during the preseason finale against the Giants.
And the lack of top talent on both sides of the ball from both teams showed up in an ugly, battle of field goals that ended in a 12-9 victory for the visitors from New York.
But as the Patriots fell to 2-2 on the preseason, neither the loss nor the rain that hit Gillette Stadium late could dampen the joy on a day when Federal judge Richard Berman overturned Tom Brady's four-game suspension to open the season.
Given that the Patriots have already essentially begun preparations for Pittsburgh, Brady was actually sent home after going through a workout earlier in the day.
That, combined with the many top-level Patriots in uniform but relegated to watching from the sideline left plenty of young and unproven players fighting it out to either grab one of the final few available roster spots or put some good play on tape for a potential future employer.
Unfortunately, many, including quarterback Ryan Lindley, failed to do that. The former Cardinals playoff starter played wire-to-wire in his New England debut, but really never found any rhythm or much success in the Patriots offense.
The backups on both sides of the ball simply came up short on this night, even if they were as their coach described it, "competitive."
Heck, even offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels got the night off, with tight ends coach Brian Daboll handling the playcalling duties to limited offensive success. Linebackers coach Patrick Graham also stood in for coordinator Matt Patricia on defense.
Beyond the generally subpar overall performances by the second, third and fourth stringers, here a few specific names that stood out, for better or worse, for their play in the fourth preseason affair:
Trey Flowers – The rookie defensive end flashed many times throughout the night in extended playing time against the Giants. The fourth-round pick continued an impressive first NFL summer with five tackles, including one for a loss, as well as a pair of QB hits. He also had an impressive jumping batted pass late in the game that he nearly turned into an interception. Flowers has also shown some versatility to move around the front, which could help him find reps once the regular season rolls around.
Tavon Wilson – One of the positions that many have concluded might have a veteran battle for a roster spot is the safety spot between Wilson and Nate Ebner. Wilson made a strong case to stick around at final cuts with five tackles including four solo stops with one pass defense. Wilson was aggressive coming up to make tackles and decent in coverage, even when he gave up a long completion. Wilson seems to have more defensive value than Ebner, while bringing similar skill and versatility to the kicking game. If it comes down to an either or, Wilson might end up a leg up.
Stephen Gostkowski – The kicker finished up an impressive preseason with three field goals in the finale, hitting from 33, 34 and 50 yards. He also had his usual strong leg on kickoffs. Gostkowski is ready for regular season action and some long field goal attempts based on his summer of work.
Chris Harper – The undrafted rookie may or may not find a way onto the 53-man roster, but whatever happens he made a fine showing in four exhibition games. Harper had two catches for 27 yards, including a pretty body-control catch on the sideline late. Numbers may push Harper to the practice squad, but he deserves praise for taking advantage of just about every opportunity he got all summer.
Rufus Johnson – The big edge player only finished with four tackles on his stat line and he gave up his outside leverage a couple times when he appeared to wear down, but Johnson showed an ability to get after the quarterback with a few pressures. He made inside and outside moves that got him in the backfield. He's probably in a tight battle to be a longshot to stick around on the edge of a crowded defensive front, but Johnson made a nice last-ditch effort to hang around.
Cameron Fleming/Chris Martin – The backup tackles did little to slow down New York's edge rushers. The bigger concern is clearly for Fleming, a fourth-round pick a year ago who should be a developing young option at right tackle. Used mostly as an extra tight end last year, Fleming's suspect preseason could make him a surprise cut. Regardless how it plays out in the cut phase, both tackles struggled mightily in this one.
Run game/run blocking – Only parts of the line on the field against the Giants will be a part of the mix moving forward. There were appearances from Tre' Jackson, Shaq Mason and Ryan Wendell. Mason played from wire-to-wire. The results in terms of opening holes in the ground game were pretty horrific. LeGarrette Blount and James White each had 10 carries apiece. White had 3.6 yards a carry and Blount 2.4. But each had a single long run, mostly of their own making, to swing the numbers to look even that "good." Take away White's 11-yard run and Blount's 13 yarder and the two combined for 18 carries and just 36 yards. To steal a Belichick phrase, that's not what we're looking for.
Ryan Lindley – Lindley's Patriots debut gave him plenty of chances. The veteran was playing for himself, trying to do enough to keep his career alive somewhere at some point this season. He made a few nice throws but far more that were well off the mark. He was under pressure and not always on the same page as his receivers. He finished completing 22 of his 45 throws for 253 yards with one interception for a 57 passer rating. He also lost a fumble. Even though his interception was a drop/deflection by Blount, Lindley just didn't do a lot impress in what could be a last-ditch effort to save his career.
Robert McClain – The veteran slot cornerback is a feisty, physical guy who doesn't mind tackling. But he also had a costly penalty to keep a New York drive alive and saw a lot of action well into the end of the fourth quarter. McClain doesn't seem to be a lock to make the roster and could just be the odd man out in the retooled back end of the defense.
Jalen Saunders – The undersized return man did little in his debut. He averaged just 5.4 yards on punt returns, and that includes a 16 yarder late. He also had just 20 yards on his only kickoff return. Saunders probably had to really stand out to possibly stick in New England. That seems unlikely at this point.
What do you think of our list? Others who deserve either a Buy or Sell? Let us know with a comment below!