What We Learned: It's Still Just Preseason

The Patriots loss the Atlanta Falcons was little more than a live scrimmage between the two teams. With rosters of 80 players each, fans witnessed a game that featured nearly 60 players who won't have jobs in the NFL next month. It wasn't real football, so what can fans take from the outcome? Patriots Insider takes a look at the game and what it meant.

The first game of the NFL's exhibition is more like a really hard practice than an actual football contest. Anyone overly concerned with the final score or the play within should take solace in the fact that the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday extended their preseason losing streak to six games over two seasons. Does this mean trouble for the Colts? Doubt it. Well, not until the playoffs at least.

Atlanta's 26-23 win over New England Friday night came when the Falcons'fourth-string quarterback put together a nifty 14-play drive in the last three minutes of the game to set up a field goal - which was converted from 40-yards out by punter Michael Koenen. Koenen had four field goals for the game, and established himself as the breakout star of the preseason. This is the Falcons' punter we're talking about. Do you need any more proof that August is not September?

Consider this scene: in the first quarter, new action hero Koenen was punting from his own 21 yard line. He shanked it a bit, and it went out of bounds at the Patriots' 44 - a 34-yard punt, nothing to be proud of. Making things worse for Atlanta, they were hit with an illegal man downfield penalty. In the regular season, Bill Belichick would have had an easy choice - take the spot and the five extra yards and start at the 49. But Belichick, wanting to see rookie returner Willie Andrews, chose to have the Falcons re-kick. The second time, Koenen punted it 46 yards - and Andrews (who looks like a keeper) put together a 14-yard return to the Pats'47. So the Pats lost two yards but gained one piece of tape on a rookie seventh-round pick.

In the preseason, that's a win.

In the category of "hopefully it'll be that good," the Patriot running backs looked spectacular.

Laurence Maroney took his special package of speed and power to the field for 66 yards on nine carries, while unknown Patrick Cobbs conjured memories of Keith Byars with his hands and feet. Kevin Faulk had a trademark 17-yard catch out of the backfield for good measure. And then there was "Clock Killin'" Corey Dillon, who reminded fans that when his wheels are aligned he's still an elite running back.

"To actually get out here and be full-go, not having to worry about taking it easy on anybody, that's pretty good," Dillon told reporters after the game.

But you certainly have to wonder about the receiving corps, when they come up with just three grabs as a group and You have to wonder a bit about Matt Cassel, not because he played a terrible game (93.3 passer rating) but because he has seemed so tense since the start of training camp. He looked skittish and uptight against Atlanta, and seemed to give up on plays way too early (six scrambles). Does he have the confidence to step in and play if Tom Brady goes down? Time will tell.

Defensively, it's just too early to get an idea. Some pointed out Johnathan Sullivan as a question mark inside, but continuity on that side of the ball is too important to success - it's too soon to be pointing fingers at any individual.

In the end, Belichick summed it up nicely (as he tends to do) "I can't evaluate each player," he told reporters. "I think there were a lot of good plays out there by some players and then the same players had some that weren't so good. I'm sure that everybody can improve on their performance tonight, and that would include everybody."

Now THAT'S midseason form.

Jonathan Comey is a special contributor to Patriots Insider. A long time Patriots beat reporter for local media outlets, Jonathan's articles can be found regularly here on Patriots Insider by searching for "Jonathan Comey" in the archives. You can read his blog on his wesbite www.jonathancomey.com.

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