Even for a team that's won three Super Bowls in five seasons, the New England Patriots don't have many games that can be characterized as laughers. Of their 68 wins over the last five regular and post-seasons, only 13 came by 21 or more points about one in five games.
Saturday nights 30-3 preseason win over Arizona, although it didn't count, was definitely the exception.
By the end of it, the Patriots were all smiles and yuks on the sidelines; TV cameras showed running backs Corey Dillon, Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk mightily enjoying the bruising fourth-quarter runs of Heath Evans. Even Junior Seau, a Patriot for all of 24 hours, couldn't seem to wipe the smile off his face.
Winning is fun, even when it doesn't count.
Cardinals coach Dennis Green, who wore a pained expression on his face throughout, could only take solace in the fact that it was preseason.
"They looked like they were ready for the season," he told reporters. "We showed were not."
Few things are decided in the second week of the preseason, but the picture did seem to get a bit clearer with the Patriot win.
1. Matt Cassel has the No. 2 job, but what about No. 3. Cassel took his Tom Brady impression to new heights with his strong second half against the Arizona backups. But for the second straight game, reserve QBs Corey Bramlet and Todd Mortensen stayed on the bench (although Bramlet did have the honor of kneeling out the clock after the 2:00 warning.) The Patriots are going to sign a veteran quarterback at some point before the start of the season, probably after a few names get released later in the exhibition phase. If Cassel had played poorly, the Patriots might have felt more urgency in this area, but the second-year man has given them breathing room with his solid play.
2. The running backs are the best of the Belichick era. On paper, it looked good, but in reality it has looked even better. Corey Dillon is as fresh as he's been in a New England uniform, and he seems to be cherishing the role as mentor to Laurence Maroney sees himself as the Obi Wan Kenobi to Maroney's Luke, according to the NFL Network sideline reporter. The Patriots ran 40 times against the bedraggled Cardinals, and everyone got in the mix something you might see when the games start to count.
3. The Patriots have superior depth, especially on defense. In the second half against Arizona, New England showed the fruits of their organizational patience. Guys like Tully Banta-Cain, Randall Gay, Dan Klecko, Eric Alexander and James Sanders all made plays and showed they are capable of playing in a pinch more than the reserve Cardinals could muster. Arizona's scrubs were truly bad QB John Navarre got picked off by Eric Warfield, only to get the ball back thanks to Warfield fumble off a bone-jarring hit by center Nick Leckey. On the next play, Navarre threw one right into the hands of Tebucky Jones, who couldn't hang on sparing Navarre the dubious (and seemingly impossible) distinction of throwing two straight picks on the same drive.
4. The Patriots need some receivers with normal numbers. Single-digit jersey numbers are for quarterbacks and kickers, but Saturday night they were catching passes including a TD, to No. 5, Rich Musinski. And the star of the game was No. 13, Bam Childress, who had a game-high 75 yards (and just might stick, with an edge in experience and speed). The sight of Troy Brown in the second half seemed like an illusion hey, we've seen that guy before. The Patriots have an impressive stable of short targets, but Deion Branch and rookie Chad Jackson would make the outlook a whole lot brighter.
5. If the kicking job was Stephen Gostkowski's to lose, he certainly hasn't lost it. The Memphis rookie hit all three of his field goals right up the middle - and his six kickoffs were solid: two into the end zone, two inside the five, two inside the 10. It would be a major upset at this point to see Martin Gramatica on the roster for Week 1.
There were some other notable moments to remember:
-- The Patriots turned rookie UFA Pierre Woods loose on Matt Leinart on the first drive of the second half, blitzing him on nearly every play. Woods showed speed and tenacity, as Leinart could do nothing on his first three drives of the second half.
-- Returner/DB Willie Andrews added receiver to his resume, playing one snap at the position early. On the first day of rookie camp, he told reporters that his job as a returner was first and foremost to catch the ball and he struggled with it Saturday. He fumbled one (recovering it) and backed away from a couple of others. He is on the bubble.
-- OL Brandon Gorin had a rough stretch in the second half, getting beaten for a sack and then getting called for a false start with the Patriots at Arizona's one-yard line.
The Patriots host Washington on Saturday night.
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 at www.jonathancomey.com.
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