The New England Patriots backups held their own against the New York Giants first team players Thursday night. The night was an exhibition of talent from the bottom of the depth chart as players did their best to win roster spots on both sides of the ball. The Patriots won the game 27-20 to improve their preseason record to 2-2.
Thursday night was not about winning or losing - although winning is always better. It was about getting a long look at the players who can make the team better down the road should injuries occur during the season. The Patriots made the most of that time by playing only their backups sitting Tom Brady and crew, while the Giants used the time to get one last look at their starters.
New England gave up a long scoring drive to start the game. New York's first unit, led by Eli Manning and Jeremy Shockey, drove 80 yards on 16 plays to take an early 7-0 lead. It took the Giants 5 tries from the two yard line to get into the end zone on a Brandon Jacobs run. Jacobs scored on fourth down from the 1.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning left the game after that drive. Manning was pleased with the result even if it came against second and third stringers from New England.
"We went out there, had a long drive and got a touchdown," Manning said after the game. "That was our goal coming in here. We wanted to come in and convert on third downs and get in the end zone."
The drive included a 20-yard sideline completion from Manning to tight end Jeremy Shockey to put the Giants in position to score from 2 yards out.
"It was just one of those games where we had the right play called and they had the right defense and we were able to get him the ball," Manning said of Shockey's play. "He had four catches and a nice corner route to get down to the 2 yard line."
After the Giants starters left the game, the Patriots did a solid job of dominating the scoring and shutting down the Giants' offense. New York punted on its next five possessions to close out the first half. Three of those possessions went for negative yardage (-13, -15 and -6).
Patriots' linebacker Eric Alexander felt the Patriots did what was necessary to have a strong outing against New York's first team despite giving up a touchdown on the opening drive.
"You want to go as good as you can against the first-teamers because you want to show that you're prepared to play against the starters," Alexander said in the locker room after the game. "I thought we fared well and showed a lot of toughness."
Although he wasn't excited about giving up the score, it all worked out in the end for Alexander. "We came away with a win so we're excited about that."
Fellow linebacker Pierre Woods also felt the defense did a good job on the goal line stand.
"Its been a while since they have scored on a goal line" Woods said. "We held up and everyone played hard and everyone gave it their all, and all we can do is be proud of what we did out there."
The game turned into a struggle of protection for the Giants as New England defenders managed to sack New York signal callers 8 times. Primary backup Jared Lorenzen was hauled down seven of those times.
Woods recorded two of those sacks on Lorenzen, and forced a pair fumbles.
The Patriots offense managed to get on the board with a 37-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal after a 6-play 32-yard drive led by Patriots backup signal caller Matt Cassel. Cassel lead one other scoring drive - a 1-yard Heath Evans touchdown plunge -- to put the Patriots up 10-7 at the half. Cassel finished 10/14 for 99 yards with no touchdowns, but also no interceptions.
Vinny Testaverde managed to drive the Patriots downfield against the Giants backups and also finished with 99 yards passing on 7 of 11 attempts but he did have an interception. Testaverde led one drive just prior to the half, which resulted in a 56-yard Gostkowski field goal attempt. Although the kick was blocked, Testaverde's ability to move the team into field goal range with just 23 seconds on the clock proved the veteran still has the ability to play in the league. Testaverde threaded a nice pass to C.J. Jones along the sideline over the top of the coverage for a 28-yard completion and stopping the clock.
Testaverde was pleased with his performance.
"I felt I moved the ball down the field pretty well and read the coverage," the 43-year old said. "I would like to have scored once, but overall I feel like if I had to come in and play this year, that I could do that."
Rookie quarterback Matt Gutierrez led the Patriots to a pair of late scores. The first was a 13-play, 73-yard drive culminating in a 23-yard Gostkowksi chip shot field goal. The second was a 4-play 23-yard touchdown drive. Gutierrez finished the night by completing 7 of 9 attempts for 48 yards and 1 touchdown. The former Idaho State quarterback also participated on special teams for one play.
Although he thought it was fun to be on the special teams unit for one play, his touchdown pass to Bam Childress was more enjoyable.
"That was exciting, Gutierrez said. "The line held up great. It felt like I was standing back there for quite a while. The guys did a great job on their routes and it all worked out."
The Patriots open the season at the Meadowlands on September 9, 2007 against the other New York team - the Jets
-- Patriots defensive lineman Le Kevin Smith recorded three sacks for the night. He finishes the 2007 preseason with four sacks on the year. Smith has 1 recorded tackle in three career regular season games.
-- Patriots wide receiver Bam Childress lined up as a receiver, tailback and kick return specialist against the Giants. He finished the night with 3 carries for 27 yards, 4 receptions for 39 yards and a touchdown.
-- Patriots' running back Heath Evans recorded his fourth touchdown of the preseason, this time on a 1-yard run up the middle in the second quarter. Evans has one career regular season touchdown.
Jon Scott has covered the NFL since 1995. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long time contributor to the Scout.com network. A New England native, Scott has followed the Patriots for over two decades and covered the team since 2001. He can be found in the Insider's Lounge under the handle JSinCT