The positive vibes emanating from the Patriots' first two preseason games came to a screeching halt last week when rookie quarterback Sam Bradford picked apart New England's first-string defense in a preseason loss to the St. Louis Rams.
Granted, it's still preseason, but watching Bradford -- the overall No. 1 pick in this year's draft -- complete 15 of 22 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns had to be a bit unsettling for coach Bill Belichick, who is still uncertain about what his defensive rotation will be when Week 1 rolls around.
The night ended on a last-second field goal by St. Louis, but Belichick was "disappointed in the whole game" despite the minor positives his team showed through the first three quarters.
"Regardless of how the last kick turned out, whether it was good or not good, that's really not the point," Belichick said. "I don't think we did things as well as we are capable of doing them, so that part is disappointing.
"It doesn't make you feel very good as a coach. And when your team doesn't perform well, that's a reflection on the coaching and how the coaches feel."
The Patriots have spent most of the summer trying to sort out the issues with their starting defense, ranging from who'll be their primary pass rusher to who starts in the secondary.
Thursday's loss exposed a few flaws in the pass rush in addition to some question marks about the team's lack of discipline, which was evident by the seven penalties they committed for 72 yards.
All told, the blame pie could be split into a number of pieces; the Patriots didn't put nearly enough pressure on Bradford and a few miscommunications in the secondary left receivers wide open.
"I think the two are interrelated," Belichick said. "There were times when we had good pressure on the quarterback and hit him and didn't have tight enough coverage, and the ball came out because the receiver was open.
"There were other times when we didn't have quite enough pressure to force the ball out quickly when we had him covered. It was a combination of things. I would say it was a little bit of both."
Now, the fringe players on the team will use the final preseason game as one last audition to land a spot on the active roster. Likewise, the coaching staff might take it as an opportunity to sort out what the starting defense will look like in the regular-season opener, which means some potential starters could play into the second half if necessary.
The finale is always predictable, as is what decisions Belichick and his staff will make within the next two weeks. They've worked with a number of different combinations at linebacker, cornerback and safety, but judging by last week's results, nothing is set in stone just yet.
This would be considered more of a transition year than a rebuilding one based on the fact the players being given more responsibility are expected to make an immediate impact. Only time will tell, but it's clear there's more work to be done before Week 1.
"There are certainly a lot of things we need to correct," Belichick said.
--Whether it was a byproduct of how the game unfolded, or something more telling, it's worth nothing that RB Laurence Maroney got zero carries for the second consecutive preseason game last Thursday.
The Patriots only had the ball for 16 minutes, but they still ran 11 plays on the ground with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Sammy Morris doing most of the work.
Coach Bill Belichick has said from the start that his running backs are working within a rotation. Maroney has only carried eight times during the preseason, so it remains to be seen where he'll end up at the start of the year.
Getting Their Returns
--One of the biggest positives from this preseason is the Patriots appear to have a number of weapons in the return game.
Rookie WR Brandon Tate returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in the loss to the Rams, which was the team's third return of more than 50 yards this summer. Rookie CB Devin McCourty had logged returns of 50 and 52 yards in the preseason opener against the Saints.
Brady All For Better Execution
--QB Tom Brady put up solid numbers against the Rams (18-of-22, 273 yards, three touchdowns primarily against the Rams' second-string defense), but walked off the field generally dissatisfied with the team's performance on offense.
"We just have to execute better," Brady said. "I think that's what it comes down to. In the first half, like I said, it's about making plays on third down. The first drive we didn't. The second drive we got sacked and I was holding the ball; I shouldn't have been holding the ball. The third drive we didn't do anything.
"The fourth drive we didn't (do anything). It gets pretty old pretty quick when you keep going to the bench after three or four plays."
--PK Stephen Gostkowski has agreed to a four-year deal worth around $14 million, according to The Boston Herald. Gostkowski signed his one-year, $1.759 million restricted free agent tender in April. His new deal runs through 2014.
Still No Mankins
--LG Logan Mankins, holding out in a contract dispute, is financially prepared to sit out the entire season, according to the Boston Herald.
Mankins was tendered at $3.268 million with first- and third-round compensation, but that was dropped to $1.54 million after he declined to sign it by the June 15 deadline.
"All we want is fair market value, and that's like comparing an apple to a watermelon," Mankins' agent, Frank Bauer, told the Herald earlier this month. "We're not asking for $8.5 or $9 million."
--WR Wes Welker made his return to the starting lineup after undergoing knee surgery last year and finished with two catches for 39 yards. Assuming there are no setbacks between now and the season opener, Welker will be ready for Week 1.
--QB Brian Hoyer continues to impress in a limited role. The backup connected with Sam Aiken on a 5-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter against the Rams, which gave the Patriots a temporary lead.
--Rookie TE Rob Gronkowski caught two touchdowns in the loss to the Rams as he continues to battle for a roster spot in a crowded field of tight ends. His presence gives QB Tom Brady another weapon to work with in the red zone.
--LB Tully Banta-Cain was the team's top pass rusher last year, but he committed two costly penalties in the loss to the Rams as the Patriots' defense failed to generate any pressure against Sam Bradford.
--CB Devin McCourty started for the second consecutive week, but got torched twice on a pair of long throws and served as the poster boy for the secondary's struggles against Sam Bradford. Luckily for him, one of the throws by Bradford was off the mark, otherwise it would've been another big play.
--WR Sam Aiken caught a 5-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Known primarily as a special-teamer, Aiken has a solid chance at sticking around given the Patriots' lack of depth at wide receiver
This report courtesy The Sports Xchange
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