By: Christopher Price
August 14, 2004

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Just 193 days after Adam Vinatieri's 41-yard field goal clinched Super Bowl XXXVIII, the Patriots returned to game action Friday night in the preseason opener against Philadelphia. The flag-filled festival (there were 20 penalties on the night) didn't win New England any style points, but the 24-6 win for the Patriots provided New England with a blueprint as to what they need to work on before the Colts visit Gillette Stadium on Sept. 9.

"Good effort, but we made some mental errors, and we have to cut that down," said veteran safety Rodney Harrison. "You can't be a championship team if you keep making mental errors and mistakes like that. We have to come back and look at the film and learn from it, veterans as well as rookies."

There were four intriguing storylines that sprung from this one.

The starting offense sputtered at the start, but turned in an impressive drive late in the first. After going three-and-out on their first possession, the Patriots starters turned in a solid eight-play, 54-yard series that culminated with Tom Brady finding a wide-open David Patten in the far corner of the end zone with a nine-yard pass to make it 7-0 with 4:10 remaining in the first quarter.

"It was quick, and not a whole lot of action. It was good to go down and get a score," said Brady, who finished 4-for-8 for 31 yards and one TD. "Obviously, when you win 24-6, there are some good feelings, but I still think there are a lot of things that need to be corrected."

Brady got plenty of help from Corey Dillon on the second drive. The ex-Bengal, who heard a rousing cheer after his first carry, finished with five carries for 23 yards on the evening. Twenty-one of them came on the second drive of the night, and sparked more applause from the 68,756 on hand.

"It means they like me, and I like them. So that's a good thing," Dillon said afterward. "I guess they're accepting me and I'm more than happy to be here. I think I'm more excited than them. I think it's a good deal for everybody."

Dillon said he felt good, but things are still very early.

"I'm still in the learning process. I'm still trying to get comfortable with what we're doing," Dillon said. "I know a lot of the stuff, but the more I run, the more comfortable I get and that's going to be a plus for us. So I think by the end of this preseason, I should be ready to go."

Corey Dillon wasn't the only new guy to hear the cheers Friday night. New punter Josh Miller -- who had his entire name on the back of his uniform, so as not to apparently confuse him with backup QB Jim Miller -- got off punts of 50 and 54 yards in the first half, drawing a loud round of cheers from the rain-soaked crowd. In addition, Miller served as the holder for Adam Vinatieri on Vinatieri's 47-yard field goal in the second, as well as all three extra points -- no easy feat, when you consider the fact that a steady rain made for a slick field throughout much of the first half.

New England had a few wrinkles on both sides of the football. Linebacker Dan Klecko started at fullback. This wasn't that much of a shocker -- Klecko saw action in the goal-line offense last year, as well as serious action on special teams. But the biggest surprise came in the first quarter when veteran wide receiver Troy Brown came out as part of the Patriots nickel package. Brown was in on a few plays, including an early blitz in the first quarter (he was picked up by the guard) and a pair of tackles in the second quarter.

Brown said afterward he was asked by the coaching staff to give it a try, but he wasn't quite prepared when the gun went off.

"It's definitely a much faster game when it's for real out there," said Brown, who played some nickel back in high school as well as college. "You have to keep your head on a swivel and be alert at all times."

Brown didn't say anything about playing defense during the regular season -- " "I'm just a player here. I'm an employee here. Whatever they decide to do [with me], I'm willing to do it," he said -- " but clearly looked willing to give it a try if he was needed.

"It was good to get the feel of it. I was a little nervous to start off -- I felt like a rookie again. But it was fun to go out there and get the feel of it," he said. "I'm asked to do it again, I'll just go out there and do it again."

After struggling in the early going, Rohan Davey bounced back against the Eagles junior varsity in the second half. The NFL Europe Offensive Player of the Year failed to provide any sort of spark for the Patriots offense for the rest of the first half, suffering a pair of sacks and throwing for just 24 yards. Davey bounced back slightly in the second half, guiding New England on a pair of fairly consistent scoring drives (12 plays, 70 yards and 6 plays, 64 yards) late in the third quarter and early in the fourth to put the game out of reach. For the most part, on both drives, it was Davey's feet and not his arm that saved him. The LSU product used a 16-yard dash in the third quarter and added a 23-yarder in the fourth, and finished 8-for-15 for 70 passing yards and two Tds. It is too early to declare the race for the No. 2 spot to be over, but the early, Dixville Notch-returns seem to indicate the backup QB spot is still Davey's to lose -- despite Davey's initial pessimism about his performance.

"I don't think it went as well as I would have wanted it to, especially early on in the game," said Davey. "It just took a couple of plays to really get into the feel, get into the flow of the game."

Christopher Price covers the Patriots for Boston Metro and BostonPressBox.com. He can be reached at capeleaguer@hotmail.com.


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