By: Christopher Price
August 13, 2005

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If -- as New England tight end Christian Fauria suggests -- an NFL season is like climbing Mt. Everest, then the Patriots took their first real cautious steps Friday night in the preseason opener in Cincinnati.

Several starters didn't see any time at all, including quarterback Tom Brady, wide receivers Troy Brown and Deion Branch and defensive linemen Richard Seymour and Ty Warren. But Belichick's Boys were able to come away with a 23-13 win over the Bengals. There were plenty of storylines to come out of this one, but bottom line is, it was a more laudable effort than their last preseason trip to Cincinnati, a 31-3 loss last August.

"It was a lot better than it was the last time we were out there,” Head Coach Bill Belichick said on a conference call yesterday. "I thought our guys overall gave a pretty good effort.”

With so many vets on the sidelines, plenty of new faces had their time to shine, especially after veteran linebacker Mike Vrabel suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter and didn't return. (Belichick placed him in the "day-to-day” category yesterday.) Among those new faces were new linebackers Monty Beisel and Chad Brown. Despite the fact that Beisel led the team with five tackles while Brown added four, Belichick offered a lukewarm endorsement of the new linebackers, saying their play mirrored the play of most of the rest of the team: not great, not bad.

"At times it looked good. At other times it wasn't as good,” Belichick said of the performance of Beisel and Brown. "It just wasn't all one or the other. I think that was kind of born out by the stats and the score and the result of the game. It wasn't like they had 500 yards like it was the last time we played them. But it wasn't perfect either.”

With Brady and Doug Flutie taking the night off, the quarterbacking duties were left to rookie Matt Cassel and backup Rohan Davey. Davey started and went 4-for-7 for 42 yards with an interception through the first 1 1/2 quarters. He did have some good moments, including a 15-yarder to fullback Patrick Pass at the start of the second quarter. But it was Cassel who ultimately stole the show, playing the final 2 1/2 quarters and going 6-for-10 for 60 yards and one touchdown. He also flashed some speed, scrambling for 26 yards and looking more than capable of guiding an NFL offense.

Even if it was only the first preseason game of the year, it was clear Cassel is making a serious attempt to win the backup job. Belichick didn't tip his hand as to who will get the bulk of the snaps this week against the Saints, but did say Flutie will see some time in the preseason home opener -- "I think Doug needs to play and so he'll get a chance to play,” he said -- and that Cassel will likely get plenty of playing time throughout the rest of the preseason because the coaching staff would like to get a real chance to evaluate his progress.

"I think Matt has improved. I think some of the things that he did in the game, he improved on from practice or scrimmage type of situations that we've had earlier in camp,” Belichick said. "I think there were some things that came up in the game that were new or that we hadn't practiced or we practiced against them but they came up against different plays. So, there were some new situations there for him last night. Some of those were OK. Some of them weren't.”

As for the rest of the roster, Friday night was a starting point. In Fauria-speak, they're at base camp. The journey continues Thursday against the Saints.

"We'll see some different challenges this week from New Orleans and their style of play,” he said. "It's all part of the process of getting the team ready to play 16 regular season games and ready for a tough opener against Oakland.”

Christopher Price covers the Patriots for Boston Metro and He can be reached at [email protected].