By: Bob George/BosSports.net
August 27, 2005

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So, do we tell the Giants to just stay home and find another way to get Eli Manning some playing time?

For the Patriots, the only thing of substance that could come out of the final preseason game on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium is a morbid repeat of the horrid 1989 preseason game against Green Bay where three starters were lost for the season with injuries. The 2004 version of Patriots-Packers August style went a bit better than that night, for sure, such that the Patriots could do well to just break camp and gun up for the Oakland Raiders a week from Thursday.

Game on, of course. Bob Kraft wants the home date and the gate revenue. Okay, play the scrubs, let "˜em have fun. Rest the regulars. They're ready. They're good. Bring on Al Davis and his brand new Randy Moss Olive Branch Center. Let Raider Nation start whining about the tuck rule again.

There's not a lot more to prove after Friday night's 27-3 dismembering of the Green Bay Packers. The Patriots marched into a venue in which they have never won in the regular season and made mince meat of the franchise which handed them their last Super Bowl loss. Brett Favre and William Henderson, the only holdovers from Super Bowl XXXI for the Pack, could only stand by and watch the two-time world champs ply their craft in a way which was a bit better than it was eight Januaries ago. Favre had a quarterback rating which was lower than my junior high daughter's age. It was that good a night for the home town champs.

Seriously, what's left to do? The starting jobs are pretty much set. Offense is Brady, Dillon, Branch, Givens, Graham, Watson, Light, Mankins, Koppen, Neal, Ashworth. Defense is Warren, Wilfork, Seymour, McGinest, Beisel, Brown, Colvin, Gay, Samuel, Harrison, Wilson. Depending upon the health of Mike Vrabel, one outside linebacker starting spot could be still up for grabs. That's about it.

Backups? That's what Thursday night will decide, but you could speculate right now and be pretty much right on the mark. Flutie. Cassel. Faulk. Cobbs. Pass. Fauria. Brown. Dwight. Davis. Terrell. Hochstein. Mruczkowski. Gorin. Kaczur. Bailey. Green. Hill. Banta-Cain. Izzo. Chatham. Davis. Poole. Both Scotts. Hobbs. Starks. Sanders or Reid. Add kickers Vinatieri and Miller, and their snapper Paxton, and there's your 53. Simple. Rest all these guys Thursday night, give "˜em a few kegs of beer and let "˜em laugh at the guys on the fence duking it out with the G-Men.

Yes, this is oversimplification. Yes, Bill Belichick's opinion is the one that really counts, not anyone else's. But this 53 is pretty much the one which will best give the Patriots their best chance at a record third straight Super Bowl. At least, from this typewriter, one opinion.

But they will play the game anyway. So, if you need some reasons to watch the game other than you simply like to watch the Patriots no matter what, let's concoct some possible reasons to watch the preseason finale (and we'll leave "avoid injury" out of the mix).

Rohan Davey vs. Matt Cassel These two guys will take most of the snaps. The prediction here is that the Rohan Davey Era at Foxborough will go the way of the Michael Bishop Era. Davey, one of the best European quarterbacks on the planet, may be better suited for that league across the pond rather than the big one on the home front. Besides, most of Patriot Nation is awfully intrigued by this "Cassel is the next Brady" jazz. Winner: Cassel.

David Terrell vs. P.K. Sam and Bethel Johnson Sam does have quite a fan club out there, but you might wonder why. What has Sam done in his two years in Foxborough other than "bring lots of potential"? Here is one of those "you can't make the team from the tub" guys who, when in there, still hasn't shown anyone any reason why he should stay. He doesn't even remind anyone of Sean Morey or Dane Looker. As for Johnson, maybe he'll be in silver and black in Week 1 instead of silver and blue. Maybe Bethel needs Big Al, who knows. That leaves Terrell, good or bad. Winner (by default): Terrell.

Christian Fauria vs. Jed Weaver Belichick may decide to keep four tight ends and dump one of the eleven defensive backs we chose. If so, then Weaver sticks and a defensive back goes bye-bye. The smart thinking here is that, mindful of seeing someone like Troy Brown in the secondary in 2004, Belichick will take the chance to carry extra DBs and keep only three tight ends. With apologies to Weaver and his talents, Fauria should remain here until he absolutely cannot stay any longer. He is terrific in the red zone and on special teams. Winner: Fauria.

Mike Vrabel vs. Willie McGinest This is a battle that probably won't be waged Thursday night. But how do you reconcile this, especially with Monty Beisel and Chad Brown steadily improving up the middle? If Vrabel is healthy, he probably starts and Will Mac comes in in certain situations. Either way, it is another example of great Patriot depth which presents a pleasant problem versus an unpleasant one. Winner: the entire defensive unit.

Ellis Hobbs vs. Hank Poteat Thanks, Hank. Thanks for two great games in January. Steeler Nation laughed at us for taking on one of their rejects for the postseason last year. But you helped us get to the Super Bowl, as well as helping us defeat the team which rejected you along the way. Hope you enjoy your ring, a ring you never would have won in Pittsburgh. But Hobbs will claim your job, though Hobbs needs to act more respectfully and keep his big mouth shut. Hobbs also had better learn the maxim "Do what Coach Belichick says" and stay away from "I don't care if it was wrong, if this comes up again, I'd do it again" and the like. We nominate Rodney Harrison as Hobbs' peer tutor. Winner: Hobbs.

Dexter Reid vs. James Sanders Here is perhaps the toughest call of them all. Reid was a draftee in 2004, Sanders in 2005. Reid has one year under his belt and has played in a Super Bowl, getting burned on the final Philadelphia touchdown (for which Belichick blamed Eric Mangini, not Reid). Sanders has gotten generally good reviews from camp reports. If there is one roster spot which might be the most hotly contested, and if Belichick wants to keep nine defensive backs, this one's it. Winner: too close to call.

Tom Brady, Doug Flutie, Matt Cassel and Rohan Davey vs. Jeremi Gonzalez, Mike Remlinger, Lenny DiNardo and Curt (the closer) Schilling Right now, which quartet would better help the Red Sox bullpen? The baseball world champs are still in first place, still ahead of the Yankees, and you wonder how. You have to wonder how desperate Theo Epstein is for good pitching. Yes, we're being facetious, but right now, the better pitchers are at Gillette and not Fenway.

And the better team is ready for Oakland right now.


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