By: Bob George/
August 21, 2012

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No Brady or Gronk, but plenty of storylines at Patriots OTAs

FOXBOROUGH -- You might give this to the Patriots in that the other guys left their starters in longer, and it was their dress rehearsal game.

And the other team lost their starting quarterback while the Patriots rested theirs.

A plodding and at times very sloppy first half saw the Patriots suffer two giveaways which both resulted in touchdowns by the Philadelphia Eagles. But the one touchdown the Patriots notched in the first half was aided by key Eagle penalties. The teams would up tied 14-14 at the intermission, and the Eagle starters played well into the third quarter before the visitors finally won out in the end, 27-17 on Monday night at Gillette Stadium. With three games in ten days in the offing for the Patriots, most every important offensive starter took the night off, given that their next game is Friday night in Tampa Bay.

It was clear that the Patriots showed no yin whatsoever to work on exotic offensive plays. The game was mostly about sizing up certain players for certain roles, primarily at the skill positions. The offensive line is still a mess, and on Monday night the run blocking didn't work, either. Bill Belichick can look back on the game with some measure of good feeling, in that he kept his key players healthy and knows a bit more about who will make this team and who won't.

On the other hand, Andy Reid should perhaps have rested Michael Vick. In the first quarter, Kyle Love came in on a fierce pass rush up the middle and Jermaine Cunningham finished him off with a vicious, but legal, hit. Vick came out of the game with sore ribs (x-rays were negative) and would not return. It allowed Nick Foles to strut his stuff with second string quarterback Mike Kafka also sidelined, but Tom Brady will play the next game for his team while Vick likely won't.

Basically the first half was the first quarter featuring both first strings and the second quarter featuring the Patriot second stringers against the Eagle starters. Ryan Mallett would lead the Patriots to scores on two of the team's first three offensive possessions, and looked okay but at times inconsistent in running the Patriot offense. He threw three exceptional passes, but in the end didn't give one the impression that he should be put ahead of Brian Hoyer on the quarterback depth chart.

On the second offensive drive, Mallett hit Julian Edelman twice with laser strikes that raised a few eyebrows. He hit Edelman on a quick screen left side which was a bang-bang throw on third and nine at the Patriot 13. A nice block by Nate Solder sprang Edelman for 16 yards. Three plays later, Mallett hit Edelman on a nice quick slant route right in stride for eight yards. The drive ended with a Stephen Gostkowski 51-yard field goal, but they were authoritative throws which necessitated precision and quickness.

On the next drive, Mallett hit Alex Silvestro for a touchdown on a beautiful throw. On third and goal at the Eagle 7 four plays into the second quarter, Mallett hit Silvestro on a bang-bang play, hitting the reserve tight end perfectly over the outside shoulder and with great velocity on the throw. It turned out to be the only touchdown of the night for the Patriots, and an illegal substitution penalty on the Eagles begat a one-yard 2-point conversion run by Shane Vereen.

Penalties hampered the Eagles all game long (they had 15 for the game), and they played a part in the Patriot scoring drives. A personal foul on Darryl Tapp helped the first scoring drive. On the touchdown drive, a roughing the passer penalty on Fletcher Cox negated a Dominic Rodgers-Cromartie interception. Then, a holding penalty on Nnamdi Asomugha three plays later wiped out a Mychal Kendricks sack. Tapp was later called for roughing the passer on the final scoring drive of the first half for the Patriots, where Gostkowski booted a 35-yard field goal to send the game into halftime all tied at 14.

The Eagles got all their first half points thanks to Patriot fumbles. Brandon Bolden muffed a punt at the Patriot 24 early in the second quarter, and Philadelphia took three running plays to get on the scoreboard, with LeSean McCoy scoring the touchdown from one yard out. Two plays later, Hoyer gave the ball back when CFL refugee Philip Hunt beat Marcus Cannon and got a strip sack. Two plays and 12 yards later, Clay Harbor took a 2-yard pass from Foles and it was 14-11 Eagles.

The second half was finally about the scrubs, but some of the real Eagles were in there for some of the third quarter. The Eagles, who themselves also have schedule issues and had to use this game as their dress rehearsal, took this game much more seriously than the Patriots. Reid blew his cool on the sideline in the first half and had a jawing match with Cullen Jenkins right in front of the ESPN cameras. When things got down to the low end of the depth chart, the Patriots basically played to observe players and didn't seem to mind being outscored 13-3 in the second half.

Of particular note, here are some players who did themselves proud, and we don't mean guys like Gostkowski who boomed two field goals north of 50 yards (three total):

Donte Hightower made some good plays including two nice defended passes in the first quarter.

Kyle Love provided some nice pressure up the middle, playing largely in place of Vince Wilfork.

Take away that muffed punt and Bolden didn't do all that bad as the third option at running back. But oh, that muff. You cannot un-ring a bell. Don't make special teams errors and expect Belichick to come at you with a bunch of "attaboys".

Deion Branch is fighting for his job. Now that's really something. He may still be cut in the end, but he isn't going down with a whimper.

Now, some guys who may be turning in their playbook before long:

Well, Jake Bequette won't likely be turning in his binder. But he needs to finish plays better and his roughing the passer penalty in the third quarter was ill-advised.

Sterling Moore showed how bad the Patriot secondary was last year. For him to stick this year, other injured players will have to be the reason.

No Patriot running back really looked great, but on Monday night the offensive line did neither run or pass blocking particularly well.

Mike Rivera, a linebacker, was burned for the Harbor touchdown and doesn't look like he will crack the final linebacker squad in September.

Jeremy Ebert needs more looking at, but he had some drops in the first half to go along with one nice 20-yard catch in the second quarter.

The Patriots will split real quick for Tampa and their dress rehearsal on Friday night. It is possible that Belichick and Josh McDaniels may continue to keep a lid on the Patriot offense until things get real next month. The defense continues to look pretty good, holding the Eagles to only two touchdowns despite the two short turnover-provoked drives. Look for another low scoring game, and for Brady to be treated carefully given how inconsistent the offensive line continues to look.

Meanwhile, one has to wonder if Reid wishes he had rested Vick.