By: Bob George/BosSports.net
August 17, 2013

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FOXBOROUGH -- If Tom Brady had really hurt his knee badly this week, at least the mindset would not be suicidal.

Concern, yes. But not as bad after Friday's 25-21 preseason win by the Patriots over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Gillette Stadium. Mallett shook off some shaky early throws and looked very comfortable in his time as quarterback. Brady was Brady once again, but Mallett looked sharp for the most part and seemed to finally find a rhythm few people had yet seen from the former Arkansas quarterback by way of Michigan.

Mallett came in early in the second quarter after Brady played two expert possessions and showed everyone why Danny Amendola is here and Wes Welker is not. Mallett began with an underthrow of Kenbrell Thompkins to kill the first drive, then began the next drive by throwing behind Michael Hoomanawanui. But then he led the Patriots on two consecutive scoring drives, beginning with a nice 14-yard dump pass to Hoomanawanui in the right flat off a play fake. He tossed a beautiful screen pass to Shane Vereen which went for 12 yards plus another 15 yards thanks to a personal foul. Two subsequent misfires led to a Stephen Gostkowski 39-yard field goal which at the time made it 11-0 Patriots.

The next drive may have been Mallett's best as a Patriot. He covered 75 yards in five plays, four of them completed passes. He began with a nice 23-yard sideline toss to Aaron Dobson, then found Julian Edelman for 12 yards. After a throw away, he hit Vereen in the left flat for 18 yards. Then, in what may have been his best throw as a Patriot, Mallett was able to find Zach Sudfeld in the end zone. Sudfeld dove for the ball and made a nice catch for a 22-yard touchdown to make it 18-7 Patriots. Mallett laid the ball in a place where only Sudfeld could catch the ball, and though the catch was acrobatic, it was nonetheless a terrific throw and a gutsy one with Najee Goode right there in coverage.

Mallett finished 12 of 20 passing for 137 yards, one touchdown, and a 97.3 passer rating. It could never be Brady-esque, but for Mallett, it was something to be proud of. Bill Belichick has not given the backup quarterback job to anyone yet, but if it were decided tonight, Mallett wins it in a landslide.

Tim Tebow continues to be all about running and zero about passing. Tebow did not run the pistol or Wildcat packages he ran last week in Philadelphia. He was tested at times with mainstream throws and also ran the ball a few times.

Result: He was the second leading rusher on the team with 30 yards on six carries and a 5.0 yards per carry average.

Result: His passer rating was the same as John Blutarsky's GPA: 0.0. If Dean Wormer were the Patriot head coach, Tebow would be on his way back to Florida right now. Tebow was 1 of 7 for minus-1 yards. He also threw an interception, overthrowing Thompkins in the fourth quarter but hitting third string cornerback Mason Robinson right between the 4 and the 6. Tebow can not only not throw the ball, he doesn't come close to hitting any receivers.

Whatever the coaching staff sees in Tebow, it cannot be based on throwing the ball. He does show skill at running as he always has. But the pro game is too fast for him, he cannot read coverages, and his arm skills are simply substandard. You don't need to be told this. But Tebow is still here, continually showing what little throwing talent he has.

It heightens that awful moment on Wednesday when Brady went down in a heap. Right now, Mallett would have to be the guy. At times Mallett looked like he could do the job. He may be no Matt Cassel, Damon Huard or Brian Hoyer. But he may be good enough to keep things above water.

While Brady was in there, it was the Amendola coming out party. Amendola caught six passes for 71 yards, including the game's first touchdown on the opening drive. Tampa Bay got caught in a matchup goof and Amendola was singled up by linebacker Mason Foster. Amendola beat him easily on a seam route, and Brady laid it right in there for a 27-yard touchdown. Just for laughs, the Patriots went for two and Brady hit Sudfeld in the back of the end zone to make it 8-0 Patriots early, thus the abnormal scores all game long.

The varsity defense played well, sacking Josh Freeman three times and holding him to only 2 of 3 passing for 8 yards. Aqib Talib looked generally good against his old teammates, but what helped greatly was the absence of Doug Martin, who was injured early and never returned. Martin had only one carry for four yards, and Freeman was never able to use the run to set up the pass.

Against the second stringers, Tampa Bay fans were treated to a nice battle for Martin's backup. Former Cleveland Brown Peyton Hillis worked the Patriots for 73 yards on 18 carries, but Mike James was even better, rushing for 81 yards and averaging over five yards a carry. James was stuffed at midfield on fourth and one in the fourth quarter to help preserve the Patriot win, so perhaps Hillis wins this battle.

Brady finished with otherworldly numbers again, completing 11 of 12 passes for 107 yards, one touchdown and a 131.6 passer rating. He looked like nothing at all was wrong with his knee, threw like he always does, and seemed to quell any anxiety over how his knee, the same one that was injured in 2008, might be too weak to play on. Whether or not this will change Belichick's opinion on combined practices remains to be seen.

A few other players deserved special mention. Logan Ryan picked off a Mike Glennon pass in the third quarter and returned it for 53 yards and an easy pick-six. With the Patriot offense stuck in neutral, the pick turned out to be the margin of victory for the Patriots. Ryan made a nice play, but it was an ill-advised throw by Glennon. Jamie Collins had some nice defensive stops, Justin Green had some nice passes defended after giving up a few plays earlier on, and Brandon Bolden did rip off a nice 25-yard run in the fourth quarter to give Tebow his only first down of the evening.

Next week is the all-important third game, the dress rehearsal. It will be at Ford Field in Detroit, so the Patriot defense will need to deal with Matthew Stafford and Robotron while the offensive line had better keep Ndamukong Suh away from Brady. The varsity will get a long look, and Brady's health will be a priority. There are no plans for these two teams to practice together; the team is scheduled to break camp on Tuesday.

So, Mallett gets to go back to his former collegiate area, in the same city (well, 50 miles to the south) where Brady completed his first NFL pass in 2000. Michigan is a long way back for both Mallett and Brady, but two things have to happen when this game is over.

Brady is still the starter, and Mallett is entrenched as his backup. Period.


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