Patriots at Giants: 5 Observations

Ryan Hannable
August 30, 2012 at 10:44am ET

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The Patriots wrapped up their preseason with a 6-3 loss to the Giants Wednesday night. In a game which featured virtually no Patriot starters and only a few series' played for the Giants starters, adding in the replacement referees, the game seemingly could not end fast enough.

Here are five observations from the game leading into the regular season opener Sept. 9 at Tennessee:

Jermaine Cunningham had a solid night on Thursday. (FILE:USPresswire)
Cunningham makes case to earn roster spot

Going into the game defense end Jermaine Cunningham was a player looked at being on the bubble of making the final 53-man roster, which needs to be finalized by Friday night. The 2010 second round pick certainly gave coach Bill Belichick plenty to think about as he was arguably the most impressive defensive player on the field playing the entire game. Cunningham finished with three tackles, two first half sacks and was in the backfield on many occasions. Cunningham has shown signs of being a factor this preseason as he had three quarterback hits against the Eagles, including the one that knocked Michael Vick out of the game. Cunningham is competing with Trevor Scott and Jake Bequette for the final spot at defensive end. It will be difficult to cut a 2012 third-round pick in Bequette, while Scott is a four-year NFL veteran who the team signed this past March. This will be Cunningham's third year with the team, and if he does not make an impact this year it’s hard to imagine he ever will. This will certainly be a position to keep an eye on when the cuts are announced Friday night.

Bolden and Demps carry the load at running back

The running back position has been the focus of many debates over the past few days as to how many players will be on the roster and who will they be? As it stands now Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Danny Woodhead are locks to make the team. Putting fullback Eric Kettani with the running backs, since the team hasn't had a true fullback in years, the team has six players at the position. Brandon Bolden and Jeff Demps are the other two. It should come down to Kettani, Bolden and Demps for the final cut at the position.

The three players were the only three to receive carries Wednesday night. Bolden led the way with 15 carries for 59 yards, followed by Demps with six carries for 15 yards, while Kettani rushed for 12 yards on four carries. All three players also caught three passes out of the backfield. Demps and Bolden also shared the punt/kick return duties with Demps getting the majority of them with neither breaking any loose. Demps was banged up late in the fourth quarter appearing to injure his right ankle, but reports following the game indicated he will be fine after a precautionary MRI.

It will certainly be a difficult choice for Belichick and the Patriots coaching staff. To me, they will cut either Bolden or Kettani with the hope they will clear waivers and be able to be added to the teams practice squad. As it stands now it looks to be Kettani, but it would be expected he'd clear waivers and be able to be added to the practice squad. Bolden was very impressive Wednesday night,  making it difficult to cut the undrafted free agent. Demps, an Olympic silver-medalist who played football at Florida last year, has a tremendous upside and upon looking further into the situation, the team would not have signed him if they did not have plans for him on the 53-man roster. He is sure to boost the kick return game, a unit that has not performed up to par the last few years, but has had Tom Brady bail them out with long drives and not having the attention focused on poor field position. Keeping Kettani on the practice squad will be beneficial if one of the backs were to be injured at some point during the season.

Quarterback controversy

With Tom Brady sitting out, second-year quarterback Ryan Mallett got the start and played the entire first half. Mallett wasn’t very impressive, but to his defense he was the victim of several drops from his receivers. Mallett finished 8-15 for 40 yards, but also had several miscommunications with his running backs and receivers. Brian Hoyer played the second half and faired a little better than Mallett, aside from his interception on his last throw of the game, which looked to be a wrong route ran by receiver Jesse Holley. Hoyer finished 9-15 for 96 yards. Following the game Belichick would not comment on which player would be the teams’ backup this season.

This is turning into a very interesting decision for Belichick and his staff. Do they see any of the two as Brady's replacement? Looking at teams' in similar situations when franchise quarterbacks retire, very rarely does the new quarterback step right in and not miss a beat. A recent example of a good transition is the Packers with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers was with the team for three seasons before he started -- this will be Hoyer's fourth. It would be very hard to ask Hoyer to wait around three-to-five more seasons before even getting the chance to start since he has the talent to be a starter with another club. Could the Patriots possibly trade Hoyer away? If they were to trade him, are they comfortable with Mallett as Brady's backup and possible replacement? The Patriots would most likely listen to trade offers involving Hoyer. If nothing were to happen, expect Hoyer to remain Brady's backup and then things would get interesting following the season with him becoming a free agent.

Patriots ready for regular season

Many thought the starters would see at least some action Wednesday night, especially on offense considering their struggles in the first three preseason games. That was not the case as Sebastian Vollmer was the only projected starter on offense or defense to play. Vollmer only played the first two offense series’ and came out midway through the third. It was Vollmer’s first action this preseason, which was most likely just to get him acclimated to game action and ready to start the season. Vollmer did look pretty solid in the limited action he saw. Bill Belichick not playing his starters shows he is looking ahead to the regular season and is content with where each unit is.

Should the 1-3 preseason concern fans?

The Patriots finished the preseason with a 1-3 record and certainly didn't blow their opponents away at any point. In fact, the offense struggled much of the preseason. There hasn't been a preseason in recent memory where Tom Brady took as many hits as he has. This preseason was also much different from any one in the past. The team played three games in a ten-day span with a joint practice with the Buccaneers mixed in between, which certainly made things difficult on the players and the coaching staff although they won't admit it. The offensive line has not been great, but they haven't played a game with the entire projected starting line together. Brian Waters isn't with the team yet, and to me there is no question he will be with the team next week in Tennessee. He came in last season the week before the Miami game and played the entire game. He will do the same this year. If Belichick and Co. did not believe Waters would be coming back they would have certainly gone out and brought in another linemen by now. It should be noted he still has a locker in the Patriots locker room. Wes Welker hasn't played a down this preseason and should be ready to go opening weekend. Although the Patriots have been below average by their standards this preseason keep in mind they haven't been playing with their entire roster that will be showcasing during the regular season. Don't panic, this team will be fine.