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September 02, 2004
The Surreal Life
BY: Christopher Price

In a game that played out like an advertisement for half-price preseason tickets, Jacksonville beat the Patriots by a 31-0 score in front of a less-than-enthusiastic crowd Friday night at Gillette Stadium.

New England Head Coach Bill Belichick held the starters out for the entire game, a move likely necessitated by the fact that the starters played longer than usual Saturday against the Panthers and the Patriots short week to prepare for Thursday’s season opener against Indianapolis. As Gillette Stadium emptied out early in the second half, it made for a surreal picture: the starters were relegated to the role of support staff, and an opponent came into Foxboro and delivered the first preseason shutout since 1998.

“It was different,” said defensive lineman Richard Seymour. “It was something we haven’t had before. But coaches coach and players play.”

“It was kind of weird,” said backup quarterback Rohan Davey, who finished 13-for-25 for 104 yards and two interceptions. “But the thing that was so great was the fact that they were cheering us on, coming over and trying to give us little pointers.”

With the cutdown to the 53-man roster looming on Sunday, Belichick certainly can’t be accused of not giving everyone a fair shot at making the team. There were 11 new starters on offense and 11 new starters on defense, as backups like fullback Malafefou Mackenzie and offensive lineman Bob Hallen got the call to face the Jacksonville starters. On the defensive side of the football, the Patriots -- who started six rookies on defense -- held the Jaguars to two first downs on their first three drives, and prevented Byron Leftwich and the rest of the Jags’ starting offense from crossing midfield.

On the other side of the football, things weren’t as rosy. Once again, Davey failed to distinguish himself. He did hook up with Bethel Johnson on a nice deep pattern for a 24-yard pass play midway through the first quarter and followed that up with a 16-yard completion to Johnson late in the first, part of a drive that got the Patriots to the Jaguars’ 45-yard line.

But when he was charged with delivering in the two-minute offense at the end of the first half against the Jacksonville backups, he couldn’t deliver. He directed the Patriots to the Jags’ 34-yard line with under a minute left in the first half, but was picked off by Jacksonville cornerback Juran Bolden in the far corner of the end zone, drawing boos and putting the wraps on a scoreless first half for both teams.

“I thought Rohan did some good things tonight. I thought he managed the game well -- we missed a couple of scoring opportunities,” Belichick said. “I thought he made a couple of good throws we weren’t able to come up with. But I think it was the best he’s looked this preseason in terms of managing the game.”

Davey was slightly more enthused about his performance, giving himself a B-minus and saying “it was a little better that two weeks ago” when he completed just 10-of-24 passes with no touchdowns and an interception against the Bengals.

“I loved it. I had a good time, a good time. The only thing that could have been better was a win,” he said. “I felt good from the beginning of the game.”

Belichick said that despite Daveys' struggles, he remains the No. 2 quarterback heading into the regular season. But as endorsements go, it sounded vaguely like John McCain discussing President Bush.

“I think Rohan has made progress through the preseason,” Belichick said. “I think he still has a ways to go”

Davey’s second-quarter interception would be the closest anyone would come to scoring in the first half. The LSU product looked a little better in the second half, getting New England as close as the Jaguars 29 early in the fourth when the game was still in doubt. But Mike Cloud fumbled the football, and the Patriots were simply unable to recover. The Jacksonville junior varsity put the hammer down late, putting up 28 fourth-quarter points on the way to the rout.

With the first losing preseason since 1999 in the books, New England now turns its eyes to the Indianapolis Colts, who will head into Foxboro looking for a taste of revenge for last season’s AFC Championship contest.

“We have three or four days of practice, and we have to go out there and have a good week and do the best we can to prepare for it,” said quarterback Tom Brady.

Christopher Price can be reached at capeleaguer@hotmail.com.


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