Once the season starts, it's a whole new ballgame; we know that," coach Bill Belichick said. "What counts is how you play in the regular season. That's what matters. It doesn't mean that the individual performances and group performances and how you execute plays isn't important. It is important, and that leads to your execution at a later point in time, but I'd say that's what you gain from preseason."
That quote from Bill Belichick just about sums it up. Without saying too much, he's essentially saying preseason is for evaluation of players in various situations, especially players you may think are on the bubble and you want to get 1 more look at them. And there is little doubt in my mind the coaching staff told the players to try, but not too hard; stay healthy, don't get hurt and get some reps in.
On the flip side, the fact that we haven't seen Brady in one game and the Patriots are 0-4 does give me pause. I have faith in the players and the coaching staff. I have faith they know what they're doing and are out to march our boys into Feb, '09. But...give me some evidence. Give me something to latch on to.
Like a smackdown against KC. I know the talent level of this team. I know what they're capable of. But, let's be real: it's a very different team from last year. A rotating door of FAs and injuries make it hard, as a fan, to be 100% right now.
Quarterbacks - With Brady a no-show, all eyes were on the backups. Cassel again failed to impress, but his numbers were not horrible: 4/6 for 37 yards. Gutierrez managed 5/9 for 69 and O'Connell 3/4 for 22. O'Connell had the only TD pass of the game with a nicely placed floater to Chad Jackson. Did I also mention O'Connell had the only rushing TD of the game, too? Kid's making a case for himself. As far as who stays and who goes, I have no idea. Cassel is playing against starters while Gutierrez and O'Connell are playing against backups and backups to backups; it's hard to gauge.
Running Backs - Mediocre is all I can say. Maroney never got started with 4 for 5 yards. Green-Ellis and Jordan managed 6 for 28 and 6 for 27 respectively which is a little over 4 yards per carry - not bad. More important to me is Jordan's hands; he managed 23 yards on a reception. Faulk and Jordan will make a nice pair of third down and redzone weapons.
Receivers - The ball was spread around too much to key in on any one guy's performance. Chad Jackson had a decent 2 for 32 and CJ Jones went 2 for 14, but Jones managed to rip it up on kickoff returns; he may have secured a spot there. Washington missed a nice toss right at his shoulders. I'm getting concerned that Welker may be out for a bit and Washington is the stand in.
Defense - I won't go into every position because I'm truly tired of knitpicking every move, but this was somewhat brutal to watch. Gary Guyton was a bright spot with 10 solo tackles, but the biggest bright spot was John Lynch. He went 5 tackles and 3 assists, but he was all over the field, reading everything and jumping in when needed. His stop at the goal line was very cool and heads up. Cornerbacks were playing WAY to soft. Ex: Fernando Bryant basically "hugged" a guy into the endzone. Push him out of bounds!! Sheesh. Bruschi and Mayo appeared to be phoning in their performances. I want to see these new young dudes step it up a bit.
Special Teams - Defensively, we did well, mostly due to Hanson absolutely spanking the crap out of the ball with ridiculous hang times. By the time the Giants' returners had the ball, they were swimming in a sea of Patriots. Offensively, CJ Jones made a case for himself as a returner. He had some nice runbacks and made good decisions (letting the ball go for a touchback).
I have left out both offensive and defensive lines for now; more to come in another story.
While we may be harping on the individual performance of these players and an 0-4 showing is not, at all, what we're used to, I do believe there's a wildcard here and that wildcard is the coaching staff. We have no idea what they're telling the players to do or how to play these games. I'm cautiously optimistic they're instructing the boys in uniform to cruise a little bit, to stay healthy for the long haul that is the regular season. Let's hope that's what they're saying. Bring on KC.