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Instant analysis from Patriots’ preseason finale as 53-man roster deadline looms

A touchdown’s worth of observations from New England’s meeting with New York.

NFL: Preseason-New York Giants at New England Patriots Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots finished the preseason in last-second defeat, falling to the New York Giants by a score of 31-29 Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.

But that 3-1 record is in the rearview mirror now. Looming is Saturday’s 4 p.m. ET roster deadline.

Here’s a touchdown’s worth of observations from the summer’s close as the Patriots shift sights to the fall.

Linebacker Calvin Munson could be a tough out

Munson played heavily against New England in last year’s preseason finale, and did so again against New York this time around. The futures signing, who spent the bulk of 2018 on the practice squad, has made for a difficult decision.

Though with core special-teamer Brandon King on injured reserve after suffering a torn quad in the Patriots’ dress rehearsal versus the Carolina Panthers, that decision may not be as difficult as it once appeared. Munson started five games as an undrafted rookie in 2017, posting 60 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. The ex-San Diego State linebacker did so while also playing 46 percent of the snaps in the Giants’ kicking game.

Munson’s recognition and sound tackling warrant a spot on the off-the-ball fringe. He generated a quarterback hurry on an A-gap blitz and finished with four tackles versus New York. Starting next to Munson on the linebacker level was 2018 draft choice Christian Sam as well as Sunday signing Scooby Wright III. Then again, the third phase is Munson’s fast track.

Rookie Jarrett Stidham goes wire-to-wire at QB

It was Stidham, not incumbent backup Brian Hoyer, who stepped in at quarterback when Tom Brady stepped out last week against Carolina. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick would note afterward that the 33-year-old Hoyer has “played a lot of football.”

As for Stidham, he played a lot of football this week. And the Patriots can hope it’s the most extensive workload the rookie fourth-round draft selection handles in 2019. Danny Etling played the entirety of last year’s preseason ender. Jacoby Brissett did the same the previous year. A room of three quarterbacks remains the expectation this year.

The one by way of Baylor and Auburn has exceeded the expectations of his No. 133 overall draft status this August. That holds true even if his showing Thursday brought growing pains with it. Stidham started and ended 18-of-28 for 225 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Play-action pressure resulted in his first interception of the preseason, however, courtesy of Giants safety Sean Chandler. And an end-around exchange resulted in another turnover. But there’d be the same, sharp glimpses from previous weeks. Stidham also scrambled seven times for 50 yards on the ground.

Julian Edelman, Demaryius Thomas and Josh Gordon unleashed

Not often are names ranging from Edelman to Thomas to Gordon running routes in the fourth game of the preseason. But with all three entering Thursday having yet to make their 2019 summer debuts, this was an exception.

Edelman’s fractured thumb saw him begin training camp on the non-football injury list, while Thomas began on physically unable to perform after suffering a torn Achilles with the Houston Texans in December. And for Gordon, his reinstatement from indefinite NFL suspension saw him return to the facility on only Aug. 18.

All three veteran wideouts got some run against the Giants. Edelman was spotted sprinting out of the tunnel prior to kickoff and started next to Gordon, who garnered Stidham’s initial three pass attempts and turned one of them into a 19-yard gain. Thomas stepped in for three-receiver sets alongside them during the opening series, and faded for a 35-yard touchdown as well as a broken three-yard score before his night was over. Gordon and Thomas combined for 117 receiving yards by halftime. The former drew defensive pass interference, as well.

Cornerback Joejuan Williams flexed to safety

At 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds, Williams is of a different mold as far as New England’s cornerback conversation goes. And on Thursday, the rookie second-rounder out of Vanderbilt found himself at a different position.

Williams saw an early look at safety next to undrafted free agent Malik Gant. This is the time in the NFL calendar to test those looks. It even gave way to a reception-jarring hit on Giants receiver Brittan Golden in the box and a near-interception in the game’s final minute. But Williams, who projects as a pressing, matchup corner, remains a corner. He just might not look like one.

Also getting in on the two-way fun was Jakob Johnson, a member of the NFL’s International Pathway Program, who logged work at both fullback and outside linebacker versus New York. Undrafted wideout and return man Gunner Olszewski even stepped in on the defensive side after having cut his teeth in the Bemidji State secondary.

Hjalte Froholdt’s early exit one to monitor along the line

One day after acquiring Korey Cunningham and Jermaine Eluemunor, New England’s depth along the offensive line took a hit. Froholdt, a fourth-round selection in April, went down holding his right arm following a screen pass to running back Nick Brossette with under four minutes left in the first quarter.

The guard by way of Denmark and Arkansas proceeded to go from the blue medical tent to the locker room and did not return. Froholdt was part of a starting line that included Dan Skipper at left tackle, James Ferentz at center, Tyler Gauthier at right guard and Tyree St. Louis at right tackle.

Marshall’s Gant was later carted to the locker room in the second half after being visited on-field by Patriots leaders in Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater and Brandon Bolden.

Up-and-down nights net picks for 2018 draft picks

Sometimes Keion Crossen and Duke Dawson found the football. Sometimes the football found them.

The pair of 2018 draft picks, taken in the seventh round and the second round, respectively, fought through receptions to record interceptions opposite the Giants’ Alex Tanney and breakups opposite Kyle Lauletta.

Crossen carved out a place in the kicking game as a rookie out of Western Carolina. Dawson, who was placed on injured reserve in September, still has yet to make his debut in the regular season. Crossen had a TD allowed, a toe-tapping pick and a team-high dozen tackles versus New York. The corner taken five rounds ahead of him was flagged for illegal contact and then had a pass kicked up into his grasp. Crossen and Dawson were credited with a total of eight passes defensed in their final August audition.