FOXBORO, Mass. — This preseason was hardly beautiful enough to deserve an all-encompassing portrait at the Louvre. In fact, it probably wasn't worthy enough to stamp onto Roger Goodell's refrigerator.
The lockout crushed the quality of play around the league, which wasn't much of a storyline because the thirst for NFL games needed to be quenched after a five-month lockout.
But hey, the preseason is over, a lot of dead weight will find its way to the butcher and the quality should heighten in time for the regular season, which starts next week. Will it be perfect with a snap of the fingers? Absolutely not. Will it be better and trending upward? You know it.
"I'm excited," Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather said. "I'm super excited. It counts now. Everything counts now. Not like the last couple weeks didn't count, but training camp is over, and we can get down to playing football with the guys that you're going to be with for a long time."
While it's still a work in progress — in New England and everywhere else — the Patriots know they've improved considerably since reporting July 27 for training camp. The offense's high-flying moments with Tom Brady at the helm have outweighed the bouts of inconsistency. Meanwhile, the first-string defense has really clicked, and it showed its mettle with Albert Haynesworth in the middle of things Thursday night.
They're continuing to mesh together, and that should yield optimism as they get ready for their Sept. 12 trip to Miami.
"We don't have any choice," Haynesworth said. "We've got Monday night coming up. We've got to be on the same page. But it's finally good to be out there and see what we have as a defensive unit."
The Patriots finished the preseason with a 2-2 record and lost their last two games. The good news is their starters played well for the most part, and a guy like Brady is more likely to make a quick transition to regular-season football than just about any other player in the NFL.
But there's obviously that last seed of uncertainty, and the unknown is what makes this time of year so intriguing. While the Patriots are probably excited about the unit they'll take into Week 1, Bill Belichick said there's still a ways to go before he knows exactly what he's got.
"I don’t think you can ever tell," Belichick said about his knowledge of his team after four preseason games. "It takes about three or four regular-season games before you really know what you’ve got. Without any game planning in preseason, it’s hard to tell."