Patriots Live Blog: Jermaine Cunningham Leads Strong Defensive Effort in 6-3 Loss to Giants

Patriots Live Blog: Jermaine Cunningham Leads Strong Defensive Effort in 6-3 Loss to GiantsFinal, Giants 6-3: The Giants pull out the victory in this one, despite some God awful offense put on by both sides.

The Super Bowl repeat — or as much of a repeat as a preseason game could ever be — proved to be a big disappointment as even Eli Manning and Giants first-string offense couldn't get any offense going.

Tom Brady and the Patriots high-profile offensive unit didn't even take the field in the preseason finale, but the backups could have offered something other than a dismal night of football.

As much as this one was gruseome to watchm there were some major takeaways for the Patriots.

1. Jermaine Cunningham is here to stay – He may be a legitimate threat off the edge, yet, and he finally seems like a player willing to give the effort necessary to help the Patriots defense improve and succeed.

2. Mike Rivera could have value – Who? Yes, I understand that River isn't exactly a household name, but the 26-year-old was a tackling machine out there at the Meadowlands, leading with a game-high 12. While he may not be the ideal player for the Pats roster, he could have a good option as a practice player.

3. Jeff Demps is your new punt returner – He seemed to get injured at a point in the third quarter, limping off the field which could be concerning. But with four returns for 49 yards, it looks like the Patriots have finally found a legitimate punt return threat.

Fourth Quarter, 0:21, 6-3: Hoyer went for it all, but another mistake from Jesse Holley, who underran the route, ends this one with a big interception deep in the Patriots red zone.

That may in fact be the best thing for all of us, though, saving Patriots and Giants fans alike from more excruciating offensive play.

9:57 p.m.: Hoyer's got a very unique opportunity with this two-minute drill.

As much as losing sucks, this could be a good sign for other teams to
really take a solid look at Hoyer's viability as a quarterback. A quality two-minute drill could well take his stock even higher.

Fourth Quarter, 1:03, 6-3: Brian Hoyer's fumble came back to bite the Patriots in the but, here, as the Giants were able to drive down field and give Lawrence Tynes an easy chip shot.

Tynes knocked home a 28-yard field goal and gave New York a 6-3 lead.

This one is all but over, but with Hoyer under center at leas the Pats have a fighting chance.

Fourth Quarter, 2:27, 3-3: Did I speak too soon?

A rant to avoid overtime suddenly leads to a strip sack and the Pats may be in line for a big loss here.

Fourth Quarter, 2:50, 3-3: Random Thought, how terrible would it be to see this offensively defficient 3-3 affair go into overtime?

Seriosuly, if you can't score more than six total points in the first 60 minutes, then you should just give up. It's not like this game means anything. Is it really going to benefit any of the players or the offenses if given another brutal 15 minutes of football?

Either way, Brian Hoyer should find another streaking receiver down the sideline. But this time how about a real hookup, or at least one that the refs get right.

Fourth Quarter, 5:14, 3-3: That was a catch by Jesse Holley. It's too bad the officials weren't able to review it.

Think it was Belichick's fault for not throwing the flag in time, well in the theme of blaming the replacement refs for everything, I vote they were responsible for the error.

Fourth Quarter, 6:48, 3-3: Alfonzo Dennard, who has had a tough year following an arrest back in Lincoln, Nebraska that saw his draft stock drop from the second all the way to a seventh rounder.

Dennard showed off just why his ceiling was so high, entering the draft, and how he could contribute to this team regularly.

After a few possessions on defense, Dennard has already shown some great wrap-up tackling skills as well as some elite ability as a cover corner. But Dennard also showed good instincts with a strip of the ball on that last possession.

He may not be a fringe starter or even a solid rotation guy just yet, but his potential could see him make an impact on this team from time to time this season.

Fourth Quarter, 8:28, 3-3: The Patriots are still stagnant on offense, and even Brian Hoyer's eludability can't change that.

Hoyer has had a solid night, so far, completing 7 of 9 for 65 yards and really getting the offense into a groove. But unnecessary mistakes keep derailing the Patriots drives and keeping them from reclaiming the lead.

Zoltan Mesko, who averaged about 3.6 punts per game in 2011, has already kicked it away eight times and is seeming like the Patriots MVP at this point.

End Third Quarter, 3-3: A strong first half had the concerns over the Patriots secondary subsiding. Swap out Eli Manning and bring in David Carr, though, and suddenly all that changes.

Carr has treated the Pats secondary like swiss cheese, finding holes all over the place. He's now 9 of 12 for 118 yards since coming into the game, and the combination of he and Andre Brown are really putting pressure on this Patriots defense.

Jermaine Cunningham continues to disrupt the offensive line, but the front seven is unable to get to anything substantial as Carr keeps picking them apart. Justing Francis has been impressive up front, and Mike Rivera has also looked like a legitimate rookie prospect with strong tackling — leading the squad with eight — and a nose for the football.

Brian Hoyer only had one series to really show off, as the Giants have dominated the possession in the second half so far, but he's looked poised and confident in his strikes so far.

8:58 p.m.: It's far too early to call anything for a fact, but this is the time of the season for predictions.

While the Patriots continue to flesh out their roster and find who exactly will be filling primary roles this season, the ultimate question looms: can the Patriots repeat last season's success?

Bill Belichick may not be a fan of looking very far ahead, but we here at NESN are looking at what the forecast has in store for the Pats.

So we ask you, how far can the Patriots make it this season? Vote in the poll below.


How will the Patriots do this season?

Third Quarter, 7:40, 3-3: The Giants second-string offense made the Patriots look like fools on that possession.

coming out of the half, the Patriots had all the momentum as their defense hadn't allowed nearly anything in the form of an offensive charge.

The combination of David Carr's accuracy, 7 of 8 for 77 yards on the night, along with Andre Brown's hardnosed running, 11 carries for 53 yards, put the Giants in a good spot to grab some point and tie this one up.

Lawrence Tynes hit a 34-yarder to this thing up, now it's Brian Hoyer's turn to take this one over.

Third Quarter, 9:15, Patriots 3-0: If the first half belonged to Brandon Bolden then the second half is all Andre Brown.

Yes, the WBZ broadcast seemed to be onto the same idea but either way it seems that Brown is finding a solid rhythm.

A second-year back out of NC State, Brown is a talented runner with great burst and someone who could be a legitimate breakout candidate this season. With Brandon Jacobs gone, Ahmad Bradshaw is the lone feature back and Brown is expected to pick up the rest of the load. If this is any indication, he's more than ready for the challenge.

End Second Quarter, Patriots 3-0: Where's the offense?

This is slowly turning into the ugly offensive showdown we saw with the Saints in the first preseason affair.

Either way, there were a lot of positives to take away from that first half.

Brandon Bolden had to be the first sign of positivity for the Pats. He was running with aggression and getting to the edge as he busted out for 59 yards on 15 carries, including a pretty 15-yard scurry down the right sideline.

Aside from that, the offense has looked stagnant without much to reflect on from Ryan Mallett aside from a few questionable decisions and some more unreal arm strength.

The defense had to be the real story of the half, though. Jermaine Cunningham is breaking out of his "bust" label and has looked great again on Wednesday, sacking Eli manning early in the night and then getting to David Carr to end the half. His roster spot looks to be pretty well sewn up at this point, and he well may see some quality snaps on defense if he keeps this up.

Trevor Scott, who had a big sack at the end of the second quarter as well, Ron Brace and Bobby Carpenter have also shown signs of improvement on D and could be carving out quality roles for them on this team.

Brian Hoyer will likely see the lion's share of snaps in the second half and with a strong performance he could really set himself apart from other backups around the league.

Second Quarter, 2:00, Patriots 3-0: Aside from my unadulterated love for Brandon Bolden as a player, which has been documented throughout this live blog, the other big standout on the night is Niko Koutouvides.

Koutouvides has been all over the field on defense, recording four tackles in the first half and really making his mark on the defensive unit.

He may not be the most talented or experience Patriots defender, but he's sure looking like a roster spot is in his future. He may not be a four-down defender, or even two-down defender but his depth would be much appreciated by Belichick.

Second Quarter, 6:22, Patriots 3-0: What is this a five-minute delay between plays? Replacement refs are really the answer, huh?

Hey Goodell, you really think this type of officiating is "credible?" What are you crazy?

Seriously, a crew of five guys can't figure out who committed the penalties? Consensus says…

These refs are God awful and can't even get a damn call right. This is going to be a travesty to start the season, really not looking forward to the first loss due to a botched call or missed ball spot.

Second Quarter, 8:22, Patriots 3-0: Stephen Gostkowski put the Patriots on the board with a 22-yard field goal, but that drive was solely about the potential of Brandon Bolden.

Bolden is seeing the lion's share of the work, and he's making the most of his opportunity between the tackles.

Bolden has been utilizing his strength to power through the holes and really make a push well into the red zone.

Unfortunately, Mallett is struggling mightily throwing the football — aside from a nice playaction strike to Alex Silvestro — and therefore the use of Bolden and even rookie Jeff Demps is becoming more vital.

If this is any indication of the player that Bolden could be, then he's got to be a lock for this roster.

End First Quarter, 0-0: Tom Brady didn't see any of the field, and his absence was noticable in the Patriots offense.

But New England's defensive unit was impressive, especially considering the second-stringers were put to the test against Eli Manning and the Giants Super Bowl winning offense.

Manning did well, completing 4 of 6 for 29 yards, but a slight miss on a pass to Victor Cruz could have seen another 60-yards and a touchdown to that total.

Jermaine Cunningham has shown up in full force, getting a sack on Manning in the early going, and rookie tailback Brandon Bolden has been special on the offensive side, rushing for 30 yards on just seven carries.

Plenty more time to see what these guys have to offer, but don't be surprised by some breakouts by the unexpected.

First Quarter, 2:11: While Mallett has been anything but impressive in the first quarter, thus far, running back Brandon Bolden has provided some sparks.

Bolden busted out a few runs, including a 15-yard blast down the right side, and has looked strong both between the tackles and on the outside.

The Patriots likely don't want to keep more than three true running backs on this roster, but if Bolden continues to impress at this level there's no way they can let him loose.

First Quarter, 6:01: Cunningham sighting!

10 days after Jermain Cunningham speared Mike Vick out of the Patriots second preseason contest, he know has shown his speed and strength on a bull rush through the line and in for the sack of Eli Manning.

This guy hasn't been the most consistent pro since being drafted in the second round a few years ago, but it seems that he might finally be figuring things out in Belichick's defense.

First Quarter, 7:25: The Patriots second unit seems to be matching up well with both of New York's first stringers.

Three punts to start things off, but unfortunately the Giants offense are just more polished with the likes of Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.

While the Patriots second-stringers might get beat, it has been encouraging to see a strong defensive presence against the Super Bowl champs, so far.

First Quarter, 13:25: There was a little bit of good along with some bad in the Patriots first series.

The offensive line looked strong to start off, holding their blocks well — even for close to five seconds on one play — to give Ryan Mallett time and really show some improvement over the first few weeks.

Meanwhile, Mallett didn't utilize the time as well as he could, nearly throwing an easy pick-six to the Giants defense. That's exactly the type of inexperience and uncertainty that keeps Mallett at No. 3 on the depth chart.

The second-string defense performed admirably against Eli Manning and Giants first teamers, though, impressing with strong tackling and a solid pass rush to keep Eli on his toes.

7:05 p.m.: As we inch closer to gametime, the Patriots chatter only grows louder and louder.

There are about 22 players that won't be on the team's active roster after Wednesday night's showdown, and about 30 guys will be duking it out for those final spots.

Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and company don't need to worry about their roster spots, and they also likely won't be anywhere to be found during the game, either.

But here are three key battles to keep an eye on during the preseason finale in New York.

1. Can Dan Koppen make the final roster?

Koppen has struggled mightily through the preseason, and the Patriots former starting center doesn't look to have regained his form after nearly a year off due to an injury suffered in Week 1 of the 2011 season. Dan Connolly replaced Koppen and performed admirably during last season, and while Koppen has the credentials on the ball he may be just too rusty to keep around.

2. Who has the inside track on the defensive line?

Chandler Jones, Vince Wilfork and a few others are locks for this team, but some other guys are on the cut line. Former second-round pick Ron Brace leads the group, as Brace has been injury prone over his first thre NFL season but he's also looked strong and in shape throughout the preseason and in training camp. 2012 third-rounder Jake Bequette has had his ups and down, but likely has a spot due to his high-draft position. As for another big name, free-agent acquisition Trevor Scott has looked good during his peeseason action and could be a beneficial pickup — in the same vein as Mark Anderson in 2011 — on the outside.

3. Will Sterling Moore and Marquise Cole make it through?

The cornerback position is one that has seen a lot of bodies pas through over the past few years, but not a lot of success. Can last year's AFC Championship Game savior, Moore, or newcomer Marquise Cole make the final 53-man lineup?

6:28 p.m.: The uncertainty surrounding Tom Brady's presence in Wednesday's preseason finale in New York appears to be answered.

While Brady and the first unit haven't necessarily impressed during their extended preseason action, it looks like Bill Belichick will be giving the first-line guys a night off.

Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Deion Branch were out on the field long after pregame warmups had finished, but it wasn't to sharpen their skills up for the night's game. Instead, the trio and a few others could be seen playing a game of pitch and catch, with Brady, Gronkowski and Branch all switching off in the role of receiver and defensive backs.

Take a look at the photos below to see Brady playing wideout with some of the guys.

Patriots Live Blog: Jermaine Cunningham Leads Strong Defensive Effort in 6-3 Loss to Giants

Patriots Live Blog: Jermaine Cunningham Leads Strong Defensive Effort in 6-3 Loss to GiantsBrady and Gronkowski Photo via Twitter/@MikeReiss

Brady Photo via Twitter/@TomECurran

4:30 p.m: If you haven't heard just yet, consider this your official warning. NFL officiating is going to suck, for at least a little longer.

NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson informed the 32 teams that replacement referees would be on the field for Week 1 of the regular season.

This can't be good news for the NFL or your favorite team, as it's very likely to see missed calls, botched ball spots and a variety of inconsistencies that may cost your team a win or more.

Last week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell explained that he thought the replacement officials do a "credible job." Clearly the beloved commissioner must be mistaken, or maybe he has a very loose definition of the word "credible." Either way, the job these guys have done can't even earn them the "B squad" delegation, as they've performed at more of a C-minus level.

Change needs to happen, and we need it fast. The NFL is a $9 billion — that billion with a B — industry, they need to treat it as such rather than nickel and diming at what seems like every turn.

8 a.m.: The Patriots have had their fair share of issues already this offseason. The offensive line has looked atrocious, the wide receivers position has been constantly in flux and the defensive backfield still has plenty of questions to be answered before Opening Day.

These problems, along with some others, plagued the Patriots for much of the 2011 season as well, including their 21-17 loss to the Giants in super Bowl XLVI.

On Wednesday night, Bill Belichick and the Patriots have a chance to exact some revenge, though, as they take to New York for a rematch with the rival Giants. Tom Brady is still a game-time decision for this one, as no specific roster moves have been announced, but given Belichick's endless desire for perfection, it wouldn't be all that surprising if the starting unit got a few more series to try and straighten things out.

While the thoughts of an injury, especially after seeing Brady on his backside time and time again this preseason, may be frightening to fans more time to mesh as a unit may be just what this offense needs.

The status of Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer and a number of other players remains up in the air entering Wednesday night, too. But while some of the sure things remain in flux, there will still be plenty of guys out on that field fighting for their roster spots. So it could turn out to be the most interesting game we've seen yet.

Tune into the game for all the action, but be sure to keep it locked right here for all your Patriots news, notes and analysis as well as a little fun on the evening.
 

Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes
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