FOXBORO, Mass. — Tim Tebow and Quentin Sims had a last-gasp touchdown connection to seal the game for New England as the clock wound down on the Patriots’ preseason Thursday night.
Theirs was the last-second effort of the literal variety, while Jake Bequette and Michael Buchanan‘s Hail Mary as the clock wound down to zero was purely figurative. Both defensive ends, drafted a year and 136 picks apart, were on the roster bubble when the final game of the summer started.
It was obvious from watching their play that both players were fighting for their lives. What wasn’t obvious was where these players had been all summer in both training camp and the preseason.
In the first three games, Buchanan was usually found five yards behind the quarterback on most pass-rushing snaps. He could wind his way around a quarterback but never fight his way back or over. That’s one of the worst places a defensive end can be on the field. On run plays, he was getting pushed around by the opposition, back and out of plays.
Bequette was forced to play out of position early in the preseason, taking on the role of a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4, rather than his usual seven-technique defensive end in a 4-3. He struggled in the role, both in holding his ground against double teams and in shedding blockers from his more-interior position. At 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, J.J. Watt he is not.
But the second-year player proved he can at least be a viable NFL player in the fourth preseason game. He had a tougher time doing that last season when he played in just three contests, accumulating 29 total snaps. In those games against the Bills, Rams and Dolphins, Bequette recorded zero sacks, zero quarterback hits and zero pressures.
His immediate stat line doesn’t look too much better from Thursday night — three total tackles with one for a loss — but the Arkansas product was constantly badgering the Giants’ assortment of quarterbacks, pressuring up the middle and from the outside.
Bequette was also effective in the run game. On one play in particular, he swallowed New York running back Michael Cox whole, meeting him at the line of scrimmage to bring him down first in a swarm of Patriots defenders.
Buchanan’s performance will be better remembered, thanks in large part to the 2 1/2 sacks he piled up on unsuspecting New York signal callers. The rookie from Illinois also recorded a tackle for loss and had a deflected pass, when he got his mitts in the Giants’ passing lanes.
Buchanan guessed it was his first 2 1/2-sack performance since his junior year at Illinois. He topped out at 1 1/2 sacks in a single game in 2011, so it goes back even further than that, likely to high school.
Each player admitted it was his best game as a member of the Patriots. Both got the opportunity to start and played nearly the entire game.
“Yeah I would definitely say [yes],” Buchanan said when asked if it was his best game of the preseason. “I did a lot more preparing and getting ready for this game, so I’d definitely say that was the most comfortable I’ve felt.”
Bequette also said he played better than he had in the past. Bequette has slowly gotten better this preseason, with his apex obviously coming against the Giants on Thursday night.
“I think I’ve improved,” Bequette said. “You always set high goals for yourself, and you want to continue to set the bar high going forward. I’m not really looking back. I’m looking forward full speed ahead. I have the same goal every day, which is to come in and get better. I try just to improve a little bit every day.”
Buchanan said he put in some extra work before the game because he knew he would be going up against the best the Giants had to offer. Previously, Buchanan played against opponents’ second- or third-teamers.
“Just my studying habits and trying to pick up different things on guys because I knew I was going to see a number of different tackles tonight,” Buchanan said. “Just tried to study on my own and be prepared for whatever guy is in the game.”
Bequette and Buchanan have differing views on the impending roster cuts. The team’s roster will be cut from 75 to 53 players by Aug. 31 at 4 p.m.
“I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, it’s just another day,” Bequette said of Saturday. “I think everyone’s body of work over the past six weeks, it is what it is. It speaks for itself. Hopefully everyone’s going out here and put their best foot forward and played as hard as they could during the preseason. Just let the chips fall as they may.”
Buchanan said he thinks about Saturday’s cuts and that he thinks every player does. Both players seemed to be on the roster bubble, but after dominating performances, that may not be the case anymore. Buchanan is confident heading into Saturday, though.
“Yeah, I think I made a pretty good case for myself,” Buchanan said. “I think I played as hard as I can. I just tried to do whatever I could to help my team win.”
Both players were happy with the team’s overall play on Thursday night.
“We got some great pressure on the quarterback,” Bequette said. “I think other than a couple of plays here and there, we stopped the run pretty consistently. We had a lot of disruptive plays out there. As a defensive lineman, that’s all you want.”
“I think as a team we all had a lot of effort,” Buchanan said. “I think the guys out there did their best and really showed that they can help and contribute to this team.”
Part of Buchanan’s success can be credited to a wider array of pass-rushing moves. Buchanan said he finally felt comfortable putting everything out on the table.
“That’s actually one thing my coaches have been telling me I’ve had to work on in the game,” Buchanan said. “I would do it in practice, I would do different moves, and I would sack guys. That’s really what it’s all about. These tackles in the NFL are so good, you really have to work to set them up. Show them one thing, then when they’re guessing on that, you do something else. That’s something I felt like I did a good job of doing that.”
Both players did a solid job of convincing the team’s decision-makers they deserve another year with the Patriots. We’ll see if they accomplished their goal on Saturday when the roster cuts have to be made.