It seemed as if the fourth quarter of the Patriots’ final preseason game would never end.
Tim Tebow must have been happy the Patriots used every second of the clock, though, as the third-string quarterback hit Quentin Sims on an impressive redzone fade for a touchdown as the game was ready to expire. After an up-and-down summer, Tebow redeemed himself to a certain extent on Thursday night.
The former Heisman winner wasn’t helped out much by his offensive line, but he did what he could and even showed some of his patented “Tebow magic” with his legs when the pocket crumbled around him or his first read was covered. He finished the night 6-for-11 with 91 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Tebow wasn’t the only story on Thursday night, though. Plenty of players were fighting for roster spots and they got plenty of time to show what they had against the Giants. Check out five takeaways from the Patriots-Giants matchup below.
1. Reserve defensive ends shine as defensive tackles struggle: It was time for Michael Buchanan and Jake Bequette to show up and they finally did. Buchanan shined in the passing game, while Bequette did his best work against the run.
Buchanan had an absolutely dominant game pressuring the Giants’ quarterbacks. He picked up 2 1/2 sacks, including a forced fumble, and was in the backfield countless times. In the past, his issue has been running past the quarterback and not being able to use his strength to power back in. That wasn’t the case Thursday night. There’s a reason the Giants had a tough time moving the ball through the air and it starts on the line with Buchanan.
Bequette was also a terror in pressuring the Giants’ quarterbacks, but not to the same degree as the rookie. Bequette used his strength and length to redirect running backs all game, though. His best play came when he tackled Michael Cox for a two-yard loss, dragging his opposing offensive lineman the whole way through the play.
While Bequette did a great job against the run, the “starting” defensive tackles, Joe Vellano and Marcus Forston, were not quite as stout. That seems to be a real issue for the Patriots — depth at defensive tackle.
Unfortunately, both players are much better at getting pressure on the quarterback than they are at holding their ground against the run. The team has tried numerous times to find a backup at nose behind Vince Wilfork, but DeWayne Cherington, Anthony Rashad White and Gilbert Pena did not work out. The team will likely scour the waiver wire to pick up their fourth defensive tackle.
Bequette and Buchanan’s strong play, coupled with Forston and Vellano’s effort against the pass likely caused the team to release Marcus Benard on Friday afternoon. Benard struggled getting after the passer in the third-down defensive tackle role he was given and was worse against the run in the same package.
Benard’s at his best on the edge when he’s asked to get after the passer. He was rarely given that opportunity, and for good reason. New England’s starting defensive ends, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, are every-down players. There’s no use for a sub edge rusher on this team, though there is room for strong backups like Bequette and Buchanan, whose games are more balanced.
2. George Winn, Quentin Sims may not pass through waivers: The Patriots may have showed their hand a little too much with these two undrafted rookies. Winn ran hard all game behind a backup offensive line for 53 yards on 14 carries. Those 3.9 yards per carry didn’t come easy, though. Winn rarely had a big hole open for him and he was constantly fighting for extra space.
Sims has been a favorite target of Tebow all summer and he showed why on Thursday night. Sims caught three passes on four targets for 72 yards and two touchdowns. That red zone fade in which he caught his second touchdown was a play we have seen all summer from Tebow and Sims. It seems Tebow’s accuracy actually comes out when he’s throwing to Sims.
After Thursday night, Winn and Sims may not clear waivers to make it onto the Patriots’ practice squad. Big, fast red-zone targets like Sims don’t exactly grow on trees, and there are plenty of teams that could use a hard runner like Winn. It seems Winn has the better shot at making it onto the practice squad at this point.
3. Marcus Cannon, Josh Kline shine among rough showing from offensive line: Overall, it was tough to watch the Patriots’ offensive line. Matt Stankiewitch and Luke Patterson had especially rough showings, so it makes sense those are the two who were cut today. Cannon looked good in his first preseason action, manning the right tackle spot. It appears Dan Connolly still has the inside track to the right guard spot, but Cannon will be a nice reserve this season.
Kline and Chris McDonald are now fighting for the eighth offensive line spot. Kline has been the better player throughout the preseason, though he did give up a glaring sack to Tim Tebow. It looked like the rookie out of Kent State might have slipped during the play.
4. Tim Tebow, Ryan Mallett have best games of preseason: Finally Tom Brady‘s backups stood out. Mallett looked comfortable in the pocket behind a ragtag group of offensive linemen. Tebow didn’t look quite as comfortable, but he was able to use his legs to evade pressure and make something out of nothing.
Mallett’s best pass was on the 40-yard touchdown to Josh Boyce. He lofted it up perfectly and Boyce tracked it down. Tebow’s best pass was on the aforementioned fade to Sims. Sometimes Tebow will do something like that and it has you scratching your head why those throws don’t always come out. Tebow truly is an enigma.
Both players threw interceptions where rookie Aaron Dobson didn’t help out much. The rookie has trouble with his physicality, and didn’t come back for a Tebow ball and didn’t fight enough to grab a Mallett pass. Quarterbacks were 3-of-8 throwing to Dobson on Thursday night.
5. Steve Beauharnais quietly excels: The rookie Rutgers linebacker is basically the forgotten man. He’s been good all summer — in special teams, against the run, in coverage, you name it. He’s always around the ball and even got a couple pressure on Thursday night.
Beauharnais is a lock for the roster and provides what the Patriots’ special teams linebacker of the past offered and more. Unlike Eric Alexander and Tracy White, the Patriots shouldn’t be afraid to use Beauharnais on defense. He may never be a starter here in New England with so many talented players in front of him, but he’ll be an important role player.
Here are some more quick-hit notes from the game:
-Boyce and Sims had their best games of the preseason, while Dobson had his worst. Kenbrell Thompkins was his usual steady self and proved why he should be a starter.
–Leon Washington didn’t show much as a running back. He may make the initial 53-man cut, but if the Patriots can find a better backup to Shane Vereen, they might not be afraid to cut Washington loose.
–Duron Harmon was better on Thursday night than he was in his two previous performances. He took a bad angle on one Giants reception, but otherwise showed up well tackling and against the run.
–Logan Ryan‘s strong summer continued. He and Marquice Cole had a nice showing against the Giants. Their impressive play allowed the Patriots to cut ties with Ras-I Dowling.