This story originally was published Aug. 30, 2017. It’s been updated to include Week 4 of the 2017 and 2018 preseasons.
If the NFL decided next year to trim the preseason from four games to three, we doubt anyone outside the league would complain.
Every summer, the final tune-up games tend to be boring, plodding affairs featuring players who are virtual unknowns to most casual fans. The games do have meaning to the players, though, especially those who need a strong showing in order to keep their job.
With the Patriots and New York Giants set to close out the 2019 preseason Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, we took a look back at the past seven preseason closers to see how the top Patriots performers from each game fared on roster cutdown day.
2018: Patriots 17, Giants 12
The standout moment of last year’s exhibition finale was third-string quarterback Danny Etling’s 86-yard touchdown run — a play Bill Belichick called one of the most exciting he’s ever seen in the preseason. It also wound up being one of Etling’s final plays as a Patriots quarterback.
The team released the 2018 seventh-round pick two days later, signed him to their practice squad, tried converting him to receiver after drafting Jarrett Stidham this spring and finally cut bait earlier this month.
The defensive star of this game was undrafted rookie cornerback J.C. Jackson, who pulled down two interceptions to lock up a roster spot. Jason McCourty playing 17 snaps at safety while most veterans enjoyed the night off led many to question his roster status, but the veteran corner wound up making the cut, too, and he and Jackson both enjoyed strong seasons in the Patriots’ secondary.
2017: Giants 40, Patriots 38
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett had, in the words of the Indianapolis Colts’ official website, “one of the greatest preseason performances by a quarterback in NFL history” in the 2018 preseason closer, throwing for four touchdowns and rushing for another. While that description might be a bit excessive, Brissett’s showing convinced the Colts to trade for him two days later, sending wide receiver Phillip Dorsett to the Patriots in return. (Brissett now is QB1 in Indy following Andrew Luck’s stunning retirement announcement.)
Tight end Jacob Hollister caught four passes on four targets for 26 yards and a touchdown to lock down a roster spot as an undrafted rookie. Wide receiver Austin Carr (three catches, 48 yards, one touchdown) and running back D.J. Foster (four catches, 51 yards) both were cut and wound up on other teams, with the New Orleans Saints claiming Carr of waivers and the Arizona Cardinals signing Foster off the Patriots’ practice squad in mid-September.
Devin Lucien was New England’s leading receiver (five catches, 96 yards, one touchdown) but suffered a gash on his Achilles that resulted in him being released with an injury settlement. Lucien spent time on four different practice squads in 2017 before landing back in New England last summer and ultimately being released again.
2016: Giants 17, Patriots 9
In 2016, Foster was an example of a player who parlayed a strong preseason-ending performance into a roster spot. He racked up 173 all-purpose yards (22 rushing, 110 receiving, 41 on returns) and scored New England’s lone touchdown against the Giants. He wound up spending almost the entire 2016 season on the active roster but appeared in just three games.
Wide receiver Aaron Dobson wasn’t so lucky. He caught three passes on seven targets for 61 yards and fell victim to final cuts.
On the other side of the ball, Barkevious Mingo terrorized New York from his linebacker position (six tackles, two quarterback hits, one tackle for loss), then hardly made an impact on defense all season, playing primarily on special teams.
2015: Giants 12, Patriots 9
This seven-field goal snoozefest is best remembered as the end of Reggie Wayne’s extremely short-lived Patriots tenure. The former Indianapolis Colts star was targeted 10 times by third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley (also playing in his final game as a Patriot) but caught just two passes for 24 yards. Two days later, he asked for and was granted his release.
Dobson led the team in receiving with four catches for 56 yards, helping him secure a roster spot for the third and final year.
Over on defense, rookie defensive end Trey Flowers provided a glimpse of the future, finishing with five tackles, two QB hits, one tackle for loss and one pass breakup. It would be another year-and-a-half before he became a full-time starter.
2014: Giants 16, Patriots 13
The top offensive performers from this game (wide receivers Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins and tight end Tim Wright) all earned roster spots, as did defensive end Zach Moore, who tallied eight tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss.
Among those cut: running back Jonas Gray (11 carries, 29 yards), receiver Josh Boyce (two catches, nine targets, 26 yards) and defensive end Jake Bequette (seven tackles, one sack, two QB hits, two tackles for loss).
Gray made his way back onto New England’s active roster later in the season, then blew everyone’s mind in Week 11 when he rushed for 201 yards and four touchdowns in a lopsided win over the Colts.
2013: Patriots 28, Giants 20
The pinnacle of Tim Tebow’s ill-fated summer in Foxboro came in what proved to be his final game as a Patriot. He threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Quentin Sims to lead New England to a come-from-behind victory at Gillette Stadium, completing 6 of 11 passes for 91 yards and adding 30 more yards on six carries.
Tebow and Sims both were sent packing a few days later, as was running back George Winn, who rushed for a game-high 54 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
Meanwhile, defensive end Michael Buchanan, a seventh-round pick that year, nailed down a roster spot by posting a monster stat line: four tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, three QB hits, one tackle for loss, one pass breakup and one forced fumble.
2012: Giants 6, Patriots 3
We’ll try not to waste too much of your time on a game that featured just nine total points.
This was the game that helped running back Brandon Bolden (15 carries, 59 yards; three catches, 16 yards) secure a roster spot as an undrafted rookie. It also was the final game of Brian Hoyer’s first stint with the team, as he soon was cut in favor of second-year pro Ryan Mallett. Hoyer completed 9 of 15 passes for 96 yards with an interception, while Mallett went 8-for-15 for 40 yards.
Journeyman linebacker Mike Rivera accumulated 12 tackles, including two for loss, and made the 53-man roster as a result. He later was cut in mid-September but re-signed on Halloween and went on to play in 10 games for the Patriots during the 2012 season.
Thumbnail photo via Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports Images