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Patriots

Four Ups, Four Downs From Patriots-Eagles Preseason Game

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
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The Patriots line up against the Eagles. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The Patriots line up against the Eagles. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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New England Patriots

BOSTON (CBS) — On Monday night, the Patriots’ backup faced the tall task of standing up to the Eagles’ starters’

Meanwhile, Patriots fans faced the tall task of trying to stay awake to watch it.

With Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and others out of action, watching the Patriots’ game on Monday was significantly different from watching most Patriots games.

Still, there were takeaways — good and bad — from the 27-17 loss. Let’s take a quick look at the positives and negatives.

Four Ups

1. Deion Branch

Given how much he’s done in the past, and given how much Tom Brady can rely on him, you’d think it would take a dramatic dropoff in skills and ability for Deion Branch to get cut from this team. But what he did Monday night just might have been enough to secure his spot.

Granted, he didn’t blow anyone away with any particular play, but he looked like, well, Deion Branch. He had three catches for 51 yards, as well as some good timing. When it came time to convert a third down, the quarterbacks looked to Branch. And it worked. Branch broke across the middle on one third-and-5 play for a 20-yard gain, and he ran a deep in route on third-and-13 for a gain of 17. His other catch was impressive too, as he broke free from tight coverage, came back to the football and picked up another first down on the gain of 14.

It seems there’s no reason for Belichick to believe Branch is going to stop being his ever-reliable self any time soon.

2. Ryan Mallett

He was a bit up and down overall, but he was standing in front of a firing squad nearly every snap. His touchdown pass was a beauty, and he did a decent (not great) job of recognizing pressure from his blind side.

The numbers might not be dazzling (10 of 20, 105 yards, touchdown), but considering the heavy pressure he faced on nearly ever dropback (you’ll hear about that in the Downs), he impressed.

3. Pats’ offensive “starters”

All of the aforementioned players were either out of uniform or not at the stadium at all, yet the Patriots’ “starters” on offense more than held their own against the Eagles’ starting defense. They beat up on the Eagles’ starting defense. That’s got to sting for Philly. But for the local guys, that shows the kind of depth this offense has. With Mallett at quarterback and Shane Vereen at running back, the Pats opened up an 11-0 lead before a pair of turnovers let the Eagles back into the game, but the backups did a good enough job to prompt Eagles head coach Andy Reid to get into a barking match with Cullen Jenkins on the Philadelphia sideline.

4. Jermaine Cunningham

This one’s simple enough. The third-year linebacker’s career has been billed as a disappointment thus far, but he sure showed up Monday night. It was Cunningham that laid the heavy hit that knocked Michael Vick out of the game, and while nobody likes to see injuries, he did so with a clean blow to the midsection. It was just one play, but it was something for the fans (and coaches) to see from the still-young (24 years old) linebacker.

Extra Point: Bobby Carpenter and Trevor Scott

We’ll give this one to these two guys, even though their big play didn’t count. Carpenter did a great job of laying a big hit on tight end Brent Celek, jarring the ball loose in the process, and Scott opportunistically scooped up the loose ball and took it to the house. The play ended up coming back because the replacement officials are horrible and should have never called it a completed pass in the first place, but Carpenter and Scott each flashed a little bit of play-making ability.

Four Downs

1. Offensive line

Nate Solder got beat — badly. Marcus Cannon got beat, arguably even worse, once leading directly to a strip sack. Until Brian Waters walks through that door, until Sebastian Vollmer shows he’s healthy, and until we see Logan Mankins back to being Logan Mankins, you just can’t feel good about this offensive line. In fact, you officially have the right to be worried about the crew assigned with protecting Tom Brady’s neck.

2. Brandon Bolden

The parallels of Brandon Bolden to BenJarvus Green-Ellis have been there all camp, but the one thing Green-Ellis never did was fumble. Bolden showed he may not be so sure-handed when he muffed a punt early in the second quarter, turning the ball over at the Patriots’ 24-yard line. Three plays later, the Eagles were in the end zone, and the Patriots’ 11-0 lead had shrunken to 11-7.

That’s no way to make the football team.

He finished the night with 14 yards on seven carries, and he also absorbed a massive hit on his next punt return attempt, a play in which he should have called for a fair catch. On one rush (an inside draw in the red zone), Bolden actually ran backward, taking a loss of seven yards on the play. There’s not much he could have done in terms of even getting back to the line, but running backward is, again, no way to make the football team.

3. Pats’ kick return

The Eagles kicked off six times, four of which resulted in touchbacks. The two that came out, though, were predictably unimpressive for the Pats. Shane Vereen took one out from two yards deep, and he could only get it to the 22. Stevan Ridley caught one kickoff at the 8-yard line following an offside call on the Eagles, but he could only get it to the 24. On the kick that preceded that one (wiped away by penalty), Jeremy Ebert returned a ball from three yards deep in the end zone to the 21.

A lot of people are curious to see how Jeff Demps will fit in with the Patriots, but it’s a no-brainer for him to go in and immediately inject some life into the kick return game. The Patriots need it.

4. Brian Hoyer

Given the patchwork offensive line and the heavy pressure all night, it’d be wrong to judge either of the quarterbacks’ performances too harshly. Still, Brian Hoyer never really got anything going Monday night, finishing the game 5-for-17 for 55 yards. One night in August won’t be enough to slide him down the depth chart (again, especially with that offensive line in shambles), but the backup was definitely outplayed by his own backup in this one.

Extra Point: Jake Bequette

The rookie saw limited playing time, and when he was out there, he made the boneheaded decision to hit the quarterback late. It’ll be hard to earn more playing time that way.

Read more from Michael by clicking here, or follow him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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