What To Watch For When Patriots Close Out Preseason Vs. Giants

By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Soak it in folks, the preseason is almost over.

You get your last taste of meaningless football Thursday night, when the Patriots take on the New York Giants in their annual “let’s just get this over without any injuries” preseason tilt. Yes, there is some meaning to the game for players fighting for their spot on the roster, or in the case this year, a starting quarterback looking for an ounce of confidence heading into the regular season. But more or less, this is a meaningless game to end all meaningless games.

But that won’t stop us all from watching. It is still football, and the beauty that goes with roster battles will be on full display. A strong showing in the fourth preseason game doesn’t always secure a roster spot, but a bad showing will no doubt seal a bubble player’s fate.

We’re not saying it’s going to be good football, but it is football nonetheless, and this game means we are that much closer to the regular season. Here’s a few story lines we’ll be watching for when the preseason finale kicks off, excluding the mandatory note that everyone who sees the field needs to stay healthy:

The Quarterbacks

Tom Brady has made the trip to New Jersey, meaning you’ll probably see him play quarterback in the fourth preseason game for the first time since 2011 (he made a brief appearance as a holder in 2014). Let the great Brady debate begin — again.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Garoppolo has had an up and down preseason, completing 36 of his 54 passes while getting sacked three times in his 113 snaps on the field. He’s thrown just one touchdown, which capped off a beautiful two-minute drill back in the second preseason game against the Chicago Bears, but he should have been picked off in each of the three games. And as lovely as the two-minute drill against the Bears was two weeks ago, Garoppolo failed miserably to pull off the same level of execution last Friday night in Charlotte. After his brief trip to the bench for Brady, Garoppolo came in to run just before halftime and went 0-for-1 on his passes, and was strip-sacked as he tried to elude a defender. It wasn’t pretty, so much so that when the Patriots got the ball back again before halftime, Bill Belichick opted to have Garoppolo practice taking a knee.

His showing against the talented Carolina defense left a lot to be desired, and it’s clear Jimmy G could use all the reps he can get before things start to count September 11 in Arizona (hence that enthralling Brady/Garoppolo debate that polluted radio airwaves for a week). Week 1 starters rarely see the field in the preseason finale, but Garoppolo needs the work, and hopefully he can go out and gain some much-needed confidence before he’s tabbed to start the first four games of the regular season.

When that is done, Jacoby Brissett will have the field all to himself. He’s been fun to watch so far and overall impressive for a rookie, and his presence under center will make the final 20+ minutes of this game worth watching.

And please, no matter who is under center, please stay healthy.

UPDATE: Garoppolo reportedly won’t play at all, while Brady will be getting the start.

Battle Of The Backs

LeGarrette Blount appears to be the lead back heading into the regular season thanks to a giant leap against the Panthers. It looks like James White and Brandon Bolden join Blount as locks to make the 53-man roster.

But with Dion Lewis on PUP to start the year that likely leaves another spot on the depth chart available, with a roster battle brewing between Tyler Gaffney and the undrafted D.J. Foster. Gaffney has a pretty good claim on that spot after rushing for 130 yards on 29 carries (good for a 4.5 yard average per carry) in the first three games. Foster has just two carries this preseason, rushing for nine yards last week against the Panthers, but should get the opportunity to prove himself against the Giants.

Both players are eligible for the practice squad, so even if they aren’t part of the 53-man roster come Saturday there’s a chance they’ll stick with the team in some capacity. But a strong showing against the Giants could be the difference between a spot on the depth chart and a spot on the practice squad.

Cyrus Jones

The rookie has done something exciting in each of his preseason appearances. He picked off Brian Hoyer in the second game, jumping in front of a pass that was nicely wrapped and in a pretty bow by the time it got to the rookie corner.

But Jones has really impressed in the return game, totaling 109 yards on six returns. His abilities in the return game were well known after an incredible career at Alabama, but he turned some heads last week when he broke a 60-yard return to the Carolina 30 in the third quarter, the beginning of a New England touchdown drive.

Whether he’s on defense or special teams, the rookie is worth watching.

Stevie G

The last time Stephen Gostkowski lined up for a kick at MetLife Stadium (against the Giants) in Week 10 last season, it was a 54-yarder to win the game. He calmly stepped to the ball with a song in his head and put it right between the uprights to give New England a 27-26 victory.

There were few questioning Gostkowski’s big-game ability after that kick, and that should still be the case. But there is a smidge of concern after Mr. Reliable missed two kicks last week against the Panthers; a 30-yarder and a 52-yarder.

This is a man who missed just three of his 36 field goal attempts last season. There’s should be no concern here. But it would be nice to see him have a 4-for-4 game to close out the preseason.

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