BOSTON (CBS) — Through two preseason games, a number of joint practice sessions and a training camp’s worth of Patriots practices, Tom Brady has been as close to perfect as a quarterback can be.

That’s not hyperbole, either. In game action, he’s completed 18 of his 20 pass attempts for 172 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. One of those two incompletions was intentional, too.

The game performances haven’t been random occurrences, either, as the quarterback has looked masterful in just about every practice this summer. The Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe noted before the Tampa game last week that Brady threw zero interceptions on 186 pass attempts in the four full-pads practices the Patriots held with the Bucs and Eagles. He has a Hall of Fame career, but the quarterback has looked to be his sharpest this year.

And really, if the Patriots are to contend for a championship, as they like to do, he’s going to have to be that good. You know by now that Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez are gone for very different reasons, and it’s all but confirmed that Rob Gronkowski will be missing games early in the season. With a new crop of receivers, many of them young, Brady is going to have to do something he’s struggled to do in recent years: seamlessly incorporate new receivers into the offense.

This week, in the most important preseason game on the schedule, that job’s going to be even tougher. With Danny Amendola likely out of the game with an unknown (but reportedly not serious) ailment, Brady will be out there for parts of three quarters without his assumed No. 1 go-to receiver.

What that means is that the already-difficult job Brady has had this preseason gets even harder. He relied heavily on Amendola last week, with six of his 11 completions going to No. 80, including a key 13-yard pickup on third-and-11 and also the touchdown.

With Brady and the starters likely to get their most playing time of the preseason, and possibly their final taste of game action before the real season begins, the quarterback will have to

It could be a blessing in disguise, as Brady seems to be comfortable with Amendola already but could likely use more work with some of the other receivers. Regardless, that won’t make the job very easy.

He’s been very good this summer, perhaps even great, but if he maintains his performance level under the given circumstances of Thursday night’s game, that will really be something worth writing home about.

As for the rest of what to watch for in the all-important third preseason game for the Patriots, read on.

Tom Brady

See above. Plus, you should just always be watching Tom Brady.

Jake Ballard

Here’s an interesting one. Jake Ballard was expected to be the tight end to step up in the absence of Gronkowski (recovering from surgery) and Hernandez (incarcerated, possibly for life), but instead it has been relatively unknown Zach Sudfeld being that guy. With opinions varying on the fluidity of Ballard’s running (he’s still recovering from a torn knee in the Super Bowl in February 2012), it’s now become a question whether Ballard even makes the team.

For all we know, maybe that’s not the case, but with Bill Belichick, you just never know. It may hinge on the team’s impending decision to keep Gronk on PUP, thereby essentially adding a roster spot that can go to a tight end while requiring No. 87 to miss the first six weeks, or activate him to the roster in the hope that he’ll be ready to suit up prior to Week 7. As for now, Ballard will be worth watching every play. Even if he’s not catching passes (he has zero in the preseason thus far), watch his blocking on rushing plays. He can’t be Gronkowski in that regard — no other tight end can — but if he can do a good job in the ground game, it could be enough to cement his spot. If not, maybe all that fuss about Belichick violating some unwritten code by claiming Ballard off waivers last year will have been all for naught.

Secondary Challenge

The Patriots’ first defense looked great last week, recording four sacks on the first two Tampa series of the game. But, well, Tampa’s passing offense isn’t exactly prolific. This week, with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson out there in their big preseason showing, the task takes on a new shape for the Patriots defense.

Specifically, the pressure on the corners and safeties will be immense, as it always is when “Megatron” lines up on the outside. The good news this time around is that it’s the preseason, so the results can’t really hurt the team, but how the secondary plays will be of great importance to the season.

At safety, Devin McCourty may see his first action of the preseason, and we could get a pretty good picture of what the secondary might look like come Week 1.

At cornerback, Ras-I Dowling and Alfonzo Dennard will have a lot on the line, as neither has proven an ability to stay healthy, and the latter has his legal troubles still unresolved. Dennard absolutely has to prove he can play in order to prove to the team that he’s worth the trouble, and it’s hard to do that if you can’t get on the field. Logan Ryan making a nice play last week to pick off a pass and return it to the end zone puts that much more pressure on the other two corners. Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington are the starters, but the rest of the cornerback field is very much unsettled.

Tavon Wilson made some noticeable mistakes last week, including a defensive holding penalty that negated a goal-line stand, and veteran Adrian Wilson hasn’t stood out much to this point. Third-round pick Duron Harmon will be out there looking to make a name for himself as well, leading to an interesting positional battle at the safety spot.

Bonus: Health

Ultimately, the best thing that can come out of a preseason game is a clean injury report. The Patriots have been lucky in that regard thus far, not losing any key players to injury this summer. While the positional battles still need to be worked out, and many guys will be playing to keep their jobs, the most important thing will be avoiding serious injury, as is always the case in football games that don’t count.

Julian Edelman

While a number of roster battles continue to play out (particularly at running back), Julian Edelman’s fight to make the team may draw the most attention. That’s because he’s been around for a while and has shown flashes of being a solid contributor, and also because he’s been tabbed as the Wes Welker successor for years. Yet with Welker finally out of the picture, the Patriots brought in Danny Amendola for that job, leaving Edelman’s role in the offense unclear.

His role in the punt return game, where he seemingly had a stronghold on the team, is equally unknown, with Leon Washington a capable player in that capacity too. Of course, the veteran Washington is in a battle of his own to make the team, so there’s work to be done for both men.

But with Amendola likely out on Thursday night, you have to figure it’s a huge opportunity for Edelman to take some offensive snaps, of which he’s gotten very few through the first two games, and fit in with the offense. If he can’t show something on offense, the team could think of his special teams contribution as replaceable, and Edelman’s four-year, unfulfilled and injury-plagued Patriots career could be close to its termination.

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