Patriots versus Eagles Preseason Recap: Three Up, Three Down

Former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch had a solid night in his battle for a roster spot.

New England Patriots nation was oozing for football. After the team’s first preseason game a week and a half ago, Patriots fans were forced to wait until the team’s primetime game last night. Fans, however, were disappointed.

Coach Bill Belichick was at it again – this time benching the majority of the team’s “core” players. Brady, Welker, Gronkowski, Wilfork, Mayo, McCourty, and others did not suit up. With three games coming up over the next 10 days, the team found it in their best interest to save the many of the players until Friday night’s affair in Tampa Bay.

This provided a wonderful opportunity for many fringe roster players to get significant repetitions against what is believed to be a solid Philadelphia Eagles squad. The team fell 27-17, but a lot was learned.

Three Up:

Brandon Spikes – In his preseason debut, Spikes made his presence known. The thomper in the middle of the team’s defense laid some heavy hits on his way to four total tackles (three solo). There was a slight cause for concern, as Spikes opened camp very limited early on and he then proceeded to miss more practice time after returning fulltime. He appears to be fully healthy though and will be a fixture in the middle of the team’s defense.

Deion Branch – Thought to be battling Donte Stallworth for a roster spot, the savvy veteran hauled in three catches for 51 yards. One catch in particular highlighted Branch’s knowledge of the system as he went full throttle on a deep route, but stopped instantly to catch a bullet from Ryan Mallett on his back hip. Branch could be making a push for the third receiver spot with Jabar Gaffney out.

Stephen Gostkowski – After missing his only attempt and not handling kickoff duties in his presason debut, Gostkowski connected for three field goals from 51, 35, and 51 yards out. He also kicked off in the first half. Nothing to worry about here.

Honorable Mention: Nate Ebner (rookie safety had INT), Jack Bequette (rookie d-end had solid pressure off edge despite roughing the passer penalty), Jermaine Cunningham (knocked QB Mike Vick out of the game in what is a valuable play in a regular season contest)

Three Down:

Brandon Bolden – Brandon Bolden was given first half repetitions tonight, ahead of Stevan Ridley, but he could muster little. Despite an early seven-yard run, the undrafted free agent only could muster 14 yards on seven totes on the night. In an effort to display some versatility, Bolden also fumbled on a punt return attempt when he failed to haul in the catch clearly.

Nate Solder/Marcus Cannon – Going against first teamers for the majority of their time on the field, the team’s bookends were burned. The Eagles had two sacks on the night and one was off the edge which resulted in a Brian Hoyer lost fumble. Brittle Sebastian Vollmer is set to return to practice and will almost certainly slide into Cannon’s right tackle spot, but improvement along the line will need to come from within. Progress from Solder is certainly something to watch for on Friday.

Brian Hoyer – Yes, he was playing behind an overmatched offensive line, but Hoyer started the game on the bench behind Ryan Mallett. In a contract year, the Pats may have felt it valuable to get his future replacement some reps, but one would think if Hoyer was playing/practicing well, he would have gotten the veteran nod. Hoyer did not display the greatest body language either after his fumble. He finished 5-17 for 55 yards on the night.

Honorable Mention: Sterling Moore (whistled for defensive holding and often around pass catches), Donte Stallworth (just one catch – despite multiple targets – for the receiver who is battling for a roster spot)

Quick turnaround for the Patriots as they head to Tampa Bay for joint practices Wednesday and Thursday before the team’s game on Friday. This third preseason game would appear to be the “dress rehearsal” for the first team defense and offense, so there will be much to watch.

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