FOXBORO – The fourth game of the preseason is most often reserved for NFL cannon fodder. There are players on the roster for Thursday’s game against the Giants whose NFL careers will end when the clock hits 0:00. They are still on the roster because someone has to play at the tail end of this one and it sure as hell won’t be anyone who either team can afford to lose. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t time at the beginning for one last pulse check with the starters. The Giants plan to do that. They may not see any of the primary Patriots though, who usually go into hibernation between now and the regular season.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Shane Vereen needs to redeem. So does Brandon Bolden. Both fumbled last week as did Zach Sudfeld. Look for some early reps to those two running backs, more for Bolden -- as he fights for his spot -- than Vereen. Whether Tom Brady plays hasn’t been established. If he does, it will be a cameo. Same for the rest of the starters. Players to watch would be Bolden, Leon Washington, Tim Tebow, fullbacks Ben Bartholomew and James Develin, George Winn, Julian Edelman, Quentin Sims, Johnathan Haggerty, Jake Ballard and offensive linemen Josh Kline, Chris McDonald, Luke Patterson, Matt Stankiewich. And you know if you’re watching the performance of the offensive linemen in the second half of the fourth preseason game, you are a hardcore individual.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
Tom Coughlin hasn’t seen enough this preseason from his offense so he’s rolling them out there Thursday night for 12 to 15 plays. Curious to see if he sticks to that if Eli and the Boys go three-and-out a couple of times and are still short of the intended goal into the second quarter. Mark Sanchez got squished in the latter stages of the third preseason game. An Eli injury in the fourth preseason game would provide back-page fodder for days. Defensively, there’s more to see from some of the defensive line depth. Joe Vellano showed well last week. Interested to see how he’s deployed this week. Jake Bequette continues to be just . . . there. I like Justin Francis as the backup RDE to Chandler Jones. He was down last week but -- if good to go -- should get some reps Thursday. The linebacker crop is set at the top. Special teams play will likely be the separating measure there. In the secondary, I’m looking at the safety deployment. Last guys on the field could be the ones getting discouraging news.
THE KICKING GAME
Lot of moving parts in the kickoff return game last week as LeGarrette Blount was back deep at the start and Leon Washington was on punt returns as Julian Edelman took over for Danny Amendola in the regular offense. Zoltan Mesko seems to have locked down the punting job. The coverage work has been a little inconsistent this preseason. That will be a focal point for Belichick and special teams coach Scott O’Brien.
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
Not getting anyone hurt.
PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP…
The Giants first offense. If they’re coming out for 12 to 15 plays bent on rolling downfield and getting done, that’s a direct challenge to the defense. And an expectation that they will do so is a “screw you” to the Patriots.
GIANTS GOTTA STOP…
Tebow. Even though I’ve come to realize I will miss him if he’s gone.
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
“As a football team, there are things we have to work on regardless of who we play. There are things we have to work on for the Giants and also looking ahead to the regular season. A lot of balls in the air this week but that’s the way it normally is this time of year.” – Bill Belichick
THAT SUMS IT UP GIANTS STYLE
“Those 12-15 plays gotta be crisp and on point. We’ve got to produce a score at the end of it. Whatever it is, however we punch it in, we’ve just gotta make sure we’re crisp.” – Andre Brown, Giants running back on what his team’s mindset is in its limited action.
THE WINNER IS...
Giants 22, Patriots 20
Tebow jump-pass picked off on two-point conversion attempt with 0:00 left on the clock after he stampedes 43 yards for a late touchdown to up the drama.