Hoyer makes most of second chance in second half

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Hoyer makes most of second chance in second half

FOXBORO -- When Ryan Mallett replaced Brian Hoyer, mid-possession, on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, it looked as if maybe Hoyer's night would have been over.

Instead, Mallett finished the first half at quarterback for the Patriots, but he didn't start the second. Hoyer did.

And getting thrown back into the game was the second chance Hoyer needed to get his game in order, following a lackluster, three-and-out start in the opening minutes of the second quarter.

Right now, I havent watched the film yet, but I can tell there are definitely some things I wish I would have done better," said Hoyer after the Patriots' 7-6 win over the New Orleans Saints in Thursday night's preseason opener. "You know, getting the ball batted isnt something that usually happens, so youve got to find a way to get it through. And some of the throws, youve got to get on the same page as some of the guys.

"To go out in the second half and have a 97-yard drive, that was definitely a positive, but youve got to do that more often.

Hoyer replaced the guy who replaced him -- Mallett -- and began the second half with a 14-play, 97-yard drive, which resulted in a three-yard touchdown pass to Britt Davis. Hoyer finished the drive 3-for-7 for 20 yards and a touchdown, but it was running back Shane Vereen that carried the load, accounting for 73 of the 97 yards on that drive.

The touchdown ended up being the game-winning score, and Mallett returned in the fourth quarter to close the game out.

Hoyer said that Belichick's quarterback strategy on Thursday night was just part of the everyday competition to see who will be Tom Brady's backup.

Theres always competition," said Hoyer. "I mean, Im always trying to compete with Tom Brady so, and you know, obviously Ryans a good player too, so were competing at the same time. And I think the competition always brings out the best in everyone. You never want to lag off or anything like that, so theres always competition and youre always trying to improve and I think me trying to chase Tom and trying to be as good as he is, that obviously sets a pretty high standard and I try to strive to get to his level every day.

Brady only played the first two possessions on Thursday night. He finished 4-of-7 for 30 yards. No touchdowns. No interceptions. But he was sacked once, by Saints defensive end Will Smith, in the Patriots' opening possession. Smith got bumped to the outside of the pocket by Nate Solder, but as Brady held onto the ball, Smith was able to eventually get back into the play and take Brady down hard, forcing him to lose the football at his own 40-yard line.

The Saints recovered, and ended up hitting a 46-yard field goal to take the early 3-0 lead.

Brady had one more possession, but it resulted in a punt.

It gave Hoyer and Mallett a chance to try and top one another. Hoyer finished 8-of-15 for 45 yards and a touchdown, while Mallett finished 8-of-19 with 89 yards and an interception.

Hoyer -- in his fourth year -- knows what to expect this preseason. And he knows that in order to beat Mallett for the No. 2 quarterback spot, he's going to need better starts that Thursday night. Because Belichick might not always give him a second chance.

"You know how games are played," said Hoyer. "But that first one out, you've always kind of have to get your feet underneath you, and get a few throws in, and get feeling comfortable. And I didn't feel like I did a good job of that tonight. I've got to do a better job of taking a few easy throws in the beginning, and get a good rhythm.

"There's sometimes, where instead of trying to wait on a deeper throw, you take a check-down and get the drive going," added Hoyer. "You try to get a positive play to start it off. And that can kind of get you in a rhythm. And once you're moving the ball, you can kind of keep the defense guessing. Obviously like that drive with Shane, he started to run the ball, and kind of opened things up in the passing game a little bit too. So, if you can just go out there and try to get a good rhythm going, with a check-down or a diagonal to the tight end, or something like that, I think that can help."

Raiders creep past Patriots in race for top seed in AFC

Raiders creep past Patriots in race for top seed in AFC

The Patriots and Raiders and neck-and-neck as the race for home field in the AFC turns for home. And, with four games left, the Raiders are ahead by a nose. The tiebreakers between the 10-2 teams in play currently? Common games followed by strength of victory. 

The first tiebreaker – conference record – is a deadlock as both teams are 7-1 in the AFC (the Brady-less Patriots lost to the Bills back in Week 4.

After conference record, it's the teams record in common games. 

PATRIOTS 26, RAMS 10

So far in common games with the Texans and Bills, the Patriots have gone 2-1 and the Raiders have gone 2-0. The Patriots play the Ravens next week. Oakland beat them. The Patriots play Denver after that. Oakland beat them as well but have one more game against Denver in Week 17.

So if it comes down to common games the Patriots really need to win these next two games.

Or hope the Raiders stub their toe a time or two in their final four games which are at the Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos with a home game against Indy in Week 16.

As for strength of victory, that too goes to Oakland at this point. The Raiders’ strength of victory is at .471. The Patriots’ is at .370.

But the tiebreaker that kicks in after conference record and before strength of victory – common games – is very much unresolved.The remaining picture as it stands right now? The Ravens are the No. 3 seed with a 7-5 record that leads the AFC North. The Texans’ 6-6 record is good enough to lead the AFC South. The 9-3 Chiefs are the top Wild Card. The 8-4 Broncos are the No. 6 seed.

The Patriots play the Ravens and Broncos over the next two weeks. Currently, the Dolphins (7-5) and Steelers (7-5) are on the outside looking in.

The Titans (6-6) will have a chance to get even with the Texans in Week 17 in head-to-head matchups but they host Denver and play at Kansas City the next two weeks so they have obstacles to clear before they get there.