Virtually no one of significance at the front end of the roster played for the Patriots in their preseason finale against the New York Giants Thursday night. But that means plenty of players had one last chance to impress Bill Belichick in a 40-38 loss as cut down day looms on Saturday.
One polarizing case, the question of whether or not Cyrus Jones would make New England's 53-man roster, may have just resolved itself in an unfortunate way.
Jones left the game in the second quarter with a right knee injury suffered in coverage of Travis Rudolph on deep ball down the sidelines. He remained down for nearly a minute before being helped off the field by members of the Patriots training staff and was unable to put seemingly any weight on the knee. He’ll have an MRI tomorrow morning.
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Eerily similar to Julian Edelman's injury from a week ago, the loss of Jones would be a big blow to New England's return game. Jones appeared to have value as a kick and/or punt returner, particularly without Edelman. Prior to his injury, Jones was the punt returner in all but one situation for the Patriots this preseason.
It wouldn't be stunning to see the Patriots comb the waiver wire for players with experience returning punts come Saturday afternoon. Danny Amendola has done so in the past, but given what he'll be asked to do sans Edelman – not to mention his age and injury history – it doesn't seem like it would be smart business to add even more to his plate.
Several other players fighting for one of the final few roster spots on the New England roster featured prominently Thursday night. Here's a look at some of the notable cases:
Jacoby Brissett, here to stay?
With neither Tom Brady nor Jimmy Garoppolo active for the Patriots, the night belonged to third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett under center.
Save for one horrific mistake, Brissett put together far and away his finest game of the preseason against the Giants.
Brissett completed 10 of 11 passes in the first half for 113 yards and two touchdowns in the first 30 minutes of action.
His lone incompletion came in the costliest of ways, however, as he threw a pick-six to Giants defensive lineman Robert Thomas in the first quarter.
On first down from his own 22-yard line, Brissett eyed D.J. Foster in the flats for a quick pass to open the drive. Tackle Conor McDermott whiffed badly on an attempted cut block of Thomas, giving him a clear shot at the short passing lane.
Brissett forced the throw anyways, rather than regrouping or simply throwing the ball away. Thomas easily trotted into the end zone to put the Giants on top.
The good news from a New England perspective is that Brissett responded to his mistake in about as sharp a manner as possible, leading a five play, 75-yard scoring drive in just 2 minutes, 15 seconds. He went 4-4 on the drive, completing three of his passes to Austin Carr, including a 14-yard touchdown pass.
Brissett continued his strong play into the second half. He uncorked a beautiful throw to Devin Lucien as he was flushed from the pocket for a 12-yard touchdown pass with 1:43 to go in the third quarter, putting great touch on the ball to ensure it stayed in bounds – something with which Brissett has struggled this preseason.
Brissett dropped another dime to Lucien about midway through the fourth quarter, with the Patriots trailing 37-21. He put just enough air under the ball to float it in between two defenders for a 45-yard gain to Lucien, putting the Patriots at the Giants 12-yard line. Brissett ultimately ran in from 4 yards out for his first rushing touchdown of the preseason.
In all, Brissett completed 28 of 39 passes for 340 yards to go along with four touchdowns and the pick.
Inactivity could lead to future activity
The absence of several Patriot players thought to be on the bubble may speak volumes about their job security -- in a good way.
The most notable among them is undrafted free agent Adam Butler. Listed as a defensive tackle but also sliding out to defensive end on occasion, Butler did not see the field for New England. Butler, out of Vanderbilt, has had a very strong preseason for the Patriots.
Will the Patriots keep a fifth wide receiver?
Technically, New England already has five wide receivers on its roster. Special teams ace Matthew Slater is listed as such, but with just one career catch, he's not exactly a guy who could step up into Julian Edelman's role.
Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell are set in stone for the roster. Can either Austin Carr, Devin Lucien, Cody Hollister or D.J. Foster – who's listed as a running back – provide depth?
Carr was only targeted three times, but caught all three balls in his direction, including the second score of the game for New England.
Lucien had easily his best game of the preseason, with five catches for 75 yards and a score. The Patriots could try and stash either Carr or Lucien on the practice squad, but would either player make it through waivers?
Conor McDermott struggles in extended action
In addition to the aforementioned miscue which led to Brissett's interception, McDermott had a holding penalty called against him in the second half. The Patriots' sixth-round pick from this April never really threatened for the third tackle spot this preseason and appears destined for the practice squad.
Only room for one Gronkowski?
Rob's younger brother, Glenn, was a long shot to make the roster for the Patriots heading into the game. James Develin is firmly entrenched as New England's fullback.
But the younger Gronkowski did himself no favors tonight with a fumble on his lone touch. Brissett threw to Glen for a 1-yard completion out of the backfield before he coughed it up, leading to a turnover.
Gronkowski has a good shot at making the practice squad for the Patriots, where he spent a good chunk of last season.
Gostkowski ends preseason on strong note
Stephen Gostkowski has been more or less solid in the preseason for the Patriots, making 12 of 14 kicks (6 for 7 on field goals, 6 for 7 on PATs) thus far.
He couldn't have ended it in a better way than by drilling a go-ahead 55-yard field goal with 44 seconds to go on the clock.
Former Patriot Shane Vereen active early and often for the Giants
Vereen, who signed with the Giants with a free agent after playing a massive role in the Patriots' comeback vs. the Seattle Seahawks, saw an unusually high number of snaps for a player of his stature in Week Four of the preseason.
Vereen had four carries for 15 yards and added three receptions for 28 yards for the Giants, all in the first half.
The 28-year-old Vereen played in just five games for the Giants last season due to injury. It's entirely possible Ben McAdoo and the coaching staff is just giving the former Patriot a chance to continue to shake off rust as he prepares for what's sure to be a secondary role out of the backfield for New York. Paul Perkins, who did not play Thursday, is listed as the starting running back for the Giants.