FOXBORO - To be honest, they shouldn't even keep the score of these final preseason games. There was very little in Thursday night's game at Gillette Stadium that will be relevant to what fans should expect over the next 17 weekends.
For the record, the Patriots defeated the New York Giants, 28-20 - ironically, finishing 3-1 in the preseason thanks to Tim Tebow's 52-yard touchdown pass to Quentin Sims with 12:26 left to play, and another Tebow-Sims hookup from 9 yards out with six seconds left.
Now, seriously - if the Patriots are in a position in the regular season where they'll need Tebow to throw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to win a game, they will have been in deep trouble for a long time before that. But at least it's nice to know that he's still capable of doing things like that, instead of what he was doing for most of the preseason.
Of course, Patriots' coach Bill Belichick would not tip his hand about whether the fourth-quarter heroics by Tebow were enough to keep him around.
"Whoever we keep will be because of the value he brings to the team," said Belichick.
"There are a lot of players that deserve to be on this team," added quarterback Ryan Mallett (10-16, 117 yards, one TD, one interception, 79.4 passer rating), who started and carried the second-string Patriots to a 14-10 halftime lead - not bad, given that the Giants trotted out starter Eli Manning (6-9, 74 yards, one TD, 128.9 rating) for more than a quarter and couldn't hold a 7-0 lead.
While most of what transpired
on the field Thursday can be relegated to the circular file, there were a few moments in which individuals did whatever they could to either cement their position with the Patriots, or to make their names stand out and be worthy of consideration by someone else once they go on the waiver wire Saturday night
For instance, running back George Winn is highly unlikely to stick on the Patriots' final roster, but the rookie from Cincinnati made an impression with 34 yards on eight first-half carries and a touchdown - and that sort of effort might register with a team looking to bolster its ground game.
In fact, Winn's performance was reminiscent of what Brandon Bolden offered last year in the preseason finale at MetLife Stadium. Bolden (who did not play Thursday) ran well enough in that game - 59 yards on 15 carries in the first half, as well as three catches for 16 yards and a 29-yard kickoff return - to stick on the 2012 roster.
But Winn (who finished with 54 yards on 14 carries) faces a different circumstance than Bolden did last year. There's just not enough room at the position this year for a player whose best statistics came in the preseason finale. And, Bolden and LeGarrette Blount battled throughout this camp for what appears to be only one available spot, and thus the rookie's fortunes are likely to be found elsewhere.
Still, Belichick liked the level of effort he saw from many of the players that needed one last chance to show whether they are worthy to be in the NFL.
"I thought we played pretty hard," he said. "It wasn't perfect, but some guys stepped up and made some plays tonight, and that was good."
One sequence in the second quarter may have not only finalized a few roster spots, but also have a ripple effect on the decisions that are yet to come.
With 7:41 left before the half, veteran returner Leon Washington fielded a Steve Weatherford punt at his own 17 and raced down the right sideline for 43 yards and a possession start at the Giants' 40. On the next play, Mallett faded back and heaved a pass to the left corner of the end zone to rookie Josh Boyce, who had about a half-step on Giants' cornerback Terrell Thomas and pulled in the pass in stride for a touchdown with 7:19 left.
The play was doubly significant in that Washington, the former Seattle Seahawk whose opportunities to return kickoffs this preseason have been minimal, has gotten more opportunities of late in the backfield (three carries for 9 yards, one catch for 7 yards) and as a punt returner (five for 53 yards), the latter of which is expected to be Julian Edelman's job in the regular season.
But a 43-yarder that sets up a quick-strike score on the next play? Could be significant, and maybe even a bit worrisome to Edelman as Belichick and his staff engage in roster number-crunching.
Also significant was that undrafted rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (two catches for 24 yards) got to sit out the second half, while draftees Boyce and Aaron Dobson (who seems to be a step behind Boyce at this point of the preseason) stayed out there in the second half as Tebow performed his - well, not exactly "magic," but at least it was more positive than anything else the third-stringer from Florida has done wearing the Flying Elvis.
The highlight was the 52-yard catch-and-run play to Sims - a strong pass and a nice move by Sims after the catch to shed a tackle and get into the open.
"They had the boo birds out on they play before, and then he comes back and throws that touchdown and shows his character," said an admiring Mallett.
But Tebow's first two possessions ended in two sacks in a row on each, for losses of 25 yards. Sims really pulled Tebow's bacon out of the fire on the fourth possession with the long TD play and an earlier 13-yard catch to get things moving in a positive direction. Then with the 9-yard score on a fade to the right pylon, the rookie receiver from Tennessee-Martin may have earned himself a shot at a practice-squad berth.
What Tebow giveth, however, he taketh away. On the possession following the long play to Sims, after two runs for 15 yards, he underthrew Dobson on the fly - an easy interception for cornerback Trumaine McBride.
Tebow finished the evening with 91 yards on 6-for-11 passing, with two TDs and one interception for an 83.7 passer rating, plus 30 rushing yards on six carries, and the four sacks. Is that good enough for him to stick?
We'll know Saturday.