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The opening night glitters

Patriots, newcomers start with a bang

FOXBOROUGH -- First team, second team, third team, or fourth team -- whatever team the Patriots put on the field last night -- was better than the New York Giants.

In an impressive debut of free agents Rosevelt Colvin, Tyrone Poole, Rodney Harrison, and Dedric Ward, and rookies Eugene Wilson, Asante Samuel, Bethel Johnson, Dan Klecko, and Ty Warren, the Patriots got through their first exhibition game productive and healthy in a 26-6 victory over the Giants on a rainy night at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots' defense, especially the first unit that featured Richard Seymour and Tedy Bruschi (who occasionally lined up at defensive tackle), looked dominant in their one quarter-plus of playing time.

"Guys just wanted to go out and establish that we have a great defense," said Harrison, who had five tackles. "It starts in minicamps and in the offseason. It's a process. It has to come in the preseason. I think we can be as good as we want to be."

The only battle undecided was at running back. Starter Kevin Faulk carried four times for 18 yards, and Antowain Smith spelled him and ran for 16 yards on seven carries. The best was Patrick Pass, who rushed for 41 yards on nine carries.

Quarterback Tom Brady played the first quarter and completed 3 of 4 passes for 25 yards and a 16-yard touchdown to Troy Brown.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he was happy with some things, but he felt "there was something to build on." He said he had to watch the tape to really get a closer look.

The Patriots also looked strong on special teams. Adam Vinatieri kicked four field goals (25, 39, 24, and 46 yards) and Johnson showed his speed on three good kickoff returns. He dropped a pass from Rohan Davey in the open field in the third quarter, but he also caught a 42-yard pass down the left sideline in the third quarter, which was the longest play from scrimmage for the Patriots.

Poole intercepted one pass and defensed another in the nickel back role and also returned punts in the first half. Ward nearly took a punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter, settling for a 46-yard return.

With a 13-6 lead at the half, Davey (5 of 8, 104 yards), the third quarterback for the Patriots, connected with fullback Fred McCrary for a 6-yard touchdown with 3:43 remaining in the third quarter. Johnson's 42-yard reception was the big play of the drive.

What was not to like about the Patriots' start?

Colvin knocked the ball away from Tiki Barber and Ted Johnson recovered at the Giants' 22 on the first series of the game. The Patriots had a misstep when Brady was sacked by outside linebacker Brandon Short for a 7-yard loss. But Faulk broke loose for a 13-yard gain. On third and 4, Brady spotted Brown on a slant pattern. The ball was underthrown, but Brown gathered it in for 6 points with 13:36 left in the first quarter.

Bruschi, who played defensive tackle in the dime package, sacked Kerry Collins for a 10-yard loss on the second series. Wilson, who started in place of the injured Ty Law, made a nice open-field tackle on Barber late in the first quarter. Barber looked as if he could turn the corner, but Wilson stopped him for a 1-yard gain. Wilson also drew an interference call when Ike Hilliard pushed off late in the first quarter. The penalty pushed the Giants back to their 8-yard line.

In a hole, Collins threw down the middle toward Jeremy Shockey, but Poole, playing nickel back, intercepted and returned it 11 yards to the Giants' 10.

Bruschi, who missed the last four games of last season with an injury, said the defense was out to set the tone. "The big thing for me was to reestablish myself," he said. "As a team we wanted to establish our toughness, effort, and intensity."

The Patriots didn't fully capitalize on Collins's mistake as Faulk was stopped for no gain and Brady missed David Givens in the end zone. The Patriots had to settle for Vinatieri's 25-yard field goal, making it 10-0 with 3:12 to go in the first quarter.

The Patriots started a front three of ends Bobby Hamilton and Seymour, with Rick Lyle in the middle. Seymour was in Collins's face most of the quarter, though he committed an illegal use of the hands penalty on the penultimate play. Seymour also sacked Collins for a 7-yard loss during the Giants' best offensive drive, which resulted in Mike Hollis's 29-yard field goal in the second quarter.

The Patriots used interesting combinations in the first half. Poole was used on punt returns and receivers Johnson and Givens were on kickoff returns. Johnson's first two returns (for 27 and 29 yards) showed a strong burst of speed at the outset. Givens was rewarded for his strong offseason and early camp showing by starting at wide receiver. Johnson downed a punt at the Giants' 5 late in the game, again showing his speed downfield.

Brady gave way to Damon Huard, who connected with Christian Fauria for a 32-yard pass. Huard also hit Givens for 13 yards, driving to the Giants' 28. After Smith gained 7 yards, Huard failed to convert on third and 3, a quick toss intended for Ward.

Vinatieri kicked a 39-yard field goal with 10:23 left in the second quarter, making it a 13-3 lead.

Warren made a successful debut, in on a pair of running plays that went for 1-yard losses in the second quarter; a sack of backup quarterback Jesse Palmer late in the second; and he tipped a pass by Palmer on third down that forced a 34-yard field goal from Matt Bryant with 3:20 remaining in the half. Klecko started the second quarter at outside linebacker and was in on a run stop that resulted in a 1-yard loss. The former Temple star had 2 1/2 second-half sacks, but didn't speak to the media after the game.

But Bruschi summed up the game nicely. "It felt good out there," he said. "It didn't feel like we had anybody new out there."

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