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Brown receives chance at QB

He steps behind center in Patriots' loss to NY

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Patriots had most of their training camp checklist complete entering their exhibition finale last night against the Giants, so all that was left was to experiment with a few wrinkles.

Like wide receiver Troy Brown at quarterback.

Brown, who filled in at defensive back the last two seasons, took two snaps from center in the second quarter of New England's 31-23 loss. He handed off on both plays, before heading to the sideline when running back Patrick Cobbs lost a fumble 4 yards into the second run.

Why Brown?

``To develop his legend," deadpanned Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who is not known for jokes in his postgame press conferences.

The more likely reason was to prepare for the possibility of the Patriots carrying just two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster -- Tom Brady and Matt Cassel. If the Patriots keep just two signal-callers, and need a third option in a pinch, Brown would seemingly be the choice.

Cassel liked what he saw.

``I thought he did well, he got in there and got the snap and that's the hardest part," he said. ``He did the cadence, got the play called, and had two successful plays. That's all you can ask for."

Other than Brown's cameo, the Patriots didn't do too much out of the ordinary, with 14 players -- including Tom Brady -- not dressing for action. Brady, who didn't practice Monday and Tuesday, didn't even make the trip while seemingly preparing for the season opener Sept. 10 against Buffalo.

In Brady's absence, Cassel appeared to solidify his spot as the team's No. 2 quarterback. He directed a 14-play, 67-yard march that ate up 7:42 of the clock on the first possession and was capped by Heath Evans's 1-yard touchdown run. Playing into the fourth quarter, Cassel finished 15 of 28 for 196 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception.

Defensively, the normally sure-tackling Patriots weren't as sharp as in the last two games, a stretch in which they allowed just 3 points. A missed tackle by safety Eugene Wilson helped Giants running back Brandon Jacobs break free for a 57-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The Giants totaled 207 rushing yards and broke open a 10-10 game at halftime by outscoring the Patriots, 21-13, in the second half.

The Patriots must trim their roster to 53 players by tomorrow and last night was a chance for a few players to make a final statement.

Evans, who was looking to fend off a challenge from Cobbs for a potential spot as a fourth running back, scored a 1-yard touchdown and ran with three top special teams units. Cobbs, meanwhile, lost his second fumble of the preseason and finished with 45 yards on 11 carries, with one touchdown. Cobbs said the fumble ``turned a good game into a bad one for me."

Nose tackle Johnathan Sullivan, whose tenure got off to a rocky start when he didn't pass the camp-opening conditioning test, got some work in with several starters in the second quarter. He also played deep in the second half and struggled at times to hold up at the point of attack.

Cornerback Eric Warfield and linebacker Monty Beisel were two veterans playing into the second half, a sign their spots on the roster might be tenuous. Neither player was on top special teams units, either.

``We got a look at a lot of guys and hopefully that will help us make some decisions here in the next couple of days, as we take care of our roster and move ahead toward Buffalo," Belichick said. ``It's another step in the whole process of getting ready for the opener of the regular season."

On the injury front, inside linebacker Barry Gardner suffered a broken leg in the second quarter and will miss the season. Gardner, who looked to have locked up a spot on the roster as a backup to Junior Seau and a special teams contributor, had a Giants player roll into his leg on a kickoff return.

Safety Rodney Harrison played for the second straight week, totaling three tackles after being held without a tackle in Saturday's game against the Redskins. Center Dan Koppen also played in his second straight game, his first action since suffering a torn rotator cuff last November.

For the second week in a row, the Patriots blocked a field goal, with Rosevelt Colvin getting his hand on a Jay Feely 51-yard attempt in the first quarter. Rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski hit three field goals, from 29, 54, and 25 yards, to cap off a 9-for-9 exhibition season. The 54-yarder was his longest of the exhibition season.

``I feel good about the way things are going," Gostkowski said. ``You just try to build on every game. Making the team is the first thing, but now it's getting yourself ready for the first regular-season game, when it really counts."

The Patriots finished the exhibition season with a 2-2 record, while the Giants were 4-0.

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