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Patriots notebook

Lua's bid takes a hit

Patriots linebacker Junior Seau (55) celebrates with (from left) Vinny Testaverde, Dan Koppen, and Tom Brady as they watch Matt Gutierrez score in the second half. New England's starters enjoyed a rare night off in preparation for the season opener Sept. 9. Patriots linebacker Junior Seau (55) celebrates with (from left) Vinny Testaverde, Dan Koppen, and Tom Brady as they watch Matt Gutierrez score in the second half. New England's starters enjoyed a rare night off in preparation for the season opener Sept. 9. (BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF)

FOXBOROUGH - No one wants to get hurt in the last game of the preseason. That was the unfortunate fate of rookie inside linebacker Oscar Lua last night.

Lua earned the start, as the Patriots rested their regulars, but lasted just seven plays before leaving with an apparent right knee injury. Lua was hurt on a 5-yard run by the Giants' Brandon Jacobs on the game's opening drive. After the play, Lua limped off, collapsing as he reached the sideline. He was then taken to the locker room and the team announced he would not return.

With final roster cuts due tomorrow, the timing of Lua's injury couldn't have been worse. Heading into last night's game, the seventh-round pick from Southern California was tied with fellow rookie Brandon Meriweather for the team lead in tackles with 12 and had the Patriots' only interception. He picked off Carolina quarterback David Carr last Friday in a 24-7 win.

Earlier this week, Lua, who has earned notice in the locker room for his ability to speak fluent Spanish, spoke candidly about being on the bubble. "Yeah, it's a nerve-racking time for everybody in the NFL right now," he said. "They're going to make final cuts. [It's] to see how your life is going to turn out for most guys."

Lua said he didn't feel any level of comfort based on his preseason play, but was satisfied with his effort.

"I feel like I've put my best foot forward so far," said Lua. "I've tried to fit in and tried to work within the game plan. There are always plays you can improve on. That's just the competitive side of an athlete, which everybody here has."

Cassel finishes strong

Patriots backup quarterback Matt Cassel drew the start last night and ended the preseason on a high note. He was 10 of 14 for 99 yards in one quarter-plus of action. Cassel, who entered the game with a 33.9 passer rating, played three series and led the Patriots to 10 points before giving way to Vinny Testaverde with 5:15 left in the half. Cassel finished the preseason 23 of 39 for 230 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Last preseason, Cassel was 49 of 82 for 680 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.

"It's been one of those preseasons where you try to get better each and every week and you make improvements," said Cassel. "There were a few unfortunate plays in that second game, but that happens when you play quarterback. It's one of those things where you come back the next week and get better and that's what we did."

Hanson kicks in

Veteran punter Chris Hanson, who was signed yesterday by the Patriots, made a strong first impression. The highlight for the left-footed punter, who wore No. 6, came on a second-quarter attempt from the Giants' 38-yard line. Hanson unloaded a high, arcing delivery that bounced around the 5 before being downed by cornerback Dante Wesley at the 3.

Hanson, a seven-year veteran who was cut by the Saints Tuesday, pumped his fist as he headed to the sideline. Hanson, 30, had punts of 37 and 45 yards on his other first-half attempts, drawing fair catches both times. Hanson punted for the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2001-06, and while he made the Pro Bowl in 2002, he is also known for landing on injured reserve in 2003 because of a freak accident. Coach Jack Del Rio had placed an ax and tree trunk in the Jaguars locker room to inspire his players to keep "chopping wood" but Hanson instead gashed his leg.

Kaczur holds line

One of the top positional battles entering training camp was at right tackle, where incumbent Nick Kaczur was looking to hold off second-year men Ryan O'Callaghan and Wesley Britt. O'Callaghan started the first six games last season as a rookie, before Kaczur returned to full health and assumed the starting role for the rest of the year. Based on the way the playing time was allocated last night - with most first-stringers sitting - it's safe to assume that Kaczur has held his ground. O'Callaghan drew the start at right tackle with the second unit.

Samuel sits out

Asante Samuel, who signed his $7.79 million franchise tender Tuesday, was not in uniform last night. The Patriots have a roster exemption for Samuel because of his late reporting date. Technically, they only need to trim to 54 players tomorrow to be compliant with the NFL's 53-man roster limit. Samuel's exemption expires Sept. 10. Two Patriots starters who had missed time were in uniform although they did not play - defensive end Ty Warren, who had been out since spraining his elbow in the first exhibition game, and Jabar Gaffney, who was hurt in the second game. Rookie defensive back Larry Anam, who had missed each of the last two games, was also back in uniform.

Moss goes 0 for 4

The preseason ended without wide receiver Randy Moss playing a snap of game action. Moss missed all four exhibition games after injuring his left hamstring chasing a Tom Brady deep ball in practice Aug. 1. The same is true of tight end Kyle Brady, who returned to practice this week but did not play last night. The Patriots were without 11 players in all, including Samuel, defensive lineman Richard Seymour, and tight end David Thomas, both of whom are on the physically-unable-to-perform list. Safeties Rodney Harrison, Eugene Wilson, and Rashad Baker were absent. Offensive lineman Russ Hochstein, who was injured playing goal line fullback in a 27-24 loss to the Tennessee Titans Aug. 17, missed his second straight game; defensive lineman Mike Wright missed his third straight game; rookie defensive lineman Kareem Brown also did not dress . . . The Walpole Little League team, which advanced to the Little League World Series, was introduced before the game.

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