Bob Ryan

In ‘meaningless’ game, skills were exhibited

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / September 4, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - No jokes here about this being a useless exhibition. It was actually a lot of fun.

Of course, none of the big guys played, at least not for the Patriots (Eli Manning led his team to one touchdown and then sat down), but we all knew that going in. Anyone had to know coming in that this was going to be a game in which you’d need a program.

What no one knew was that the Patriots would spot the hated world champions once removed three touchdowns in the first nine minutes and change and would then keep the New York Giants out of the end zone for the rest of the evening, or that Brian Hoyer would play the entire game at quarterback and would lead the Patriots to a 38-27 victory. Nothing will ever make up for the disappointment of Super Bowl XLII, but seeing the Giants lose made the ride home a lot more pleasant for the fans.

They were probably wondering why they had bothered to come during that gruesome first quarter. It’s always a push when attempting to evaluate whether an offense is that good or a defense is that bad, but the fact is the Giants scored three spectacularly easy touchdowns in their first three possessions.

How easy?

This easy: 1. five plays, 73 yards, in 2:59; 2. four plays, 57 yards, in 1:48; 3. three plays, 78 yards, in 1:13. Yup, it was zip, zip, zip, and 21-0 before the game was 10 minutes old. It’s rather amazing the stadium didn’t empty out right there.

And then Brandon McGowan made a play.

The onetime Maine Black Bear made a nice read on an Andre Woodson pass, made an interception, and took it to the house from the 27. Things were never the same after that. Suddenly, the Patriots had real life.

“Every time you get to score when you’re down like that, there’s going to be a lift,’’ said McGowan. “That’s how the game goes. That’s my job - to make plays.’’

The thing about Game 4 is that jobs are on the line. This is the final chance to impress the Boss and the underbosses. From what Bill Belichick was saying, McGowan did himself a pretty big favor with that pick.

“We picked him up from Chicago because of pretty much everything,’’ said Coach Bill. “He’s a tough kid. He tackles well. He’s got a lot of things going for him, athletically, physically, competitively. He’s got some experience. He does a good job in all areas. He’s a versatile guy.’’

Ah, but is he positively, absolutely going to make the team? The coach wasn’t saying. C’mon, let’s get serious. Bill Belichick is still Bill Belichick.

But I’d remember the name, were I you.

These games aren’t supposed to be about W’s and L’s, but sometimes they are. For example, did anyone walk into Gillette Stadium last evening expecting that Hoyer, and not Andrew Walter, would pitch a complete game? The answer is no, and that includes Coach Bill. But sometimes things just happen.

What happened was that young Mr. Hoyer, an undrafted free agent from Michigan State, made a pretty good case for himself, and the coach wanted to see how it would play out. The coach kinda liked the idea that the team kept finding its way into the end zone with Hoyer at the controls.

Hoyer, who is listed at 6 feet 2 inches and 215 pounds, put up nice numbers. He was 18 of 25 for 242 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions. He also made two impressive fourth-quarter scrambles. He appeared to be gaining more confidence as the game went on, and it got to the point where the mentor just wanted to see more.

“It’s just the way the game went,’’ Belichick explained. “He deserved a chance to keep playing and see what he could do.’’

Hoyer spread it around, completing passes to eight receivers. He shrugged off a pair of sacks during that horrendous first quarter, getting sharper as the game progressed.

Once again, none of this means Hoyer is officially the No. 2 QB now. That person may very well be Mr. X, a veteran who is not yet on the roster. It’s just not logical to think Belichick has seen enough to be comfortable entrusting his team to an undrafted rookie should anything happen to You Know Who. But the kid certainly demonstrated that he can be an NFL quarterback, sometime, somewhere, someday.

So, was he the most impressive Patriot last evening? Perhaps. But a good case can be made for the elegantly named second-year back, the one and only BenJarvus Green-Ellis. That young man found his way into the end zone three times, twice on 1-yard plunges and once on a 32-yard run.

He had entered the game unsure of his immediate future. He had no guarantee he’ll be on the roster the night of Sept. 14. He still doesn’t.

“I wasn’t sure how many reps I was going to get tonight,’’ he said. “I just went out and tried to play every play and do my job.’’

Some people would say this was a “meaningless’’ exhibition.

“A lot of people don’t play football,’’ said Green-Ellis. “I like to compete. I don’t care if it’s a scrimmage, practice, or game.’’

This was something in between. It didn’t have the cachet of an Ochocinco extra point, but as exhibitions go, it wasn’t bad.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on He can be reached at

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