Patriots win, keep plenty in reserve
FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots and New York Giants have played some intense, memorable, and meaningful games. This was not one of them.
Last night’s fourth and final exhibition for both teams, which the Patriots won, 38-27, was about as far from the winner-take-all tension of New York’s upset of the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII as you could get, although you could have asked what in the name of David Tyree was Giants coach Tom Coughlin doing risking quarterback Eli Manning’s health by playing him in this game, even if it was only for one series?
Unlike Manning, Tom Brady, who came out for warm-ups and threw passes, looking none the worse for wear from the sore shoulder he suffered last week against Washington, was given the night off, along with the rest of the New England regulars.
Undrafted rookie Brian Hoyer drew the nod at QB and acquitted himself well when he was against comparable competition, rallying the Patriots from a 21-0 first-half hole by leading them to points on five straight possessions from the second to fourth quarters - four touchdowns and a field goal.
Hoyer finished 18 of 25 for 242 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.
“He stepped up big time,’’ said tight end Alex Smith. “I think he had those jitters to begin with. We weren’t really helping him control the ball. We had a few three-and-outs, but I think once he got his feet settled and got a little time back there, you’re able to see what he can do.
“He stayed very composed. It could have been easy to lose your head being down, 21-0,  minutes into the game, but he kept his composure and he stayed in that pocket and made some great throws and some great plays with his feet. He has definitely got some potential.’’
Hoyer hit Sam Aiken on a 48-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter that helped the Patriots take their first lead, 31-27, with 5:53 to go. On-the-bubble running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who had 29 rushes for 125 yards and three touchdowns, didn’t play last night’s game like it was a meaningless exhibition.
After Hoyer’s pass, Green-Ellis dragged New York’s Clint Sintim into the end zone on fourth and 1 to put the Patriots ahead with his second 1-yard TD run.
“It was just like coach said, when we need a yard we have to be able to get a yard by any means necessary,’’ said Green-Ellis. “Whatever we’ve got to do - run, throw, drag, kick, scratch. Whatever we have to do to get that yard we have to be able to line up and get 1 yard.’’
Green-Ellis scored on a 32-yard rush on the next drive to ice the game.
“I was proud of the way those guys played,’’ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “Those guys showed me a lot out there tonight - 34 of them, or whatever it was.’’
However, the final score was inconsequential. It was clear that the Patriots wanted to end the preseason intact and move on to preparations for the regular-season opener against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Sept. 14.
While Coughlin let his starters play in the first quarter, Belichick used the game to evaluate who would occupy his final roster spots. The Patriots, like all teams, have to be down to 53 players by tomorrow.
The result was that the beginning of the game looked like a junior varsity against varsity scrimmage. The Giants scored on their first three possessions to take a 21-0 lead. At the end of the first quarter, the Giants had outgained the Patriots, 251 net yards to 3. Manning, who was 3 for 3 for 76 yards and touchdown, and David Carr combined to go 9 for 9 for 229 yards and three TDs.
On the opening series, Manning hit tight end Kevin Boss for a 44-yard gain that set up a 23-yard touchdown to Sinorice Moss, who beat Patriots rookie safety Patrick Chung. Carr came on and connected with Domenik Hixon on a 38-yard completion. Three plays later, he found Moss for a 12-yard score, again with Chung giving chase.
New York’s top draft pick, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, torched the New England secondary for a 64-yard touchdown with 5:47 left in the first quarter.
The Patriots, meanwhile, didn’t pick up their first first down until Green-Ellis ripped off a 16-yard run early in the second quarter.
The Patriots first offense came from the defense. Safety Brandon McGowan returned an Andre Woodson pass 27 yards for a touchdown with 8:14 left in the first half. Outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich pressured Woodson and forced a bad throw.
That started the comeback.
A 49-yard kickoff return by Terrence Nunn, with another 15 yards tacked for unnecessary roughness on Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes, allowed the Patriots to start at the Giants’ 33 with 1:34 left in the half. Hoyer hit Greg Lewis with a 32-yard completion and Green-Ellis barreled in on third and goal from the 1 to pull the Patriots within 24-14 at the half.
Hoyer’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Robert Ortiz on the opening drive of the third quarter put the Patriots within a field goal, and Stephen Gostkowski’s 46-yarder with 52 seconds left in the third quarter tied the score at 24.
The Patriots ended the exhibition season with a win and without losing any major players to injury. But it’s time for the exhibition games to end and the regular season to begin.
Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said it best.
“After four preseason games, it is time to make it for real,’’ said Tuck.