The New England Patriots closed their 2012 preseason with a 1-3 record, as a result of a 6-3 defeat at the hands of the same team who beat them in the most recent Super Bowl, the New York Giants.
The good news is that most of the Patriots starters did not play, as head coach Bill Belichick instead chose to rest them and keep them healthy for their season opener on Sunday, Sept. 9. Winning this game was not important, and neither was playing the established starters.
This game was important, however, for many Patriots still fighting to secure a spot on the team’s 53-man roster. We take a look back now at which players shined and who else struggled in the low-scoring defeat to the Giants on Wednesday night.
Ryan Mallett: D
Tom Brady did not play in Wednesday night’s contest, so second-year quarterback Ryan Mallett got the start. After his performance, fans should be hoping he does not have to start at all in this year’s regular season.
Mallett established no downfield passing game whatsoever, and as a result, he only threw for a total of 40 passing yards on 15 attempts, for a dismally bad average of 2.7 yards per attempt.
Mallett has a huge arm capable of making any throw, but nearly all of his completions were short, and his accuracy was off throughout the half. He did nothing in this game to support that he should be anything more than a third-string NFL quarterback.
Brian Hoyer: C-
After Ryan Mallett played the entire first half, Hoyer took the second half. He did not have to do much to have a better night than Mallett, but he did not even do that.
Hoyer also failed to establish a downfield passing presence, and although he threw for significantly more yards (96) on the same number of attempts, he still was not impressive. He made too many throws into double coverage, and he finished his game with his worst throw of all, a ball that was about seven yards too far for his intended receiver, and was instead an easy interception for the opposing defense.
Brandon Bolden: C+
Brandon Bolden received a heavy workload in the first half on Wednesday night. He ran the ball 15 times, had another three receptions in the passing game and worked as a kickoff and punt returner.
However, while Bolden got many touches, he did not do anything spectacular with them. Bolden had one impressive run that he bounced to the outside for 15 yards, but only had 59 total yards on his 15 carries. He also muffed a punt.
Bolden is a serviceable back who can handle a significant load of carries, but nothing has popped out about his game this preseason. He also does not look like the best candidate to be a kickoff or punt returner. He did not do enough in this game to secure his spot on the 53-man roster, and is firmly on the bubble.
Jeff Demps: B-
It is inconclusive whether Jeff Demps did enough to earn a spot on the 53-man roster on Wednesday night.
Demps had a good night returning punts, gaining 49 yards on four total returns, but that job is Julian Edelman’s. Demps only had one opportunity to return a kickoff, and did not have a very strong running the football.
Demps has tremendous speed and acceleration, and on one play, he took a short pass for 23 yards to the outside by using that speed. He looked indecisive as a runner tonight, however, often running into walls, and as a result, he only gained 15 yards on six carries.
Demps did earn hustle points on special teams when he recovered Brandon Bolden’s muffed punt in the second quarter. Demps should be ahead of Bolden on the depth chart at this point, but it could be a close bubble battle for the team’s fourth running back spot.
Update: According to the Boston Herald, Demps had a precautionary MRI taken, but is fine. (h/t Roger Banst)
Kerry Taylor: B-
It is very possible that no wide receiver who will be on the Patriots’ 53-man roster played in tonight’s game. One player who is hoping to get on the team late is Kerry Taylor, who played on Wednesday after being claimed by the team off waivers on Monday.
Taylor caught two passes for 20 yards, but did nothing to stand out. It seems to be a major long-shot for him to make the final 53-man roster.
Jeremy Ebert: C
Wednesday night could have been Jeremy Ebert’s chance to prove himself worthy of a roster spot, especially with a fifth wide receiver spot open following the releases of Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth. Ebert, however, was only targeted once on Wednesday, and made little presence upon the game.
Most likely, Ebert is headed to the practice squad after a lackluster preseason.
Jesse Holley: B
Jesse Holley was only credited with two catches for 12 yards, but he also made a tremendous turnaround grab over a defender that would have been a 40-yard gain. However, Holley was ruled to be out of bounds on the catch, and Belichick threw his challenge flag too late to get the play overturned.
Nonetheless, Holley may have been the most solid of any of the wide receivers to play on Wednesday night, and he can also contribute on special teams. He remains a long-shot for the Patriots’ final roster, but he had the best showing of any wide receiver to play on Wednesday night.
Daniel Fells: C
Daniel Fells did not play long on Wednesday night, but there was one important feat in his play in the contest: it was his first preseason action of the year.
Fells has a good chance of making the Patriots’ roster as their third tight end, and was not going to be played heavily as he just recently returned from injury. The fact that he became healthy enough to play, however, is a good sign for him.
Alex Silvestro: C+
For a converted defensive end, Alex Silvestro had a decent preseason at tight end. He played the majority of snaps as the Patriots’ tight end on Wednesday, and caught three passes for 22 yards in the process.
Silvestro does not have the blocking nor movement skills to make the Patriots as a tight end, but his effort was laudable in this contest.
Sebastian Vollmer: B-
Sebastian Vollmer missed the first three preseason games following his recovery from back surgery, but made his preseason debut on Wednesday night, playing the first two series and part of the third drive.
Vollmer looked very solid at right tackle while he was in the game, and appears ready to go for the season opener. That was all the Patriots needed to see from him.
Darrion Weems: C-
It was a peculiar night for left tackle Darrion Weems. With Nate Solder getting rest, Weems got the start and played nearly all of the game, giving him an audition to prove himself as a capable backup at the position.
He failed the audition.
Weems actually got off to a good start in the first quarter, when the Giants had many of their starting defensive players on the field (although Weems was primarily matched up against backup defensive end Matt Broha, with starters Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck not playing). Later in the game, however, Weems was pitiful.
Weems gave up multiple sacks, including one play where he allowed Giants defensive end Adewale Ojomo to blow right by him, a play on which Ojomo forced a strip sack inside the 20-yard line. When Weems is allowing defensive ends to go right by and land big shots on the quarterback, he is not a player the Patriots should ever want protecting Tom Brady’s blind side.
Jermaine Cunningham: A
Based on the considerable improvement of his play this preseason, it is hard to believe Jermaine Cunningham had only one tackle last season. Cunningham’s strong preseason culminated with a dominant performance on Wednesday night.
Cunningham lined up at defensive end throughout the night, but also lined up at defensive tackle often as an interior rusher on passing downs. He got sacks from both positions, and had another quarterback hit on a play on which he was held.
Cunningham may not start, but he should see significant playing time this season. He brought consistent pressure and was the Patriots’ biggest impact player on their defensive front against the Giants.
Trevor Scott: B
Trevor Scott, who started opposite Jermaine Cunningham at defensive end on Wednesday, also had a strong game. Notably, Scott had a sack of his own late in the second quarter, which he followed up with an authoritative celebration.
Scott is not as strong against the run as Cunningham, and will likely see most of his playing time as a situational pass rusher, but he showed his ability to bring consistent pressure off the edge tonight. He is one of many talented players in a deep Patriots defensive line rotation.
Ron Brace: A-
Ron Brace is another defensive lineman whose play has improved vastly this preseason. Once again on Wednesday night, he did a good job shooting the gap in the middle, bringing pressure by penetrating at the line of scrimmage.
Brace may never be a stat-sheet stuffer, but he did have three tackles against the Giants. Brace seems to be getting quicker off the ball, and showed why he could provide solid depth at defensive tackle this season.
Justin Francis: A-
The Patriots always seem to find one undrafted gem who sneaks onto their roster, and the top candidate to do so this year is Justin Francis. Francis cemented his case for a spot on the final roster with a fantastic showing on Wednesday night.
Like Cunningham, Francis lined up as both a defensive end and defensive tackle, and made an impact from both positions. Francis had five total tackles and two tackles for loss, one of which was a sack. He is a good athlete for a defensive lineman, and did a very good job on Wednesday of always making plays to be around the football when he is in the game.
Niko Koutouvides and Mike Rivera
Mike Rivera: A
Mike Rivera made a really strong case for the Patriots to keep him as depth at middle linebacker on Wednesday. Rivera played the entire game, and made plays throughout, finishing the game with 12 total tackles, including 11 solo tackles and two tackles for loss.
Rivera seemed to always be around the football in this game, and looked like a natural middle linebacker. He has been in the NFL since 2009 and never made a roster, so he is a longshot to make the roster, but he may have earned a spot with his big night on Wednesday.
Jeff Tarpinian: A-
If Rivera made his case to earn a spot in the Patriots’ linebacker corps, Jeff Tarpinian secured his. Tarpinian was already in good position to make the Patriots given their thin linebacker depth, but his strong showing on Wednesday strengthened his hold on a roster spot.
Tarpinian has very good instincts, and he showed them along with his athleticism by making a number of tackles out in space in this contest. In total, he had seven tackles, including one for loss.
Niko Koutouvides: A-
Another linebacker who made a strong case for the final roster was Niko Koutouvides. Before leaving the game early in the third quarter, Koutouvides already had eight total tackles in the game.
When Koutouvides was on the field, he seemed to be around the football more often than not, and looked good making tackles in space. Hopefully, his wrist injury is not significant, because that could seriously hurt his chances of making the final roster, but he may have earned a spot if health is not an issue.
Ras-I Dowling: A-
With Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington rested for this game, Ras-I Dowling started the game out as the No. 1 cornerback, and he was matched up against Giants star wideout Hakeem Nicks early. Dowling more than held his own, as he only gave up one six-yard reception to Nicks
Dowling did a very good job in man coverage tonight, and made sound tackles. He could be a real asset for the Patriots this season if he plays as well as he did tonight all year.
Sterling Moore: B-
Sterling Moore has had a shaky preseason, and that continued on Wednesday night. Moore had four tackles, but they were the result of him giving up too many completions, and making downfield tackles on passes he allowed.
Moore has struggled with staying in position on receivers this preseason, and that was a problem again against the Giants. He should still have a roster spot, but he did not do anything to make his spot safer in this game.
Tavon Wilson: B
With Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory not playing, Tavon Wilson saw plenty of time at safety on Wednesday night. The rookie was steady once again, giving up no big plays in the passing game and looking consistently disciplined throughout the night.
Wilson’s transition to free safety in the Patriots’ defense has been smooth thus far, and he showed once again how he could be an asset to their pass defense this year.
Nate Ebner: B+
Nate Ebner’s remarkable transition from a player who only played special teams at Ohio State to a steady NFL backup safety continued to go well on Wednesday. He started at strong safety and had a very solid game.
Ebner’s instincts continued to show, as he found his way around the football often. He had two tackles and also deflected a pass. He also made a mark in the game playing special teams, as he could often be seen as one of the first people down the field in kickoff or punt coverage.
Sergio Brown: B+
Sergio Brown is in serious roster jeopardy, but he made a solid case to make the team on Wednesday. Brown played well on both defense as a safety and special teams.
Brown looked solid in pass coverage and tackled well on defense, and his highlight of the night came when he gunned down a punt returner and hit him immediately after he caught the punt.
Stephen Gostkowski: B+
Both of Stephen Gostkowski’s kickoffs went in the end zone, and he made the only kick he had to attempt on the night, which was an easy 20-yard field goal.
Zoltan Mesko: B+
Zoltan Mesko’s punting got off to a very strong start on the night, as he had an average of 50 yards per punt through her first four punts. His punting dropped off somewhat from that point on, but he still finished with a solid average of 46.8 yards per punt.
The biggest decision head coach Bill Belichick made for this preseason game was to rest his starters, keeping them fresh and healthy for Week 1. This showed his confidence in his starters already being ready to go, and it was a smart decision to keep his players in full health for when the records actually count.
Dan Hope is Bleacher Report’s Patriots gameday correspondent and an NFL draft Featured Columnist. Follow Dan on Twitter @Dan_Hope.