The New England Patriots and New York Giants figured to engage in a fairly mundane fourth and final preseason game Thursday night at MetLife Stadium, but an appearance from Tom Brady flipped the script in a hurry.
Although stars of Brady's ilk generally sit for the preseason finale, the four-time Super Bowl champion started and played the first half in a 17-9 loss as he prepares to serve a league-imposed four-game suspension stemming from his involvement in the Deflategate scandal.
Jimmy Garoppolo—who will start in Brady's place during his four-game ban—did not see any snaps alongside the first-team offense.
On the field, Brady looked rather uncomfortable early behind an offensive line that didn't buy him much time to work through his progressions.
Not only did Brady face waves of pressure from the Giants' attacking front early, but he capped off the Patriots' first drive with an interception on a pass intended for receiver Aaron Dobson—who entered the evening on the roster bubble.
Brady's second drive proceeded at a slightly more efficient clip and included a pair of first downs, but it stalled near midfield as the Patriots' struggles against New York's swarming defense continued.
Following a Martellus Bennett fumble on the first play of New England's next series, WEEI's Christopher Price noted the Patriots' sloppy play was far from inspiring:
All told, Brady finished 16-of-26 for 166 yards, one interception and a seven-yard touchdown pass to Keshawn Martin that was documented by the NFL's official Twitter account:
According to Price, the snaps Brady played Thursday night were his most in a preseason finale since he became the starter.
In roster bubble news, running back D.J. Foster acquitted himself nicely with nine carries for 22 yards and nine catches for 110 yards. However, he did cough the ball up inside the Giants 10-yard line during a promising drive midway through the second quarter.
Foster's primary competition, Tyler Gaffney, countered with 22 yards on six carries before he hit the bench with what appeared to be a fairly minor foot injury.
The Giants, meanwhile, continued to struggle on offense after putting forth lackluster showings in their first three preseason games.
With Eli Manning, Odell Beckham and seemingly every key offensive cog except Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard sitting out, quarterback Ryan Nassib was left to lead Big Blue's attack.
Nassib, though, was unable to work the Giants offense into a rhythm and failed to hit on several deep shots early, as ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan observed:
And while Nassib's first half largely underwhelmed, he rebounded at the start of the second half when he connected with Tavarres King for an impressive 59-yard touchdown, as displayed by the NFL on Twitter:
By the end of his extended stint, Nassib completed 16 of 29 passes for 210 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
King, who's battling for a spot, also came up with a timely performance that may have sealed his fate as a member of the 53-man roster.
A week after catching two passes for 38 yards and two touchdowns against the New York Jets, the former Georgia Bulldogs standout finished with four catches for 80 yards and a score, as he repeatedly showed off steady hands and encouraging burst after the catch.
With another strong performance in hand, King will join fringe players across the league who await to hear about their future when rosters are cut to 53 men on Saturday.
And once those moves are made, both the Giants and Patriots can start to ramp up their preparations for their Week 1 opponents.
For the Giants, that means an NFC East clash with the Dallas Cowboys, while the Patriots will look to Garoppolo to keep the offense in lockstep when they travel to the desert for a showdown with the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 11.
"We're going to have some tough conversations," Giants head coach Ben McAdoo said regarding the roster, per the team's official Twitter account. "It's not going to be easy."
One of those decisions will be about King, who gave it his all Thursday night.
"My job is to give 110 percent and let the chips fall where they may," he said, per the Giants' Twitter account.
On the flip side, Brady fielded questions about his surprise first-half appearance and how he'll handle the next four weeks watching from afar.
"I was happy to play as much as I did," Brady said, per NFL Network's Courtney Fallon. "Good opportunity to get out there in game action."
Regarding the Patriots' next four games, Brady added he'll "be cheering like hell," per the Providence Journal's Mark Daniels.