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Christoper L. Gasper

Patriots defense answers few questions against Eagles

Trainers tend to Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who took a shot to the ribs in the first quarter and didn’t return to action. X-rays were negative.

JIM DAVIS /GLOBE STAFF

Trainers tend to Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who took a shot to the ribs in the first quarter and didn’t return to action. X-rays were negative.

FOXBOROUGH — There is a reasonable chance that Michael Vick will be the best quarterback the Patriots face until old pal Peyton Manning, the new savior signal-caller in Denver (Tim who?), ventures to Foxborough the day before Columbus Day, Oct. 7. They didn’t see him for very long.

Vick left Monday night’s exhibition game at Gillette Stadium with a rib injury after taking six snaps. This game was such a fraud — 27 Patriots sat out, including Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Jerod Mayo, and Vince Wilfork — that it should have been played at Fenway Park and declared a sellout.

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The score was Eagles 27, Patriots 17. It should have been NFL 1, Paying Customers 0. Even ESPN play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico said fans get “jobbed” by a game like Monday night’s.

You can blame NFL schedule-makers for the fact most of the Patriots’ top players were missing in action. The team plays three exhibition games in three cities in 10 days and is scheduled for joint practices with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers later this week.

Absurd, especially for a league with a tyrannical intolerance for anything that threatens the integrity of the game or the safety of players — except when it comes from the owners or the league office.

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Don’t blame Patriots coach Bill Belichick for withholding his best players. “It it what it is. We don’t make the schedule,” said Belichick.

Vick left the game with 6:01 left in the first quarter to get a detailed picture of his aching ribs (X-rays were negative) after getting blasted by Patriots defensive end Jermaine Cunningham. Because of that, fans were deprived of learning anything of substance about a defense that has flashed swagger in practice, but too often staggered its way through last season.

Truth be told, Belichick had already ensured that the snapshot of the defense would be fuzzy when he decided Mayo, Wilfork, and cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty would play the same role as thousands of others at Gillette, as spectators.

The offensive line remains an area of concern for the Patriots, but the belief is that when the games really count and O-line elders return, the blockers will deny and deflect like each of them have “Lucchino” on the back of their jersey.

However, the real questions are on the defensive side of the ball. Can the Patriots stop permitting more air travel than the FAA? Can they get off the field on third down? Can they adapt and evolve beyond bend-but-don’t-break to a unit that complements the offense instead of taxes it?

Those questions probably won’t be answered in the first few weeks of the regular season, not with the quarterbacks the Patriots are slated to face.

The Tennessee Titans, New England’s Week 1 opponent, named second-year player Jake Locker their top quarterback. Locker will be making his first NFL regular-season start against the Patriots. This is like asking a chess neophyte to play Garry Kasparov.

After that, the Patriots open their home schedule against the Arizona Cardinals. They have a “quarterback battle” going on between John Skelton and Kevin Kolb. Skelton completed a lower percentage of his passes than Mark Sanchez last year in eight starts (54.9 percent). Kolb was accused of being tremulous and skittish in the pocket by Raiders defensive lineman Tommy Kelly after the Raiders sacked him three times in a 31-27 exhibition win on Friday night.

Certainly, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco is a capable quarterback, but the querulous QB should spend more time honing his game and less time complaining about his critics. Bottom line, Flacco, whom the Patriots will see in Week 3, is not an elite passer.

Vick represented an opportunity and a measuring stick.

“Obviously, as a defensive player you can’t control who is in there,” said Patriots defensive back Will Allen, who tied for the team lead with five tackles Monday night. “All you want to do is execute whatever it is the coach calls . . . Obviously, being an athlete and a competitor you always want their best guys in there. Obviously, it would have gave you a chance to see a little bit of something, but whether he is in there or not we have to execute.”

Eagles coach Andy Reid had said he wanted his starters to play three quarters. They did, but it wasn’t the same with rookie QB Nick Foles, who feasted on New England’s reserves in the second half, at the controls.

Foles led the Eagles to a pair of touchdown drives in the first half, which ended with the teams tied at 14. But both were set up by Patriots offensive miscues. Philadelphia’s first score came after rookie running back Brandon Bolden fumbled a punt at his 21 with 11:31 left in the first half. The second came after Brian Hoyer was strip-sacked by Phillip Hunt, who treated right tackle Marcus Cannon like a tollbooth with the gate up.

This summer, the Patriots defense has given TB12 and the offense more resistance than they’ve become accustomed to seeing in practice. But as a once-famous Philadelphia athlete once said, “We’re talking about practice.”

Monday night could have been an opportunity to see how far the Patriots have come. Instead, they have a ways to go until we will see a quarterback who can test them.

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com and can be read at www.boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.
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