It was a short night, Bill Belichick acknowledged Thursday morning, and it might have been shorter still if he’d sent out kicker Stephen Gostkowski Wednesday night to try a 57-yard field goal that would have forced the barren proceedings into an overtime that nobody at the Meadowlands wanted.
But when Brian Hoyer’s last-gasp heave was picked off at the goal line, the Patriots were content to take a 6-3 defeat from the Giants, board the plane, and return to Foxborough, where the 75-man training camp squad will be sliced and diced to the 53-man roster limit by 9 p.m. Friday.
“We’ll probably talk about it today and finalize things tomorrow after a full night’s sleep,” the Patriots coach said in a teleconference call after he and his semi-drowsy staff spent the morning evaluating film. “Take stock of our team, probably the rest of the teams, and [see] if there’s anything else in play.”
After four exhibition games, the coaches eventually did see everyone play often enough to make an informed assessment, except for one intriguing absentee in guard Brian Waters, the sole resident of the Did Not Report list. Since Waters is under contract, he can’t perform for anyone else, but whether he turns up in the locker room Friday with coffee and circular baked goods for his mates is anyone’s guess.
“I have no comment on that,” said Belichick. “I will say any personnel decisions, whatever they are, we’ll always do what we feel is best for the football team.”
The Patriots clearly could use Waters’s experienced 320-pound avoirdupois on their offensive line, which still is very much a work in progress. Getting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer back, if only for fewer than a dozen snaps against the defending champions, was encouraging for a patchwork unit that conceded five sacks.
That likely was a byproduct of the mixing and matching that the staff had to do to get through an exhibition schedule that had the Patriots playing three times in 10 days and turned the depth chart topsy-turvy.
“We did the best we could,” said Belichick, who left nine players home Wednesday and kept most of his starters on the bench, most notably quarterback Tom Brady. “We definitely made progress. We worked guys in different stages. Guys played more in some games than others. Some guys practiced more than others did. We tried to balance that out.”
Had New England been on a once-a-week exhibition format, the balance would have been easier to achieve.
“I think a lot of times when you’re playing once a week you have a chance to practice everybody and play everybody in different increments during that game, so the advantage of that is you get to see those players do it in all three games,” said Belichick. “You get to see them against three different schemes, different types of matchups with the other teams.
“We played a little bit of a split-squad thing the last three weeks. You didn’t see some guys against Philadelphia, you didn’t see some guys against Tampa, you didn’t see some guys against the Giants.”
The mixing and matching extended to the practice field as well. But once the varsity returns for Sunday’s practice, Belichick and his staff will have a normal week to fit together starting lineups for next weekend’s regular-season opener at Tennessee. Brady will be under one of the four centers who played against New York, and a revamped defense will be unveiled.
Despite the syncopated exhibition schedule, the staff had a working two-deep in mind. The remaining roster spots likely will come down to the positions where versatility and depth are most needed.
“It’s a combination of all those things,” said Belichick. “They’re interrelated. It’s not just about one position. There’s no real set formula for that.”
Though the Patriots will get one day more than most of their rivals to work out the roster variables, the numbers game is the same for all.
“We have known it was coming,” Belichick said after the Giants game. “It’s not like it was sprung on us, so we have talked about this thing along the way. But now we’ll have to make the final decisions.”