FOXBOROUGH — Fans who stayed until the end of the Patriots’ preseason finale against the Giants were treated to a last-minute Tim Tebow-to-Quentin Sims touchdown pass that put the finishing touches on a 28-20 win for New England.
After failing to convert on fourth down, New York’s offense, at the time led by fourth-string quarterback Curtis Painter, gave the ball back to the Patriots at the 17.
Rather than taking a knee, Tebow threw up a jump ball and Sims came down with it.
It was the second touchdown of the night for Sims, a rookie out of Tennessee-Martin. Earlier in the fourth quarter, he slipped out of a tackle after catching a ball from Tebow, and sprinted the last 30 yards or so into the end zone.
“Me and Tim, we have been working together pretty much all training camp,” Sims said. “I’ve made plays for him and he makes good throws for me, so we’ve got good chemistry and he knows to look for me.”
The two plays to Sims were the highlights for Tebow, whose future in New England remains up in the air.
Ryan Mallett’s immediate future as Tom Brady’s backup seems secure. Mallett started and played the first half, with Brady watching intently from the sideline.
Mallett, in his third season, faced the Giants’ top defensive players through the first quarter. He said after the game against Tampa Bay two weeks ago that it takes him a bit to find his groove, and it seemed like that was also the case against New York.
On the Patriots’ first possession, Mallett completed his first four passes, but couldn’t connect with Leon Washington on a third-down sideline lob. On the Patriots’ second series, Mallett again could not convert on third down, that time throwing too high for Kenbrell Thompkins.
“I thought we came out and moved the ball well. We had a few missed opportunities there on the first two third downs that we could have easily completed,” Mallett said. “But those first two drives I felt good, felt comfortable. We’ve just got to convert on third down.”
When he returned to the field for the Patriots’ third possession, Mallett got the conversions he was looking for. Rookie George Winn ran for 14 yards on the opening play, and a pass to Aaron Dobson gained 12 yards. After taking a 10-yard sack a couple of plays later, Mallett converted on third and 13 with a 15-yard completion to Thompkins. Mallett then gave the Patriots goal to go with an 18-yard pass to Dobson.
The possession nearly ended badly, with an end zone pass intended for Dobson instead ending up in the hands of cornerback Prince Amukamara. But the play was overturned on replay, referee Walt Anderson determining that one of Amukamara’s hands came down out of bounds before he got both feet down.
Given a second chance, Mallett looked to Thompkins, who drew a pass-interference call, and New England had the ball at the 1. Winn (eight carries, 34 yards in the first half) ran it in from there for the touchdown.
That touchdown drive took 12 plays. The Patriots’ next took one.
Washington’s 43-yard punt return put the Patriots at the Giants’ 40. Mallett then took a snap, looked right, and put the ball on a rope for Josh Boyce in the left corner of the end zone. Boyce reached in front of him, pulled the ball into his chest, and held on for the score.
“Josh ran a great route. I wasn’t even looking to his side at first [but] the coverage took me over there and he went and made a great play,” Mallett said. “I had all day to throw the ball . . . It couldn’t have been drawn up better than that.”
Mallett completed 10 of 16 passes (62.5 percent) for 117 yards with one touchdown and a second-quarter interception (by former Boston College star Mark Herzlich).
The Giants’ top players seeing action meant Eli Manning started at quarterback. It also took him until his third possession to move the ball, and he completed all five passes during a 10-play, 91-yard touchdown drive.
The capper was a short pass to Hakeem Nicks; rookie Logan Ryan drew the assignment of covering the Giants’ best receiver. Nicks made a quick in-cut, and Manning placed the ball just in front of his receiver, where only he could catch it.
Second-year defensive end Jake Bequette, who had his best showing of the preseason, said it was great to have the challenge of playing against the Giants’ best offensive players.
Bequette was credited with three tackles, including one for loss, but he was around New York’s quarterbacks quite a bit.
“It’s great to go out there and start the game, get into that early flow of the game and feel your opponent and the offense’s game plan,” Bequette said. “Get into that rhythm where you can kind of anticipate the plays and get a feel for the game plan, and I think that makes the game easier.”
A third-round pick last year, Bequette and Michael Buchanan, a seventh-round pick this year, were New England’s standouts on defense, along with scrappy nickel back and special teamer Marquice Cole.
“[Bequette and Buchanan] both had a lot more opportunity to play tonight,” Bill Belichick said. “They played basically the whole game. It was a great opportunity for them. We’ll take a look at everything tomorrow in the film and see how everybody did.”
Buchanan had 2½ sacks plus a forced fumble in the second quarter that was recovered by fellow rookie Steve Beauharnais.
The Patriots will review film of the game on Friday, and have to cut 22 players by Saturday at 6 p.m. to get to the regular-season limit of 53.