FOXBOROUGH — The battles have been waged and the summer sweat has been poured. Now comes the hard part.
Like every NFL outfit, the Patriots finished the preseason Thursday night, and now the decision makers will continue to work through the process of cutting the roster in anticipation of Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline to get to the 53-man limit.
Some players were released earlier in the week and the roster will continue to churn throughout the season, but this is the weekend where the 2019 team comes into focus.
It’s a tough time for some players but also for the coaches, who are tasked with breaking bad news to some players who have fought their way through camp.
Bill Belichick has often said one of the toughest parts of his job is telling a player that has done everything that’s been asked of him that there’s just no room.
“It’s very sad, I’m not going to lie,’’ said defensive end Deatrich Wise, when asked about seeing players that he’s befriended and/or worked alongside, have to leave. “When teammates I’ve known . . . get cut or get let go or are traded or leave the team in any way, it’s always sad. But I always tell them to keep their head up and every time you go out on the field, show the world what you can do, so you can land a job either here or somewhere.’’
Aside from paring his own roster, Belichick has to check in with his staff in the pro personnel department to keep up with what’s going on across the league in case players of interest become available. The coach has full confidence in his reseachers.
“I think [director of player personnel] Nick [Caserio] and [director of pro scouting] David Ziegler and the guys in that department do a great job. I think they’re on top of it,’’ Belichick said this week. “I can ask them about any player in the league and they can tell me what that player’s situation is, who he’s in competition with, how he’s looked, what games he’s played in, better than last year, not as good as last year. Whatever it us, they’ll be on all of those guys.’’
Being able to lean on those guys likely helped the Patriots pull off a pair of trades on Wednesday to build depth on the offensive line. New England acquired tackle Korey Cunningham from the Cardinals in exchange for a sixth-round pick and grabbed guard Jermaine Eluemunor and a sixth-round selection from the Ravens for a fourth-rounder.
Belichick said during Thursday’s pregame radio appearance on 98.5 that David Andrews’s health situation — he was treated for blood clots in his lungs — had a little to do with the acquisitions, but there was more to it.
“We lost two guys in [Jared] Veldheer and [Brian Schwenke] that probably would have made our roster,’’ Belichick said of the offensive linemen, who retired before camp. “So, this was a good opportunity to improve the depth [on the offensive line] with some guys that we did quite a bit of [research] work on.’’
Cunningham and Eluemunor were in uniform for Thursday night’s game against the Giants.
Game 4 take-aways
The Giants pulled out a walkoff victory over the Patriots on Thursday night when Kyle Lauletta hit Alonzo Russell with a 14-yard touchdown pass for a 31-29 victory.
The marathon loss — the game lasted 3 hours 33 minutes — prevented the Patriots from earning their first perfect preseason since 2003.
Aside from the healthy returns of receivers Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, and Demaryius Thomas, there wasn’t a whole lot of intrigue but plenty of players did make a push for jobs and playing time. Some observations:
■ Cornerback Keion Crossen bounced back from a rough start (he was burned for 35-yard Russell touchdown early) with an outstanding night. He notched 12 tackles, and interception, and nearly had a second, and broke up five passes, including a 2-point conversion.
The Patriots are deep at the position, but Crossen’s instincts, quickness, and special teams acumen should help him seal a spot.
“The vets just told me to keep my head up,’’ Crossen said, when asked how he stayed focused after the early score. “It’s the nature of our position just to keep battling, to keep fighting. My teammates did a great job of just encouraging me and I just kept fighting and things ended up turning for me.’’
■ James Ferentz went the distance, playing deep into the fourth at center before shifting to left guard. His versatility will help his case. With Andrews out, Ferentz could be in line to be Ted Karras’s backup.
■ Rookie cornerback Joejuan Williams saw extensive time at safety. At 6 feet 3 inches, 212 pounds, Williams is a physical freak and an aggressive menace. He has the makeup to play all over the defense for years to come.
■ The legend of Gunner Olszewski continues to grow.
The rookie, who played corner at Division 2 Bemidji State last season but has been running routes as receiver in camp, returned to his defensive roots. Olszewski subbed in at corner in the fourth quarter after safety Malik Gant was carted off with a leg injury. For good measure, he also returned punts and kickoffs.
Olszewski, who was in coverage on Russell’s winning score, said he took a crash course in the Patriots defense earlier in the week.
“I did a bunch of the defensive meetings and that stuff makes so much sense to me,’’ he said. “I’ve been hearing that stuff my whole life. The offensive playbook is a little foreign to me but . . .”
Olszewski’s had “the best time of my life” this summer and said being able to play offense, defense, and special teams in the same game made him feel young again.
“It was fun,’’ he said. “It was like when you’re growing up playing football, you never come off the field.’’
■ Scooby Wright is less than a week into his Patriot tenure but already has a cult following. Well, among the press corps, anyway. Wright plays with infectious energy and registered a pair of sacks.
■ Three rookies suffered injuries, including fourth-round guard Hjalte Froholt, seventh-round corner Ken Webster, and the undrafted safety Gant. Froholdt left the field in the first half holding his right arm. Gant, who had a sneaky strong summer, needed to be carted off in the second half with an apparent leg injury. Webster was very solid in going most of the way before departing in the final two minutes.
One of the camp constants this summer has been the presence of Patriots Hall of Famer Troy Brown helping coach Joe Judge put receivers through their paces during drills.
Judge often would take the outside receivers while Brown, an excellent and tough slot guy, would take the inside guys. Brown would smack receivers with oversized mitten pads, as passes would arrive, to improve concentration.
Josh McDaniels called Brown an invaluable resource.
“He’s been a great influence on our guys,’’ said McDaniels, who coached Brown earlier in the offensive coordinator’s career. “He’s got a lot of wisdom. Hey, look, I didn’t play pro football as a receiver. Neither did Joe. So, anything Troy says, it’s really well respected and well taken, because this guy’s been out there against good players and had to deal with the things that receivers are doing. I think it’s a blessing for us that we have him here to help us.’’
Guests of honor
In one of the coolest scenes of the preseason, Tom Brady spent time on the field with a group of Make-A-Wish visitors a couple of hours before the game.
Brady threw passes (his only important ones of the night) and made sure every one of his “receivers” ended with a reception. Brady signed autographs, posed for pictures, and ended the visit by hugging all of his guests, even catching a few that were expecting handshakes by surprise.
Rookie dinged up
Belichick touched on the loss of special teams ace Brandon King, who suffered a season-ending torn quadriceps last week. “That was tough for Brandon,’’ Belichick said. “He’s always been one of our healthiest players and an impact player in the kicking game. Big loss for us there.’’ . . . Andrews was on the field watching his teammates and chatting with Brady during warm-ups . . . Quarterback Eli Manning, like a lot of the Giants’ starters, was in uniform but not in pads . . . As always, every eligible Patriot was in full uniform and pads . . . The Patriots held a moment of silence in memory of Army Master Sergeant Luis F. Deleon-Figueroa. The Chicopee native was a Green Beret who was recently killed during a raid in Afghanistan, according to a report in Stars and Stripes.