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Giants 18, Patriots 17

More seasoning for starting units

Brady, defensive line play in Patriots’ finale

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / September 2, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - Bill Belichick being Bill Belichick, he may never admit it, but it’s very likely his shrewdness and foresight were on display last night during the Patriots’ preseason finale against the Giants.

Nearly all of New England’s starters - including Tom Brady - played in the first half, and Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis both made their long-awaited debuts in uniform.

Although it’s easy to surmise that Belichick put them on the field solely in response to the poor performance put forth in Detroit on Saturday night, there may have been more to it than just that.

None of the starters played the preseason opener against Jacksonville. That game came just two weeks after training camp had opened, and Belichick may not have wanted to risk putting his best players on the field with so few practice snaps under their belts.

If there was a prime time to have pulled a hamstring or ruptured an Achilles’, it would have been then - and three weeks ago, there were quite a few of those around the league.

Also, with the Patriots opening the regular season on Sept. 12 in Miami, had the starters not played last night, there would have been a long stretch of 16 days between games.

So even though the Giants, who faced the Jets just three nights earlier, sat their front-line players, New England still had its top talent on the field in an 18-17 loss.

After the game, Belichick said there was nothing done differently this year compared with last preseason. But Brady, Randy Moss, Jerod Mayo, and many other starters played the preseason opener last year. And they also played in the finale, after some uneven play the week before.

“It was a good competitive game for us and I’m sure we’ll learn a lot when we look at the film,’’ Belichick said. “Then we’ll move onto the roster.’’

New England, like all NFL teams, must pare its roster to the regular-season limit of 53 by tomorrow evening.

Because it was the Patriots’ 1s against the Giants’ 2s, it was tough to glean too much from what was seen in the opening quarters last night. But New England led at halftime, 17-3, with the offense getting quite a bit of help from the defense.

But the Giants scored 15 unanswered points in the second half, as coach Tom Coughlin mercifully went for 2 points on their final touchdown to avoid the dreaded preseason overtime.

New York started David Carr, and the former No. 1 overall pick completed a pass to Domenik Hixon on the game’s first offensive play. Hixon lost the ball when he was hit by Rob Ninkovich, and Patrick Chung recovered the fumble. He was forced out of bounds at the 1.

The Patriots’ offense needed just one play to turn it into a touchdown. Sammy Morris came in at fullback, BenJarvus Green-Ellis got the ball, and the Patriots were in the end zone easily.

The Patriots’ second possession also started with great field position thanks to a turnover. Carr again looked to Hixon and it ended up as an easy interception for Devin McCourty. His 18-yard return gave Brady the ball at the Giants’ 33.

McCourty said he’ll take any interception that comes his way, regardless of degree of difficulty. He was also happy to get more playing time.

“Especially for me. Even though I got to play a lot last year, I’m still only in my second year,’’ he said. “Each time I’m out there, I get more game experience and I learn more.’’

Brady’s first pass went to Chad Ochocinco for a 9-yard gain.

However, an incomplete third-down pass toward Deion Branch, who didn’t record a reception in three preseason games, forced Stephen Gostkowski to hit a 31-yard field goal.

Haynesworth and Ellis made their Patriots debuts, Haynesworth starting at tackle and Ellis starting at end. Their presence made it easier to see the type of rotation the team could have at defensive line.

Ellis announced himself with a 7-yard sack in the second quarter that killed a long Giants drive. Haynesworth had two tackles in the first quarter, drawing cheers from the crowd when his name was announced.

“It was great,’’ Haynesworth said of his first game action of the summer. “I need to knock off a lot of rust. I’ve been kind of just rusting, sitting in D.C. [when he was with the Redskins]. I need to get back and get back to that playing form I had when I was with the Titans.’’

Brady came out in the second quarter, having played 20 snaps, two of which were non-plays due to penalties. He went 5 for 9 for 116 yards, with 64 of those yards coming on a catch-and-run by Matthew Slater, who continued his strong preseason.

Slater got snaps with the first-team offense over Brandon Tate, which should make Tate nervous about his standing.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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