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Thursday, August 29, 2013
W2W4: Five things we'll be focused on

By Mike Reiss

The New England Patriots square off against the New York Giants in the preseason finale for the ninth consecutive year, with Thursday night’s game held at Gillette Stadium (WBZ-TV, 7:30 p.m. ET). Here are the primary areas of interest from this viewpoint:

1. How long, if at all, does Tom Brady play? When the Patriots were smoked in a Week 3 preseason loss at Detroit in 2011, Coach Bill Belichick had Brady play four series in the preseason finale (the first series was just one play after a turnover). It was almost as if he was saying, “We don’t want to go into the regular season playing like that.” This year, the Patriots were smoked in a Week 3 preseason loss at Detroit and now the question is if Belichick takes the same approach. Earlier in the week, Brady said he was preparing to play. Since he’s become a full-time starter, he has played in four of 11 preseason finales.

2. Tim Tebow's fight for a roster spot. Snaps played by Tebow over the team’s first three preseason games have declined -- 31 against the Eagles, 20 versus the Buccaneers and then zero last week in Detroit -- to the point that his place on the team is anything but a sure bet. Could he win a job with a strong performance? We know the Patriots have kept two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster in three of the past four years, which would seem to work against him. But we also know that owner Robert Kraft and Belichick seem to like having him around.

3. Does Adrian Wilson play deep into the game again? Similar to when Brandon Meriweather was playing deep into the final preseason game in 2011, which foreshadowed the end of his time with the team, we saw something similar last week in Detroit with Wilson. That, coupled with some shaky play on Reggie Bush’s 67-yard catch-and-run and elsewhere that night, has put Wilson closer to the roster bubble than initially first thought. When the Patriots signed Wilson (6-foot-3, 230) to a three-year contract this offseason, some drew comparisons to Rodney Harrison in terms of a physical presence returning to the safety spot. But it now looks like Steve Gregory will start next to Devin McCourty, with Wilson’s standing a bit less certain.

4. Leon Washington potentially on the bubble. The Patriots have been looking for a boost for their kickoff return game, and the signing of Washington was projected to help. But he has taken only three of the team’s 10 returns this preseason, with running back LeGarrette Blount assuming the role in last week’s “dress rehearsal” game at Detroit. With rookie receiver Josh Boyce also being used as a returner, and a deep group of running backs, Washington’s spot on the roster could be tenuous. If he’s not back for kickoff returns in this game, it could be a bad sign for him.

5. What does Kenbrell Thompkins do for an encore? One of the bright spots from last week for the Patriots was the performance of the rookie receiver, particularly how he got off the line of scrimmage against press coverage against Darius Slay (second-round pick) and veteran Chris Houston. Thompkins, the undrafted free agent from Cincinnati, leads the team this preseason with 13 receptions for 142 yards and looks to be on course to serve as the team’s No. 2 receiver.