FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The final exhibition game is usually the time for first stringers to rest.
Not this time for the New York Giants and New England Patriots.
The teams with two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL need to solve their offensive problems Thursday night as the regular season looms.
“We have to play better,” Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. “We have to be better in the red zone and convert on third downs, so there’s some room for improvement.”
New York has scored just two offensive touchdowns in three exhibition games and has converted only six of 33 first-down opportunities in its last two. That may be part of the reason coach Tom Coughlin plans to use his regulars for up to 15 plays.
He also needs some stability in the offensive line following injuries to center David Baas and left guard David Diehl. Kevin Boothe is expected to move from left guard to center with James Brewer taking over at left guard. A fourth-round draft pick in 2011, Brewer has played only six games for the Giants with no starts and didn’t play the left side at all this preseason.
“I’m very excited to be playing left guard,” Brewer said. “Honestly, just the chance to start is big for me and whether I’m on the left side or right side, as long as I’m on the field.”
Victor Cruz won’t be, although the wide receiver expects to be ready for the season opener against the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 8. He hurt his heel in the second exhibition game and took off his protective boot on Monday.
“A lot of the swelling has gone down,” he said. “Looking forward to better days coming.”
The Patriots (2-1) will face the Giants (1-2) for the ninth straight time in an exhibition finale. Tom Brady expects to play even though he’s played in only two of the Patriots’ last nine final preseason games.
He played very well in his first two exhibition games, then directed an offense that lost three fumbles and an interception on its first five series in a 40-9 loss to the Detroit Lions.
Brady wants more playing time with his rebuilt group of receivers. Of his top five, three are rookies, Danny Amendola signed as a free agent and Julian Edelman has been sidelined for part of training camp.
“The game experience and being in there with guys you haven’t played with is very important,” Brady said. “We’ve had a lot of different guys, different faces, especially at the skill positions, that have to be a big part of our offense this year.”
Amendola had a head start in learning the offense in 2011, when he was with the St. Louis Rams under offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who has that job now with the Patriots.
“I had my foot in the door coming in with Josh being in St. Louis a couple of years ago, so I knew the verbiage,” Amendola said.
He and Brady, he said, have “covered everything that we need to. It’s just a matter of putting it in the game plan, what we want to do that week, and executing it in the games.”
This game is more important for Tim Tebow.
The Patriots third-string quarterback may need to play well, after two poor performances, to survive Saturday’s final mandatory roster cut to 53 players.
“I learned very early on in my (college) career at Florida to worry about what I can control and the things that I can’t control I’m not going to spend time worrying about,” Tebow said.
Playing with and against backups in the first two games, Tebow completed 5 of 19 passes for 54 yards and one interception. He also gained 61 yards on 10 carries. He did not play against the Lions.
Players from both teams who survived Tuesday’s cut to 75 need solid performances to keep their jobs.
“If you’re going to make a move, if you’re going to show something, someone who is looking to make our team that hasn’t made it before, I’d say that you need to get about the business of doing it,” Coughlin said. “It’s time. There’s not a lot of time, but what opportunity you get to step on the field Thursday night, I’m hoping, for your benefit, that it’s a good one.”
Giants rookie quarterback Ryan Nassib is expected to get his first meaningful playing time. The fourth-round draft pick has completed just 3 of 10 passes, but Coughlin plans to use him once Manning goes to the bench.
But with Manning having played in 135 consecutive regular-season games, Nassib might not get on the field again this season.
“It is kind of weird to think about,” he said. “It’s just the way the situation is. I’m cool with it. I just have to make sure I take these reps as serious as possible.
“Because they might be my only reps for some time.”