FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The Patriots have a lot of questions to answer in the next couple of days. By 6 p.m. Saturday, they need to have their roster trimmed to 53.
That means 22 players who played Thursday won’t be here on Sunday.
Who will they be?
Thursday’s game may have provided some glimpses.
The youngs guns got lots of playing time. And responded.
Guys like defensive ends Jake Bequette, reportedly on the way out, and Michael Buchanan had very strong games. So did linebacker Steve Beauharnais and cornerback Logan Ryan.
“I think I made a pretty good case for myself,” said Buchanan, the chiseled 6-foot-6, 255-pound rookie out of Illinois.
Buchanan finished with four tackles and 21/2 sacks. Bequette, a second-year player out of Arkansas, had three tackles. The two of them played the whole game.
Beauharnais and Ryan, rookies out of Rutgers, had seven and six tackles respectively.
Running back George Winn may have won himself a job on the practice squad.
Tim Tebow might have saved his spot with a couple of lasers to Quentin Sims, his favorite target all camp, including a 52-yard touchdown pass. He threw a second touchdown pass in the final seconds and got the royal treatment from the media afterward.
When Ryan Mallett (who had a decent game himself), the incumbent backup to Tom Brady went to the podium after the game, fewer than 10 reporters stayed to hear what he had to say.
Tebow was mobbed by about 30 in front of his locker.
Bill Belichick made no promises about Tebow’s future when pressed. The men who stay, said Belichick, will be those who will best help the 2013 New England Patriots.
Pretty simple explanation, don’t you think?
But about now, veterans like safety Adrian Wilson, tight end Daniel Fells and returner Leon Washington have to be wondering where they fit.
Or even, if they fit.
The fourth preseason game has become a game for the bubble players.
Vets seldom play. And, in fact, no one on the Patriots’ starting defense played. And only one starter on offense played, that being right guard Dan Connolly, who has missed most of the preseason with injuries.
But Wilson, signed as a free agent, played into the third quarter with the second- and third-stringers. Fells was out there in the third quarter as well. And Washington was out there as a punt returner all game.
Washington didn’t seem concerned. He has long been considered one of the best returners in football and the Patriots badly need to improve their numbers on both punt and kickoff returns.
“I broke my leg a couple of years ago when I was with the Jets and thought I’d never play football again,” he said. “I told myself whenever I get the opportunity to play, I’d never turn it down.”
Asked about the playing time, Belichick said it was more important how the players played.
“I look at how they play,” he said. “I look at everyone.”
And then there are those who didn’t play, like running back LeGuarrette Blount. It’s been said he’s in a fight for his roster spot, but Blount stayed on the sideline while youngsters like Winn played.
“I always want to play,” said Blount. “As long as there’s a football game, I want to be in it.”
He knows what’s looming, as does everyone else..
“It’s pretty tough,” he said. “But those guys know what this league is like, they know it’s a business, that it’s a job. You’ve got to continue and hope for the best, do what George did, do what Leon did, and plead your case.”
Winn, an undrafted free agent from Cincinnati, led the Patriots with 54 yards rushing and scored on a 1-yard touchdown. The ball was delivered to him in the locker room.
He knows, even with this effort, that he may still get cut, that he may end up on the Patriots practice squad.
But Thursday night that didn’t matter. He had done his best. And that’s all that mattered.
“I wanted to step up,” he said. “I was pretty proud of myself tonight.”
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: