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17


NFL Preseason Preview - Philadelphia (1-0) at New England (1-0)



By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor

(Sports Network) - The New England Patriots seek to get their offense back in high gear when the defending AFC champions host the Philadelphia Eagles in a Monday preseason matchup between teams with lofty goals for the upcoming year.

The Patriots' traditionally potent aerial attack didn't quite resemble the relentless ensemble that averaged an outstanding 317.8 passing yards per game in 2011 when it took the field for its opening-week battle with the equally high-powered New Orleans Saints. Tom Brady couldn't get the offense untracked in his two possessions, with the superstar quarterback completing just 4-of-7 attempts for a modest 30 yards and losing a fumble after being sacked.

Backup Brian Hoyer did throw a touchdown pass in the third quarter that provided the difference in New England's 7-6 victory, but promising third- stringer Ryan Mallet went an off-target 8-of-19 for 89 yards with an interception while playing most of the second half.

The Patriots managed a pedestrian 279 total yards and were just 5-of-17 on third-down conversions for the game.

On the flip side, a New England defense that was routinely torched by enemy quarterbacks last season put forth a very encouraging effort. The unit limited the Saints, the only team to finish ahead of the Pats in passing offense in 2011, to 280 total yards and got interceptions from starting safeties Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory.

Running back Shane Vereen had the most notable performance among New England's offensive players, with the 2011 second-round pick gaining a combined 81 yards (64 rushing, 17 receiving) on 11 carries and two receptions. He may be in line for another large workload this week after backfield mate Stevan Ridley left Thursday's practice early with an apparent knee injury.

The Patriots also added some depth at the position by signing former University of Florida speedster Jeff Demps, a member of the United States' 4x100 relay squad that won a silver medal in the recent London Olympics, on Friday.

Philadelphia got a huge scare in its 2012 preseason lid-lifter, a 24-23 home win over Pittsburgh, when quarterback Michael Vick exited the contest early in the second quarter after his left hand struck center Jason Kelce's helmet on a downfield pass. The veteran signal-caller suffered merely a bruised thumb, however, and isn't expected to be limited for Monday's contest.

Backup Mike Kafka, however, is out for the remainder of the preseason after fracturing his left non-throwing hand during the game. His injury may provide an opening for rookie Nick Foles to open the year as the No. 2 quarterback after the third-round selection impressed against the Steelers.

Foles amassed 144 yards on 6-of-10 passing and connected on a pair of long touchdowns, a 70-yarder to rookie Damaris Johnson and a 44-yarder to Mardy Gilyard, helping the Eagles overcome a 13-0 deficit at halftime.

Vick figures to take the majority of the snaps under center, however, with Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid planning to play his starters for at least the first half. The first-team offense should include wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (hamstring) and tight end Brent Celek (knee), both of whom were held out of the Pittsburgh game as precautions.

Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha has been cleared to play as well after the high- priced 2011 free-agent acquisition came out of a frightening in-practice collision with teammate Nate Allen on Monday with only a sore neck and a split lip. Pro Bowl end Jason Babin will remain sidelined, however, as he recovers from a partially torn calf.

Guard Logan Mankins (knee), offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back) and wide receiver Jabar Gaffney (quadriceps) are among New England's projected inactives. The Patriots were also forced to place backup middle linebacker Dane Fletcher on injured reserve this week after he tore his ACL against the Saints.

Brady threw for 361 yards and three touchdowns in New England's 38-20 triumph over the Eagles in Philadelphia during Week 12 of last year's regular season. The Pats have also prevailed in seven of the last eight preseason bouts between the teams, most recently a 27-25 decision at Lincoln Financial Field in 2009.

New England owns a 10-9 edge in the overall preseason series.

08/17 15:09:30 ET