With another game looming Friday, Bill Belichick chose not to play his stars in Monday night’s tune-up against the Eagles. This meant a lot of snaps for many of the bubble guys competing to make the team. The backups got good experience playing against the Philadelphia starters, some of whom played into the third quarter.

UP:

Deion Branch

With Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker and Jabar Gaffney all not playing, Branch assumed the role of the team’s number one receiver for a day and showed well.

The former Super Bowl MVP wound up with three catches for 51 yards, showing the consistent hands and route running that has made him one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets.

Branch isn’t the same threat that he was two years ago, but he’s a crafty veteran who can still get open. He brings enough to the table as a receiver to make this team in my opinion.

Pass Rushers

The emergence of rookie DE Chandler Jones has left the team with a group of pass rushers battling to stand out in the preseason. Jermaine Cunningham, Trevor Scott and rookie Jake Bequette all generated pressure regularly throughout this game.

The Patriots didn’t have any sacks, but the pass rush was pretty consistent. It’s been a while since the Pats have had a pass rush that could consistently disrupt offenses. If this group can do that, it will help their much maligned secondary immensely.

Brandon Bolden

Note: This grade excludes his work returning punts. Bolden’s two reps as a punt returner resulted in a turnover from a muffed punt and receiving a big hit after failing to call for a fair catch. Fortunately for the undrafted rookie, he isn’t expected to be the team’s punt returner when the regular season starts.

Bolden is expected to make the roster as a running back and he showed much better there, showing a good combination of power, balance and patience as a runner despite some mediocre run blocking. He also showed some additional value by making a big hit covering a kick off.

Nate Ebner

It’s no secret that I’ve been rooting for Ebner to make this team. Monday represented his first real opportunity to make an impression in a game (he had just returned from injury before the preseason opener and barely played). He has been an interception machine recently in practice and showed a developing knack for being around the ball with a pick of Nick Foles right before the half.

It wasn’t a good throw by Foles but Ebner did a nice job staying in position to make the play. He later added another nice play when he exploded to close on a quick out, delivering a crushing hit to force an incompletion. This was the rookie’s first extensive game opportunity and he played well.

DOWN

Sterling Moore

Moore is a gamer who will fight for you every play, but he looked a little bit overmatched against Philly’s ones. DeSean Jackson particularly gave him trouble, running right by him easily for a forty yard gain at one point. Moore is physical but doesn’t seem to have the athleticism to turn and run with the game’s better receivers. Hopefully he fares better against Tampa Bay on Friday.

Stevan Ridley

Ridley and fellow second-year back Shane Vareen reversed roles from the opener against the Saints. After starting that game, Ridley wound up being the last running back to get in on Monday. This could very possibly be Belichick giving his two young backs equal opportunities in their competition, but Ridley didn’t do much with his carries once he got in.

None of the backs wound up with gaudy statistics, but the Vareen and Bolden occasionally broke tackles or made cuts to get a few extra yards. Ridley got exactly what the line got him and nothing more. He didn’t break any tackles or make anyone miss. He has been penciled in as the team’s opening day starter, but will need to play better than he did Monday to hold off his competition.

Marcus Canon

The entire offensive line struggled again, but Canon deserves extra mention for a dreadful performance. He was beat like a drum on Monday night, often failing to even slow down the Eagles’ pass rushers. The fumble-sack he allowed on Brian Hoyer was particularly atrocious. Canon played tackle in college, but was projected as a guard in the pros. This stint at tackle with Sebastian Vollmer out has proven why.

Pats fans better pray that Vollmer’s back issues don’t come up again during this season, as Canon looks pretty far from being even competent at tackle.

Screen Game

Formerly a staple during the Charlie Weis years, the Patriots screen game had gone the way of the dinosaur for a few seasons. Josh McDaniels is bringing it back to this offense and the team has made sure to work at it in their first two preseason games. They set one up beautifully last night, giving Shane Vareen plenty of room to run for a first down. Unfortunately, the timing of the rest of the Pats screens seemed off. Several plays never developed, with either the line failing to get out ahead of the running back or the quarterbacks failing to sell the play.

Brady playing will obviously help, but the linemen and backs don’t seem to have mastered the timing of this play yet. The screen game can be a very useful weapon if executed well. Hopefully these wrinkles will be ironed out by the time New England starts its season against Tennessee.

Donte Stallworth

If Stallworth is going to make this team, it will be because of his ability to make big plays downfield. His performance last night did not bode well for his cause.

Stallworth had a big opportunity with the Welker, Lloyd and Gaffney out, but he did little to stand out. He had one catch for twenty yards and failed to come down with either of the deep balls thrown his way. He had a step on his man on one of them but couldn’t catch up to Ryan Mallet’s pass. It was a ball he would have caught up to a few seasons ago and a play that he has to make to beat out Branch and Gaffney.