The New England Patriots dropped its second preseason game to the Philadelphia Eagles 27-17 last night in Foxborough as Bill Belichick opted to either not dress or sit many of his starters.

Faced with three games in 10 days Belichick decided to save many of his star players including Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Jerod Mayo among others for the two joint practices with the Buccaneers on Wednesday and Thursday followed by the third preseason game in Tampa Bay on Friday night.

That should be the Patriots dress rehearsal for the regular season. It also coincidentally should be when Logan Mankins returns to the field. Sebastian Vollmer may also return as well, but I wouldn’t count on that yet. The move makes perfect sense for Belichick and the team.

Andy Reid and the Eagles opted to treat Monday Night’s game as their own dress rehearsal. Philly, saddled with a schedule nightmare of their own with three games in 10 days, plays at Cleveland on Friday night. But Philadelphia plays the Browns again in two weeks on opening weekend. Reid decided to show Cleveland nothing on Friday, and again…it makes complete sense for the Eagles and Reid.

But unfortunately, that meant that last night’s game lacked the feel of a true test for Philadelphia playing against mostly Patriots backups. But there was plenty to look for as depth players got to test their mettle against a tough, solid Eagles team. With that in mind, here are “Three Up and Three Down” for the game last night for New England:

UP

Deion Branch- Branch has been dinged up most of camp and now finally healthy is battling for a roster spot this year. The coaches, perhaps wanting to test him to see if he can hold up, played Branch every offensive snap sans one (a two point conversion).

Branch responded with 3 catches for 51 yards and played like….Deion Branch as people have always expected him to play. Branch made a nice stride towards winning the 3rd WR slot over Jabar Gaffney and Donte’ Stallworth.

Brandon Spikes- Spikes returned to game action and was his normal self out on the field, downhill, instinctive and thumping people inside. With him returning to full health and playing alongside Dont’a Hightower and Jerod Mayo, this linebacking unit will be something to watch this season.

Stephen Gostkowski- Gostkowski hit not one but two 50+ yard field goals (55, 51). The normally reliable kicker shanked one last week and more than atoned for that against Philadelphia. Chris Koepplin doesn’t have much of a chance to win a job in New England but at least he’s learning to compete against one of the best in a quest to land a job somewhere.

Down-

Offensive Line- The offensive line again had its struggles against Philadelphia who possesses a potent and deep defensive line. Both Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon struggled at the point of attack. In Solder’s case, it’s strictly a case of technique, allowing defenders to get too far inside where he loses his advantage of length.

Cannon seems to be slow off the mark, and may eventually be better suited to guard than tackle. With Sebastian Vollmer returning, it is possible he could slide to left tackle and allow Solder to move back to right. But it’s early for such talk….just a bit.

The bad part about the OL struggles, is that it is really difficult to rate the WRs when the QBs are running for their life and all the routes have to be broken off and come back towards the QB.

Return Game- Not one but two muffed punts, by Julian Edelman and Brandon Bolden, Bolden’s being recovered by Philadelphia. Bolden had another return that should have been a fair catch and he was plastered and was fortunate that he didn’t fumble.

The kickoff return unit was scarcely better and the return game remains a sore spot for the Patriots. Jeff Demps will get some work in Tampa and may see the field against the Bucs. He may even get a look at Punt Returns, which he hasn’t done in a long time.

Brandon Bolden- May being a tad harsh here, but with the Patriots up at the time 11-0, Bolden muffed a punt that put the Eagles in prime scoring position. They cashed in quickly and never looked back as they used the momentum to turn the game.

While its preseason and the games are a learning tool, these are the type plays that have to stick with the rookie. But he tried to force another return and was hit hard immediately instead of calling for a fair catch. Two bad cases of judgment there, at least he was fortunate the second wasn’t fumbled.

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**NOTE TO SELF**- When covering a high school football practice, ensure the camera is turned off before putting it back in the case. Nothing worse than arriving at Foxboro with great seats to pull the camera out with a dead battery…..Priceless.