W2W4: Patriots set to square off with the Lions

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Nov 23, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA;Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) talks with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) following the game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The penultimate game of the preseason. More often than not, the third preseason game for most teams acts as a dress rehearsal for the regular season. Most first team starters play well into the second half before they take a backseat during the fourth and final preseason game. Tonight will be no different for the Patriots.

Last week, in a loss to the Houston Texans, Patriots fans got a little taste of the first teamers on both offense and defense. In addition, for the first time in five seasons, tight end Rob Gronkowski made an appearance in a preseason game. Albeit it was for only 14 snaps and he was never targeted, it was still a sight to be seen.

Here is what to watch for tonight:


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Starters, Starters, Starters

This is the preseason game most people circle on their calendars. OK, maybe they don’t, however, most know that the third preseason game is about as close as what you’ll get to real game action before the season officially kicks off. Most of the starters played just a few series last week before exiting the game. Barely breaking a sweat. Tonight will be different.

Expect the starters to play well into the second half, and perhaps most of the third quarter. Quarterback Tom Brady, who made his NFL debut in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day 2000, will have his full arsenal of weapons tonight. Brandin Cooks will likely see a bit more action and targets, as well as newcomer, running back Mike Gillislee, who missed the previous two games with a hamstring injury.

Mike Gillislee makes his debut

After missing the first two games of the preseason, former Bills running back Mike Gillislee is apparently ready to go. Gillislee shed the red no-contact jersey earlier in the week and was a full participant in practice. Greatly increasing his chances of playing, especially after losing a little ground to preseason standout, running back Rex Burkhead.

“It’s something that just happened,” said Gillislee via ESPN. “I tried to burst one of those plays at the beginning of camp. Each and every day, I just try to stay positive and left everything up to God. I just stayed in the training room and got healthy. I was out there today giving 100 percent. I was 100 percent everything.”

Despite the depth and versatility at the running back position, one of the biggest questions entering training camp centered around who would fill LeGarrette Blount’s shoes as the “lead” back. Most assumed it would be Gillislee, but others have had to step up in the last two games. Now Gillislee will have his shot to flash some of his talent and regain some ground he lost due to injury.

Dont’a Hightower will not dress

One of the few starters that will not take the field tonight will be linebacker, Dont’a Hightower. Hightower has missed all of the offseason work as he remained on the Physically Unable to Perform list until this last Tuesday. So all is not lost. Hightower is certainly not a player that NEEDS to be out there for any preseason match up and most Patriots fans will be perfectly fine with that.

Hightower is the Patriots best defensive player and its leader. There is no doubt when the time comes, he will be ready to go. However, the time is not now. Patriots fans will have to wait just 13 more days for the full squad to make an appearance.

Prediction

It doesn’t matter. In the preseason, wins and losses are an afterthought. Look to see a bit more ‘not so basic’ offense tonight from the Patriots as they test the waters before the start of the regular season.

– Ian Glendon is a National Co-Editor for cover32 and the Managing Editor for cover32/Patriots. He covers the NFL and New England Patriots. Like and follow on and Facebook.

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