Eagles-Patriots on 6abc TONIGHT!

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) - August 22, 2008

It's only the preseason, so there are no signs of panic in their locker room, even with Tom Brady limited by a foot injury. Yet a team that was a perfect 18-0 before losing the Super Bowl certainly doesn't like the trend.

"It's our preparation for the season," defensive tackle Jarvis Green said Wednesday. "We've got to get better because you never stay the same. You get better or worse."

New England has been outscored 21.5 points to 12.5 in losses to Baltimore and Tampa Bay. Last regular season, they averaged 36.8 points and allowed only 17.1.

Of course, coach Bill Belichick hasn't installed sophisticated game plans and has taken long looks at youngsters and other players trying to make the team. But the third exhibition game is usually where the first-stringers play the most and the strategies are more complex.

So Friday night's home game against Philadelphia should be a decent test against a good team. The Eagles nearly beat the Patriots last season even though A.J. Feeley played in place of injured quarterback Donovan McNabb.

The Patriots won 31-28 after trailing midway through the fourth quarter.

"They're a good football team," linebacker Mike Vrabel said. "They were good last year and gave us everything we wanted last year with a backup quarterback."

And now they have one of the Patriots best players from the past several seasons - cornerback Asante Samuel.

In last season's matchup, he returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown and had a second pick that ended a late drive by the Eagles. Then he left for a lucrative free-agent contract.

"I talked to him the other day," Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said. "He's doing great. Wouldn't you, $60 million richer? He's doing wonderful."

Fernando Bryant, who spent the past four seasons with Detroit, is starting in Samuel's place with Ellis Hobbs on the other side. But Bryant has just seven interceptions in nine seasons. Samuel had 16 in the past two years.

"I'm looking forward to putting it together," said Hobbs, who missed the first game after offseason surgery for a shoulder injury and a sports hernia. "I think we've been on our heels definitely these last two preseason games."

Against Tampa Bay, the Patriots were outgained 295-174 and allowed 170 yards rushing.

"Not from the scoreboard, but just from the play within the games we're behind and we need to pick it up," Hobbs said. "It looked like a completely different team out there against Tampa Bay and how they were ready and we weren't. They treated it like a game and we went out there treating it as a scrimmage."

Of course, that all could change Friday night or the following Thursday night in the exhibition finale against the team that beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl, the New York Giants.

Brady was present for the roughly 15 minutes in which the media were allowed to watch practice Wednesday. He stretched, did light throwing and handed the ball off.

His absence from the first two games - and possibly the third - could very well be precautionary. His teammates profess little concern.

"If he's injured, he can't play," running back Kevin Faulk said, "so we can't do anything about that. We have to get better as a team without him."

All Belichick would say about Brady on Wednesday was that he's "day to day."

Without him, backups Matt Cassel, Matt Gutierrez and Kevin O'Connell have produced a total of just two touchdowns. Starting running back Laurence Maroney hasn't done much better with just 21 yards on 13 carries in the two games.

"There's always room for improvement," he said. "I'm not saying I went out there and every run was the best. I ran hard, and did the best with the carries I had. But I still have room to get better."

He's hardly alone in the locker room of a team that may put added importance on Friday's game because of its recent problems.

"It's a good time for the team to really jell together because after the third one, it's two more weeks and you're playing for real," Hobbs said.

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