Joint practices a big reason Patriots sat NFL-high 40 players in opener

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The final numbers are in from preseason games over the past five days, and the New England Patriots stand out with their approach: After further review, they had a league-high 40 players who didn't play in Thursday's first exhibition game.

That's nearly half of the 90-man roster -- and nearly double the next NFL team in terms of inactive players. Bill Belichick explained that three days of joint practices with the Jacksonville Jaguars leading into the game played a big part in his thinking.

"We played a lot of guys in practice Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday against Jacksonville, so a lot of guys that are going to play for us got a lot of reps," Belichick had said in a pregame radio interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub. "[This game] will give us a chance to look at some of those guys that didn't get as many reps in practice, so we'll try to balance that out."

For league-wide context, leading into Sunday night's final preseason game of the week (Seattle Seahawks vs. Los Angeles Chargers), the average number of players held out of games per team was 13.9. The Pittsburgh Steelers (24), Dallas Cowboys (21) and Oakland Raiders (20) were the closest teams to the Patriots.

With Belichick and the Patriots sitting so many more players than any other club, it sparks the question: Are joint practices essentially replacing preseason games in Belichick's view?

This week could help provide a more definitive answer to that question, as the Patriots will practice Monday at Gillette Stadium (9:15 a.m.; open to the public) before traveling to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, for two days of work (Tuesday, Wednesday) with the Houston Texans at The Greenbrier. Then the teams will square off Saturday night in preseason action in Houston.

Could it be another week in which 40 Patriots players -- some dealing with physical ailments, but the majority coach's decisions -- are held out of action?

As Kevin Garnett once famously said, anything is possible. The fact the Patriots and Texans meet in Week 3 of the regular season might also be part of Belichick's thinking.

From a big-picture perspective, team president Jonathan Kraft shared his view on the value of joint practices in a pregame interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub.

"They become a really great place for certain types of competition to take place in a controlled environment that you couldn't do before in the preseason games," he said. "Now it allows other players and other situations to play out in the preseason games. These [joint practices] have become a great adjunct to the first few weeks of preseason. I think it makes a big difference. It actually allows you to evaluate your talent in a way you couldn't before. I think it is a real plus."