FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) – The preseason was supposed to give New England Patriots fans a chance to cheer for local favorite Doug Flutie again. They’ll get their chance Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.

Flutie, signed during the offseason as a possible backup to three-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady, didn’t play in Friday’s preseason opener, a 23-13 victory over Cincinnati. However, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Flutie will play Thursday against New Orleans.

“Doug needs to play, and he’ll get a chance to play,” he added Saturday during a conference call.

Brady didn’t play on the 94-degree night at Paul Brown Stadium because Belichick wanted the team’s younger quarterbacks to see action. But the coach hinted Brady also may play against New Orleans.

“I think Tom is just like everybody else,” he said. “He needs to sharpen his game just like everybody else.”

Flutie, who grew up in Natick, Mass., and went on to win the 1984 Heisman Trophy at Boston College, generated plenty of excitement when he played for the Patriots in the late 1980s. Although he is clearly in a backup role this time, there is likely to be plenty of interest in the 42-year-old’s return.

On Friday night, however, it was rookie quarterback Matt Cassel’s turn in the spotlight. Cassel – a backup to two Heisman winners, Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer, at Southern California – led the Patriots on four scoring drives.

Cassel, a seventh-round draft pick, never started a collegiate game during USC’s consecutive championship season. Belichick said the rookie has improved at practice.

“The thing I like about Matt is when you correct him on something, the next time he usually gets it right,” Belichick said.

Cassel was 13-of-20 for 135 yards. Rohan Davey, Brady’s backup last season, started the game and was 4-of-7 for 42 yards.

Last year, New England lost its preseason opener in Cincinnati, 31-3. The Patriots also allowed the Bengals 478 total yards in a 35-28 regular season win in Foxboro last season.

This time, Belichick said the team “took a decent step in the fundamentals.”

“It wasn’t like they took the ball and ran it up and down the field like the last two times we played them,” he said.

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