The New England Patriots struggled to do much of anything well against the Carolina Panthers on Friday night. Tom Brady and the offense generated a mere three points in the first half, while Cam Newton and the Panthers marched their way into the red zone on three of their first four drives.
The Panthers won 25-14.
On a noteworthy front, Rob Gronkowski played an extremely quiet first half for New England as he debuted in his second-straight preseason after not playing from 2012-16. Phillip Dorsett also looked great as he took on an expanded role in the first half, while Riley McCarron made a strong argument to make the roster as a slot receiver.
Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer had almost identical outings, both completing 66.7% of their passes for 109 and 102 yards, respectively, without any scores or interceptions.
Mike Gillislee and Jeremy Hill combined for 60 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Hill suffered an injury when he was horsecollared and it looked like a Panthers defender accidentally rolled up on his legs. Hopefully Hill is able to remain healthy and make the team.
The New England defense struggled in most scenarios. They failed to contain running backs in stretch zone plays and struggled to keep Cam Newton in the backfield. They couldn’t defend in man coverage and they couldn’t defend in zone.
The pass rush that dominated the Philadelphia Eagles in the second week of the preseason was nowhere to be seen against the Panthers.
Bill Belichick will have a lot of material to work with as he rips into the team over the next week.
Panthers tenth drive: Game over.
Patriots ninth drive: Brian Hoyer again showed much better zip on the ball than he was earlier in the half or in the preseason and had a nice rapport with Riley McCarron. As the clock wound down, the Patriots were unable to convert and turned the ball over on downs.
Panthers ninth drive: The Patriots forced a three-and-out!
Patriots eighth drive: Okay, real talk, Brian Hoyer threw some dimes that Riley McCarron was unable to pull down on this drive. Fortunately, Hoyer Flacco’d another first down by drawing a defensive pass interference call on a deep ball to Cordarrelle Patterson. A Panthers defender horsecollared Jeremy Hill who left the field with a concerning injury as his legs were rolled up on. Hopefully he’s okay. Mike Gillislee converted the next play into a touchdown and also pulled off a two-point conversion as the Patriots trail 25-14.
Panthers eighth drive: The Panthers converted two more third downs on this drive and reached the Patriots 42-yard line. Perhaps they were trying to set up a long field goal (59 yards at this point) because they ran the ball, but Eric Lee stuffed the ballcarrier for -3 yards to definitely push them out of field goal range as Carolina had to punt.
Patriots seventh drive: Brian Hoyer really heated up this drive with an 11-yard completion to Eric Decker and a 21-yard pass to Riley McCarron. Unfortunately for the Patriots, they were unable to sustain the drive and settled for a 52-yard field goal from Gostkowski and a 25-6 deficit.
Panthers seventh drive: The Panthers gained those 37 yards and scored on a 3rd-and-4 play, with Ryan Lewis giving up the ultimate 6-yard touchdown. The Panthers connected on the extra point for a 25-3 lead.
Patriots sixth drive: The Patriots gained -2 yards on their first two plays of this drive (THIS IS TERRIBLE FOOTBALL) before second-string fullback Henry Poggi fumbled the ball away to the Panthers on New England’s own 37-yard line. Please stop this game. It’s not fun for anyone.
Panthers sixth drive: Carolina gained 28 yards on their next drive, but 15 of them came on a roughing the passer call against Adam Butler. The Panthers settled for yet another field goal and an 18-3 lead.
Patriots fifth drive: Cyrus Jones returned the kick to start this drive. He seemed to lack much of the burst that made him a second-round pick and only made it to the 23-yard line. Brian Hoyer and the offense went three-and-out, with Mike Gillislee gaining 4 yards on 2 carries and Cordarrelle Patterson gaining five yards on his lone reception. Ryan Allen punted the ball, but the Panthers returned it for a whopping 30 yards.
Panthers fifth drive: Derek Rivers and Geneo Grissom started on the edge, while Jason McCourty and Keion Crossen started at cornerback in the second half. Adam Butler and Vincent Valentine were the starting defensive tackles. Elandon Roberts continued to play in the second half with Ja’Whaun Bentley calling the defensive plays. The Panthers drove down the field before quarterback Tyler Heinicke rolled out and dove for the pylon and a 15-3 lead.
Patriots fourth drive: Brian Hoyer and Eric Decker connected for what would have been an incredible deep pass, except it was a couple step out of bounds. That sums up the Patriots first drive of the second half that resulted in a punt.
The Patriots offense sputtered, while the defense showcased its bend-don’t-break mentality in the first half against the Panthers. After going three-and-out to start the game, Tom Brady and company settled down on their next two drives, both spanning 14 plays. Those long drives gained 111 yards for an uninspiring 3.96 yards per play and both ended in field goal attempts.
It was clear that the Patriots weren’t going to involve Rob Gronkowski as a receiver as Brady built his rapport with Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson, both of whom had good performances. Julian Edelman also had some strong moments, while Chris Hogan was mostly quiet.
Eric Decker didn’t play with the first team offense and is really struggling to keep up with the other veteran receivers. This might have been the first game that Mike Gillislee outplayed Jeremy Hill, although the Patriots running game was very bad.
On defense, the Patriots gave up three long drives to the Panthers, all ending in the red zone and with field goal attempts. There wasn’t any one player that appeared to be the weak link, with pretty much every single player responsible for a lapse in production that led to a big Panthers play.
Eric Rowe got the start at cornerback opposite of Stephon Gilmore, while Elandon Roberts held on to his starting job over Ja’Whaun Bentley. Keionta Davis and Deatrich Wise started at defensive end and should be the front-runners to be the top two pass rushers behind Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn.
Panthers fourth drive: The Panthers drove 59 yards down the field over the final two minutes of the half, thanks to 39 yards from Greg Olsen, and kicked a 23-yard field goal as time expired to take a 9-3 lead.
Patriots third drive: Julian Edelman had an up-and-down drive with two catches to open the drive where he looked like his vintage self, and then two other targets later in the drive where he dropped passes he should have definitely pulled down. The star of the drive was Phillip Dorsett who converted a first down on 4th-and-3 and chipped in another 8-yard grab. Will Tye couldn’t catch a deep shot by the goal line and then Stephen Gostkowski missed a 46-yard field goal attempt.
Panthers third drive: Ja’Whaun Bentley debuted in coverage of Greg Olsen and did a nice job of limiting the tight end to no yards after the catch and subsequently tackling Christian McCaffrey after a 2-yard gain on second down. Duron Harmon broke up a third down pass and the Patriots defense forced a quick three-and-out.
Patriots second drive: The Patriots marched down the field with a consistent stretch of productive plays, thanks to strong running by Jeremy Hill and Mike Gillislee, along with some nice receiving work by Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, and Cordarrelle Patterson. The Patriots reached the Panthers 4-yard line, but a dumb unnecessary roughness penalty by LaAdrian Waddle on second down moved the Patriots to the edge of the red zone. Tom Brady decided to throw to James Develin on third down (?!) instead of an arguably open Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots settled for a field goal attempt and a 6-3 deficit.
Panthers second drive: The Panthers picked on Stephon Gilmore on the second drive, with the Patriots cornerback allowing back-to-back 28-yard gains. The first was a beautiful back-shoulder throw from Cam Newton to Devin Funchess in the only place that Gilmore couldn’t get it, but the second was the result of Gilmore completely losing track of Curtis Samuel out of the slot. The Patriots held strong on third down and Kyle Van Noy forced Newton out of bounds as the Panthers settled for another field goal and a 6-0 lead.
Patriots offensive starters
Pats offense: Brady / Brown-Thuney-Andrews-Mason-Waddle / White / Hogan-Edelman-Dorsett / Gronk— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) August 25, 2018
Phillip Dorsett gets the start, which suggests that he’s the top receiver on the depth chart behind Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan and should get plenty of snaps over the first four weeks of the regular season.
The Patriots went an uneventful three-and-out with Trent Brown struggling with a cutblock on second down and giving up a pressure on third down.
Patriots kick return unit
KR unit: Patterson— Kevin Duffy (@KevinRDuffy) August 25, 2018
Jeremy Hill, James Develin
Bolden, Hogan, Richards, Flowers, Grissom, Grigsby, JC Jackson, King
Patriots defensive starters
Pats defense— Kevin Duffy (@KevinRDuffy) August 24, 2018
DL: Davis, Guy, Shelton, Wise
Roberts, Hightower, Van Noy
The New England Patriots defense had a poor opening series with some major breakdowns in zone coverage and a couple failures to protect the edge against the run, but there also a few really unlucky bounces that went in the favor of the Carolina Panthers.
First, they were unable to recover this fumble:
Cam Newton was down by contact, but I find it amusing that the Patriots weren't able to recover the "fumble." pic.twitter.com/XOjuXMmU67— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) August 24, 2018
And then the officials made a ticky-tacky defensive pass interference call against Devin McCourty when it was pretty clearly incidental contact and the football was a billion miles out of bounds.
The Panthers spent 10 minutes marching down to the 2-yard line and burned two of their timeouts, but a false start and a fantastic pass break-up by Stephon Gilmore forced the Panthers to settle for a field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Patriots kickoff unit
First-team kickoff for the Patriots: Bolden, Richards, King, Grigson, J. McCourty, M. Flowers, J. Jones, Crossen, Wiltz, Grissom.— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) August 24, 2018
The following list of players are not expected to play:
Not seeing: WR Braxton Berrios, WR Matthew Slater, RB Sony Michel, RB Rex Burkhead, CB Duke Dawson, S Nate Ebner, TE Jacob Hollister, LB Harvey Langi, OT Marcus Cannon, OT Isaiah Wynn, TE Ryan Izzo, DE Trey Flowers— Kevin Duffy (@KevinRDuffy) August 24, 2018
There are a lot of injuries on this list, but hopefully most will be available to play in the season opener (OT Isaiah Wynn the exception).
Keionta Davis and Eric Rowe are frontrunners for playing time at their positions, while Ja’Whaun Bentley is still behind Elandon Roberts:
Patriots defense in warmups: Davis-Guy-Shelton-Wise / Hightower-Roberts-Van Noy / Chung-McCourty / Gilmore-Rowe— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) August 24, 2018
It should also be noted that Keionta Davis and Deatrich Wise are playing since Trey Flowers won’t play, but those two join Flowers and Adrian Clayborn to form the likely top-4 at the position. Derek Rivers is probably the fifth on the depth chart.
Rob Gronkowski is playing tonight!
Gronk just bounded away from warmups into the tunnel. He's playing tonight.— Nora Princiotti (@NoraPrinciotti) August 24, 2018
Cross your fingers and toes for a healthy outing!
Look for Brady and the Patriots first team to play a substantial portion of the game as they are unlikely to play in the preseason finale against the New York Giants. A key takeaway from this game will be a better understanding of which players are actually projected to be with the Patriots top unit, so watch for rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley with the first team defense, along with whichever players line up with the starters on the defensive edge and opposite of Stephon Gilmore at cornerback.
The second half of this game is likely to be a final chance for some of the veterans to make their case for a roster spot, while the rookies and first year players will jockey for the right to play the bulk of the fourth game and a chance for the practice squad.
Use this as the open thread for conversation!
Date: Friday, August 24, 2018
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte NC
SB Nation Affiliates: Cat Scratch Reader
TV: Patriots Preseason Network, with Bob Socci (play-by-play), Scott Zolak (color commentary), and Rob Ninkovich (sideline analysis)
Local market: patriots.com/preseasonlive
United Kingdom: patriots.com/preseasonlive-uk
International viewers: NFL Game Pass