The New England Patriots’ preseason record remains flawless: the team improves to 3-0 thanks to a 10-3 victory over the visiting Carolina Panthers, a game that saw the world champions’ starters see their first action since the Super Bowl. The first-unit offense looked good and scored the game’s only touchdown, but the starting defense was simply outstanding through its 30 minutes of action.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, however — here’s the recap:
LT: Isaiah Wynn
LG: Joe Thuney
C: David Andrews
RG: Shaq Mason
RT: Marcus Cannon
TE: Ryan Izzo
QB: Tom Brady
FB: James Develin
RB: Sony Michel
WR: Phillip Dorsett III
WR: Jakobi Meyers
DL: Lawrence Guy
DL: Michael Bennett
DE/OLB: Chase Winovich
LB: Dont’a Hightower
LB: Jamie Collins Sr.
DE/OLB: Kyle Van Noy
CB: Stephon Gilmore
CB: Jason McCourty
S Terrence Brooks
S: Duron Harmon
S: Devin McCourty
After winning the coin toss, electing to defer and having Stephen Gostkowski boot the opening kickoff through the end zone for a touchback, New England sent its starting defense onto the field — and the unit immediately showed its quality: after just three plays and six yards gained, the Panthers’ starting offense was off the field again. Unfortunately for the Patriots, the team’s offense did not fare much better and also went three-and-out.
The next drive came close to being a disaster for the team: while the defense forced another three-and-out, linebacker Kyle Van Noy stayed on the ground with an apparent knee injury after a sack on second down. He did walk off the field under his own power, though, and straight into the medical tent. He later rejoined his teammates on the sidelines, watching the Patriots offense end another drive with a Jake Bailey punt.
The next series was more of the same: New England’s defense, which welcomed back Van Noy for the last snap of the series, was again bringing constant pressure against Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. But even though the ensuing punt forced the home team to start its next possession at its own 15-yard line, some hard running by Sony Michel helped the team generate some momentum towards the end of the quarter.
New England’s promising drive continued into the second period. The team marched into the red area rather quickly, in part to a terrific pass from Tom Brady to tight end Ryan Izzo, in part because of some more tough running from Michel and Rex Burkhead. New England ultimately capped the 15-play drive that took 8:21 off the clock with a 1-yard touchdown run by fullback James Develin. [Patriots 7 : 0 Panthers]
The Panthers trotted out another quarterback for their next series, but the results remained the same: New England’s defense dominated up front and in the secondary, forcing another three-and-out and quick punt. This time, however, the Patriots did not send Brady and the starting offense out again but instead handed the reins to fourth-round rookie Jarrett Stidham. He started the game solidly, but the drive still stalled at the Carolina 34-yard line with an unsuccessful 4th and 1 run by Nick Brossette.
Carolina could not take advantage of the defensive stop, and again had to punt the football back to the Patriots after just three plays — the final of which a 9-yard sack by Michael Bennett. The ensuing punt saw another Patriot go down: Brandon King stayed on the ground after the play, and ultimately had to be carted off the field. The following Patriots possession did see some long gains but ultimately ended in a punt as time expired.
New England opened the second half up with the football, and again Jarrett Stidham came out to lead the offense. Most of the heavy lifting was actually done by fellow rookie Nick Brossette, but the quarterback still made the pivotal play on the drive: he tried to escape the pocket but was taken down from behind, fumbling the football, with Carolina recovering. The ensuing possession, however, again saw the Patriots defense force a Panthers punt.
Following a decent return by Gunner Olszewski, New England’s offense moved the ball well again but once more stalled on the Panthers’ side of the field: after back-to-back sacks, a field goal was attempted but Stephen Gostkowski’s kick sailed wide left after a bad hold from rookie Jake Bailey.
For the first time all night, the Panthers were then able to string together a solid series of plays on offense — although the team benefitted from a penalty by Patriots rookie Ken Webster as well as a 4th and 2 conversion along the way. Still, Carolina was still able to reach the red area and ultimately come away with its first points on a 41-yard field goal. [Patriots 7 : 3 Panthers]
New England responded with three points of its own on the very next series: Stidham and company drove 70 yards in ten plays, with Stephen Gostkowski’s second field goal attempt — this one from 23 yards out — being successful. Along the way, a healthy mix of running and passing was on display again. Unfortunately, two more players left the game with injury: Gunner Olszewski and Lance Kendricks both headed into the locker room and did not return. [Patriots 10 : 3 Panthers]
The game ended with the Patriots and Panthers exchanging punts — and New England registering its third win in as many exhibition contests this year.