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NFL preseason Patriots vs Panthers: 6 observations from New England’s 10-3 victory in the third preseason game

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Related: Patriots vs Panthers game report: New England’s defense dominant in 10-3 win

Carolina Panthers v New England Patriots Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

The New England Patriots’ third preseason game is in the books; a 10-3 win over the visiting Carolina Panthers that saw the majority of the club’s starters see their first action this year. While Tom Brady and company played only a handful of series, there are plenty of talking points to discuss. We will do so in the upcoming days here at Pats Pulpit, but until then let’s dig into some quick-hit analysis of the Patriots’ first home game of the year.

Tom Brady and the starting offense play just three series

Game number three is usually the one in which starters see more action than at any other point during the preseason — and today was no different, even though the Patriots’ starting offense still played only three total series. The unit around quarterback Tom Brady was on the field for 24 plays but did make the most out of them. While there were penalties and other inconsistencies, the group was able to score the game’s lone touchdown.

Let’s take a look at the starting offense’s drive chart for the game:

Drive #1 (NE 19): 4 plays, 12 yards (penalty yards: -10), punt

Drive #2 (NE 46): 7 plays, 40 yards (penalty yards: -25), punt

Drive #3 (NE 15): 15 plays, 66 yards (penalty yards: +15), touchdown

Despite missing some serious receiving talent, Brady looked sharp as he completed 8 of 12 pass attempts for a combined 75 yards. There was some miscommunication with undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers, but other than that Brady and the passing offense were efficient if not always quite perfect. All in all, though, the unit moved the football well at times despite missing some serious receiving talent with Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Maurice Harris, Demaryius Thomas, Braxton Berrios and Matt LaCosse all not playing.

Of course, the running game also played a big reason in that. Speaking of which:

Sony Michel shows off some fresh legs

Sony Michel looked very good. The second-year man attacked the gaps hard, looked elusive in the open field, and generally seemed to be quite fresh in his first game since his offseason knee arthroscopy. While he did not get involved in the passing game — unlike his usage during training camp so far — he still saw plenty of action: Michel carried the football 10 times for 36 yards. His best run, however, was wiped out by penalty and would have added 30 more yards to his totals. Still, the 24-year-old played a very encouraging game.

New England’s defense lives up to the hype

The Patriots’ defense looked good so far in training camp, but today’s game showed that the hype surrounding the unit certainly seems to be justified: top-to-bottom, the group was stout today and never allowed the Panthers to get into any offensive rhythm. The starting offense in particular was outstanding as it surrendered only two first downs while also forcing the visitors to punt the football away five times.

New England’s defensive drive chart in that first half looks as follows:

Drive #1 (CAR 25): 3 plays, 6 yards, punt

Drive #2 (CAR 16): 3 plays, 8 yards, punt

Drive #3 (CAR 8): 5 plays, 15 yards, punt

Drive #4 (CAR 25): 3 plays, 9 yards, punt

Drive #5 (CAR 34): 3 plays, -9 yards, punt

Added together, we can see that New England’s defense surrendered just 29 yards before the second and third stringers took over after halftime. The top group registered three sacks, furthermore, with the backups also taking a Panthers’ quarterback down at one point. In general, the pressure up front was relentless at times — whether it was the linebackers, veteran Michael Bennett, or rookie Chase Winovich, the group got the job done and made life hard for Cam Newton and Carolina’s offense.

Injuries are the story of the game for the Patriots

While there were some minor injuries up to this point, the Patriots did not suffer any major ones — until today, it looks like: core special teamer Brandon King left the field on a cart after staying on the ground following a punt return. Hurting what appeared to be his knee, head coach Bill Belichick and numerous teammates joined him in a sign of support as he was heaved onto the vehicle and later transported off the field. King, unsurprisingly, did not return.

The 26-year-old, who signed a two-year contract extension just three months ago, was not the only player to leave the game with an injury: Kyle Van Noy, Nate Ebner and Stephen Anderson had to be attended by medical staff at one point with four other players leaving the contest as well but ultimately not returning: Benjamin Watson, Damien Harris, Gunner Olszewski and Lance Kendricks were also injured today.

For the players on the roster bubble such as Olszewski, Kendricks and Anderson, suffering injuries during preseason could seal their fate when it comes to actually making the team. That being said, at least one of them has reportedly received good news: Olszewski should be good to go during next week’s game, according to NESN’s Doug Kyed.

The second-stringers/young guys play a sloppy overall contest

While New England’s starting offense and defense had a strong performance, the team was unable to keep this up for sixty minutes and played a sloppy game in the later portions. The main issues were as follows:

  • Penalties: Overall, the Patriots were penalized 8 times for a loss of 80 total yards.
  • Missed field goal: Late in the third quarter, Stephen Gostkowski tried to add to New England’s lead with a 43-yard field goal. Rookie holder Jake Bailey put the football down incorrectly, however, which led to the veteran kicker hitting the laces and sending the ball wide left.
  • Sacks: Backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham was sacked five times, which is obviously an issue that needs to be addressed. While some of the sacks were the linemen’s fault, the rookie failing to recognize the defense or running out of time in the pocked also contributed to two of the takedowns.
  • Turnover: Stidham did not just get sacked five times, he also lost a fumble on one of the plays. Scrambling to his left, he was hit from behind and the ball came lose. Carolina recovered at its own 19-yard line.
  • Fourth down conversions: New England and Carolina both went for it on fourth down once. While the Patriots were stuffed on a rushing attempt from rookie Nick Brossette, their opponents were able to make the most out of their 4th and 2: the team completed a 27-yard pass to a running back Reggie Bonnafon to move the chains

Jarrett Stidham gets all of the backup quarterback snaps

With Tom Brady sitting out the first two games of preseason, Brian Hoyer was the starter both times. Today, however, he was not the first passer off the bench when Brady was pulled. Instead, Jarrett Stidham entered the field and he never looked back. While the fourth-round rookie had his ups and downs, Hoyer was not inserted into the lineup for even one snap. It was Stidham — who completed 15 of 19 passes for 134 yards with one fumble and five sacks — who guided the offense with Brady on the sidelines.

What does this mean moving forward? That is tough to say at this point. While the team could simply try to give the rookie as much chances as possible with Hoyer locked into his spot as the number two quarterback, maybe the Patriots are also considering going with Stidham as the lone backup behind Brady. However, it seems as if the first case is more likely at this point in time and with the rookie still having considerable room for growth.