The second day of New England Patriots joint practices with the Carolina Panthers looked a lot like the first, with tensions high once again. The tipping point came on a full-speed kick coverage play.
Patriots wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson remained on the ground after absorbing a hard hit from Panthers defensive back Kenny Robinson — two players who already were ejected the previous day for their involvement in a fight. While Robinson’s hit appeared to be clean, the actions that followed very much were not.
The defender stood over the obviously injured Wilkerson, taunting him or celebrating the hit. New England’s sideline immediately took exception to that act, with special teams coordinator Cam Achord running onto the field to confront Robinson.
The kickoff drill was ended, with Wilkerson being carted off the field. On the very next play, a brawl erupted that spilled into the stands and ended with three players — including Patriots defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. — tossed from the session.
Afterwards, New England team captain Matthew Slater expressed his disappointment in the situation. He also was clearly not happy with the Panthers players’ conduct following the Wilkerson injury.
“Everybody that plays at this level understands when a guy is out; they know what that looks like. I don’t think that’s a time to celebrate. I really don’t,” Slater said. “I don’t have a problem with the hit. I didn’t see it but I think it was clean, from my understanding. But I don’t think you should ever celebrate when someone is down and clearly in a dire situation.
“I personally take issue with that. And I don’t want us doing it on the flip side of that if somebody else is down with clear signs or symptoms of significant injury. That was my issue with it, that’s why I responded the way that I did.”
Slater was one of the players confronting the Panthers after the Wilkerson injury, gesturing his disapproval rather than getting involved in any physical altercations. The veteran himself was not out for any fighting, but still wanted to draw the team’s attention to what he perceived to be an unsportsmanlike act.
“I ain’t fighting. I got four kids, my wife’s out here. What do I look like? I’m 36 years old. I’m not going to do this,” Slater said.
“But when you have a teammate, he’s hit, he’s down, there are clear symptoms of what has happened to him, we all know what they look like as football players, he’s demonstrating those symptoms, and then you have players celebrating that act, I take issue with that. And I don’t have a problem saying that that’s an issue. I don’t care if it’s in a game situation and certainly in a practice situation, that’s not OK.”
The Wilkerson injury and subsequent fight happened one day after several skirmishes between players on both sides. Tuesday’s practice, the first meeting between the two teams this week, saw five players getting ejected.
Wilkerson was one of them, as were teammates Kendrick Bourne and James Ferentz. All three were back in action on Wednesday.
The third-year wide receiver, however, was unable to finish practice and later treated off location for what appeared to be a head injury. The play that led to Wilkerson staying on the ground was not a problem for Slater, though.
“The block that happened, clean block, clean play,” he said. “Got no issue with that. Guy’s working, he’s trying to make their team, he’s trying to compete, he’s doing what he’s coached. We have no issue with it.
“But when you see a guy down the way that Kristian was down, and you see guys responding the way that certain guys were responding — I’ve been in this game a long time and that’s not how you do it.”
The Patriots and Panthers will next meet in both teams’ second preseason game on Friday night.