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Patriots vs. Panthers: Fan Notes from the preseason

Related: The Lane Breakdown: 10 takeaways from the Patriots’ preseason win over the Panthers

NFL: Carolina Panthers at New England Patriots Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

I remain of the staunch opinion that Friday Night football should only occur on the high school level. But when the New England Patriots play, I watch. That’s the rule.

Once again, this isn’t real football, so not too much to take away from this one. The good news is that we can glean a little more from this game, from a Patriots standpoint, than the last one.

  • It was good to see the starting offense out there... kind of. No Trent Brown and no Isaiah Wynn along the offensive line meant some struggles in pass protection and difficulty opening up running lanes.
  • That’s really where all eyes are going to be for the rest of the preseason and the first few weeks of the regular season, for me at least: on this offensive line. In years past, when the Patriots have struggled in generating adequate protection, they were able to compensate with a no-huddle/quick release passing attack with a lot of short outs to Julian Edelman or screens to the passing backs, run by the greatest quarterback of all time. Tommy B was better than anybody at diagnosing blitz schemes, calling out blocking assignments, making the necessary adjustments, and putting the offense in position to move the ball despite shaky protection. That’s a lot to ask of a second year player. I think it’s ultimately going to be fine, but I’d like to see the full unit get some reps next week against the Raiders.
  • After missing a few throws early on and settling in, Mac Jones looked pretty solid. I don’t want to say he may have gotten a little more mobile in the offseason — he may have just had a surge of adrenaline from running away from a slew of large men looking to take him out — but he exhibited some nice lateral movement and had a few throws on the run.
  • Speaking of lateral movements and throwing on the run: if you have yet to try the new Big Cheez-It Tostada at Taco Bell, good for you. Steer clear.
  • Everyone is expecting the deep ball to factor more into the offense this year, with Nelson Agholor getting a full year in the system and rookie Tyquan Thornton offering the speed factor, so it was great to see that 45-yard bomb to set up New England’s first score. I know that Thornton left with a shoulder injury, but I have a feeling that he’ll be fine for the season opener.
  • That said, everyone seems to be banging up their shoulders this month and getting sidelined. My guess is that since Tom Brady was on the injury report with a shoulder almost every week for about 20 years or so, Belichick is trying to get as many guys believably set up with that injury as possible.
  • A very interesting defensive rotation leads me to believe that either Bill Belichick has absolutely no idea what his starting lineup will be Day One or he’s giving a large number of players the opportunity to get some game tape on themselves to increase their chances of getting picked up elsewhere. Given that it’s late August, I’m inclined to believe the latter.
  • I mentioned I’ll be watching the offensive line closely. I’ll also be watching the linebackers. Ja’Whaun Bentley seems to be Green Dot Guy going forward this season, although when Dont’a Hightower comes back (it’s happening, guys, take it to the bank) I’ll be curious to know if Bentley will get dethroned. I hope not, honestly; love me some Hightower, but he’s 32 years old and you have to wonder how much more he has left in the tank.
  • It’s preseason, so I’m going to go ahead and make an absolutely ridiculous and nonsensical criticism of Mac Jones: I wish he didn’t run off the field on fourth down so quickly. I mean he gets sacked, gets up, and then just jogs on back to the sideline. I’d like to see him unsnap his helmet strap angrily while uttering some expletive or other; that way we can all write articles on his body language and how he’s losing the confidence of his teammates.
  • Ty Montgomery is an odd one, and I mean that in a good way. He looks nothing like a running back, doesn’t really move and cut like a running back, but got more carries than targets last night. There’s 100 percent a spot for him on the roster, and he’s listed officially as a receiver... but at this point I can legit see him lining up as a tight end on Jumbo packages as some kind of dummy outlet. Should be fun to watch.
  • Speaking of, if there has been a more interesting offseason from a back of the roster perspective, I can’t remember it. There are a lot of talented wide receivers, running backs, and DBs all fighting for very few roster spots, and at this stage I have no idea who is going to be on the outside looking in. Lil’Jordan Humphrey is making a solid case for sticking around, both as a depth receiver and special teamer who hands down had the play of the game last night. JJ Taylor keeps showing that he has value, but that backfield is already crowded as hell. It’s going to be a very interesting few weeks around here.
  • To that end, Tre Nixon didn’t do himself any favors last night. It was contested, but he really should have pulled in that TD grab, and I don’t see him really being the guy on kick returns. It’s likely going to be Nixon, Wilkerson, or Humphrey taking that final spot.
  • Perhaps the player I was most impressed with last night way Bailey Zappe — not so much in his overall performance, but how much better he looked from the jump this time around. That pick six is a ball he never should have thrown, but he showed much more poise, accuracy, understanding of his progressions, and decision making. Still a long way to go, but you’re looking for steady strides forward, and we for sure got that with Zappe.
  • Sam Roberts continues to impress. Gets a good jump, penetrates, stops guys in their tracks, eats up a lot of space, knocks balls loose, capitalizes on his chances.
  • If this were a regular season Fan Notes, there would be a dirty joke to accompany that last one. But it’s late on a Friday and I’m tired.
  • Back-to-back sacks, one of which resulting in a safety/strip sack for a TD, is a pretty good way to end a game, regardless of who is out there. This was a pretty solid game overall; provided the Thornton injury isn’t too serious (and I don’t think it is), there’s a lot of good tape on some key players, and the starting offense started to click just a little bit.
  • I have to wonder why they even bother keeping score during preseason games. Maybe they should treat it like my nephew’s T-ball league and just play for an allotted time period, and when the time period is up the game is over. I know the league does that more for the parents, as having to sit through a full six innings of children running around in circles and picking their nose would take 10 hours, but it’s still a good format.

Hopefully we’ll see a full half out of the starting unit, including the offensive line, next week against the Raiders. After that, it’s on to games that matter.