By: Ian Logue/PatsFans.com
August 20, 2002

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SMITHFIELD, RI -- Friday night's game against the Carolina Panthers has suddenly become more than just another preseason game.

After two sub par performances from the Patriots first offense in their first two preseason games of 2002, the team will be looking to establish some consistency when they take the field against the Panthers on Friday night. So far the first unit hasn't been able to reach the endzone, settling for just two field goals in the first two exhibition games. The third preseason game is the one coaches typically spend the most time preparing for, and with a short week of preparation Belichick will have his work cut out for him. Fortunately he'll be doing it against a team his club handed a 38-6 loss which clinched them the AFC East title as well as a first round bye.

While the outcome won't carry quite that much significance, it will be the first real indication of whether or not the implication of some semblance of a game plan is going to make a difference. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis returned to the field on a full time basis last week, including handling the play-calling duties last Saturday against the Eagles. Now that he's had the opportunity to see first hand what he has to work with, the next step will be finding out if he can make the necessary adjustments.

Despite how much his team has struggled thus far, Belichick is fully aware his team needs to improve, but he's not ready to push the panic button just yet.

"We want to find the end zone every week," said Belichick during his press conference on Monday. "That's always something that is a goal for us offensively is to put points on the board and defensively to keep them off. So it won't be any different for us this week than it's been any other week."

"We have things that we need to work on all three areas of the game without a doubt."

The lack of a consistent offensive line certainly hasn't helped. Former starting right tackle Greg Robinson-Randall and guard Joe Andruzzi haven't been playing with the starting unit. Robinson-Randall came into camp out of shape and Andruzzi has been sidelined with a virus, so the cohesiveness that took three games to build last season is gone while Adrian Klemm and Kenyatta Jones attempt to break into the starting line-up. However Andruzzi returned to practice on Monday and if his iron man reputation that he built last season holds true, there's probably a good chance he'll be ready to go by the time kickoff rolls around on Friday.

If that's the case that's good news for runningback Antowain Smith who after a 4 carry 11-yard performance in the first preseason game, rebounded with a 34-yard 9-carry night (3.8 yards per carry) last Saturday. Andruzzi was a big part of New England's ground game last season, and Smith can only stand to benefit by having him back in the line-up.

But all eyes will be on quarterback Tom Brady who is coming off of a dismal performance where he tossed two interceptions, including one from the Philadelphia 11-yard line when he underthrew Donald Hayes on a fade pattern in the corner of the endzone. Brady will likely play into the third quarter, and when he leaves the field fans will hopefully have seen an appearance or two in the endzone. The addition of Hayes along with the stable of tight ends was supposed to help New England's production in the passing game. So far that hasn't happened.

Needless to say that's the reason why fans have found themselves frustrated with what they've seen so far, and that's the reason why expectations will be high on Friday night.

In fairness Brady had been without wide receiver Troy Brown who saw his first game action Saturday night, making 2 catches for 32-yards. While it had been rookie Deion Branch who stole the show in the Pats first game and got the start Saturday, Brown is the team's go to guy, and as he continues to get healthy he'll likely return to that same role. Now it will simply be a matter of execution, and that's an area the team will need to improve on after going 0-for-5 on third down in the first half last weekend.

"I think you deal with the things you can control," said Belichick on the team's recent miscues. "I think that's probably what you do at anytime whether it's preseason, regular season, or any other time of year."

"Just analyze it and take a look at it. There's some things you can control and things you can't control, there's no sense in losing a lot of sleep on those."

Hopefully fans will be sleeping better after Friday night.


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