One of the best parts about the preseason is that it’s really only the experience and not the final score that matters, which is good news for the Patriots after losing 25-14 down in Carolina Friday night.
Here’s a quick rundown of what we came away with from this game.
1) Deatrich Wise brought down a notch – After what had been a pretty impressive preseason to this point, Wise had a rough outing against a very physical Panthers offensive line Friday night.
Wise got pushed around quite a bit on Carolina’s opening drive, which saw the Panthers have a fair amount of success as Christian McCaffrey and Cam Newton combined for 53-yards on the ground during that series. A third down run late in that series by Newton saw Wise get pushed out of the play as Newton took off for an 11-yard run on a 3rd-and-9. but Panthers quarterback got upended by Jonathan Jones. Newton flipped in the air and landed on his head, which saw him leave the game and head to the medical tent to be evaluated. He eventually returned.
Fortunately New England’s defense eventually held Carolina to a field goal, but it was surprising to see Wise struggle after what had been an impressive preseason. He finished the night having played 25 snaps with two tackles, but the good news for Wise is since this one doesn’t count, it will hopefully be just a bad memory that he can simply chalk up to being nothing more than a learning experience.
2) An up and down night for Gilmore – Stephon Gilmore had a tough night Thursday night, with the veteran making some plays but also struggling at times during this one.
Gilmore came up with a big third down stop to force the incompletion from Newton to rookie receiver D.J. Moore, which was key as it killed the drive and forced Carolina to settle for a field goal. Unfortunately, the next series didn’t work out quite as well after Gilmore gave up back-to-back gains of 28-yards on the Panthers’ second offensive series. The first was just a great back shoulder throw by Newton to Devin Funchess that arrived before Gilmore turned around. However, the second was just a bad play that saw Gilmore get turned after Curtis Samuel cut inside and then broke out, with Gilmore having to chase him down. Looking back on that play, it didn’t help that the Patriots tried to get pressure after sending Patrick Chung on a blitz, but Chung was cut down in the backfield by running back Christian McCaffrey before he had a chance to disrupt the play.
Many will likely remember that Gilmore didn’t play well against the Panthers last season and that contest ended up being the turning point in his season, which saw him play well down the stretch. Fortunately, with this game happening during the preseason, maybe he’ll get started a little sooner in 2018.
Brady and the offense had a tough night. (USA TODAY Images)
3) Tough Night for Brady and the offense – Brady and the offense had an off night against the Panthers, with the quarterback not enjoying the same success he had last week. They scored just 3 points during the first half of play with Brady at the helm, with Carolina’s defense making things difficiult.
The opening series saw the offense go three-and-out, with Brady opting to try and hit Rob Gronkowski on a 2nd-and-4 play where both Gronkowski and Julian Edelman ran double outs but were both well covered. The pass was batted after left tackle Trent Brown fell down and defensive end, Mario Addison, got his hands on the football. It was a quick play, but Brady had James White uncovered to his right and just didn’t see him.
Brady would find himself under pressure on the next throw on 3rd down and somehow managed to fire a fairly good throw to White, but the running back was immediately cut down by speedy defensive back Donte Jackson just short of the first down marker.
The next drive saw the Patriots put together a 14-play, 67 yard drive that led to a 27-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. That drive was frustrating because the Patriots managed to get down to the Panthers’ 4-yard line but LaAdrian Waddle made a serious mental mistake when he allowed himself to get called for an unnecessary roughness penalty, moving the Patriots back 15-yards which essentially ruined what was a terrific scoring opportunity and forced New England to settle for a field goal.
Brady also put together another drive on New England’s next possession where they took over with 7:05 left in the half and marched from their own 28 down to the Panthers’ 28 as they chewed up over 5-minutes of the clock.
On that drive, Brady even managed to convert a 4th-and-3 at the Panthers’ 39 after Brady looked left but then turned back and fired a strike to Phillip Dorsett (see above).
But the drive stalled again on a 3rd-and-5 where Brady targeted tight end Will Tye up the right sideline, with Tye leaping up and nearly making the completion. Unfortunately, that would be Brady’s final pass of the night as Gostkowski would push the kick wide right on the 46-yard attempt.
Overall, Brady finished 12-of-18 for 102 yards on a night where it just came down to the fact he had limited options against a Panthers defense that simply played really played well while New England needed perfect play but saw mental mistakes cost them.
4) Edelman Looked Good – While Edelman won’t be out there for the first four weeks, he showed enough on Friday night to make fans believe he’ll be an impact player when he returns.
The veteran wideout looked solid against Carolina, making quick cuts and finishing the night as the team’s leading receiver on third down after being targeted three times with two receptions, both of which moved the chains.
Overall, he looked just as elusive and ran great routes, which is impressive for a player coming back from a serious ACL injury. It’s frustrating knowing they’ll have to make it through without him, but he appears to be fully recovered and hasn’t shown any drop off during what little time we’ve seen him.
5) Patriots Ground Game Struggled – The Patriots offensive line had a rough time against Carolina’s defense and as a result, the ground game suffered.
Mike Gillislee got the lion’s share of the snaps Friday night, carrying 10 times for 35-yards including a touchdown. But at one point things were pretty grim as Gillislee and Jeremy Hill had combined for more rushes for no gains or a loss than they had positive carries.
Tough night for the ground game so far. Patriots running backs have more carries for a loss or no gain than they have for positive yardage. pic.twitter.com/lJx7oCQXCu
— Ian Logue (@IanLogue) August 25, 2018
Carolina arguably has one of the better groups of linebackers in the league and they were just brutal Friday night, wreaking havoc and making things difficult on New England’s offensive line. As a result, there will likely be a lot to discuss when the team looks at the film after what was certainly a frustrating night.
6) Better Night for Hoyer – Hoyer’s final stat line may not show it, but he actually had a better night Friday night down in Carolina.
He finished 16-of-24 for 109 yards, but was actually 12-of-15 before the offense’s final possession of the game where he finished 4-of-9 after he started heaving it up to try and make plays.
Hoyer looked more under control and had more zip on his throws Friday night, leading the offense to 11 second half points to at least have them make it somewhat of a contest after the Panthers at one point mounted a 25-3 lead.
He’s gradually improved over the last couple of weeks after a dismal first outing, with Belichick opting to keep Danny Etling on the sideline for this week as Hoyer played the entire second half and finished the game. While there’s still reason to be concerned should he be forced into the starting line-up during the regular season, it’s good to at least see him making progress.
7) Nice outing for Elandon Roberts – Roberts had a good game Friday night, with the linebacker showing tremendous lateral speed and some good instincts.
He finished with three tackles, one of which came on a nice play where he made a terrific read and stopped C.J. Anderson short of the goal line on a 3rd-and-4 from the Panthers’ 4-yard line early in the 3rd quarter.
Unfortunately, Eric Lee was beat on the next play after he let quarterback Taylor Heinicke get around him and then couldn’t track him down as Heinicke ran it in on a bootleg to extend the Panthers’ lead to 15-3.
But still, it was a nice showing on a night where the defense faced a tough challenge and Roberts was one of the bright spots.
8) Time running out for McCourty – Any shot at seeing the McCourty brothers together on defense this season seems to be slipping away after Jason McCourty saw himself see time at safety after some less than stellar cornerback play this preseason.
He didn’t take the field until the second-half Friday night, but saw time at safety and along with Keion Crossen, was beat on a 31-yard strike from Heinicke to Chris Samuel early in the third quarter.
However, McCourty did make a nice play down on the goal line after he came up and made a tackle for a loss on a 2nd-and-3, meeting Cameron Artis-Payne near the sideline and dropping him behind the line of scrimmage.
But the fact he’s seeing time at safety is clearly Bill Belichick’s attempt to see if he can provide some depth in the secondary. That doesn’t bode well for a player many thought could become a solid starter at corner for the team this season.
9) Decker Continues to Struggle – It was another rough night for Eric Decker, who was targeted five times with just two receptions.
The veteran receiver has yet to see a target from Brady and he made a critical mistake on Friday night where he blew a first down opportunity for the offense after he negated what would have been a first down on a 3rd-and-7 after Hoyer hit Devin Lucien but Decker was called for a false start.
But he then didn’t help his cause on the next play when Hoyer went deep to him on a 3rd-and-12 and he failed to watch where his feet were on the play. Granted, Hoyer should have thrown it more inside but Decker had a shot to keep the ball in bounds but seemingly lost track of where he was. Catching it and finding a way to keep his feet in bounds could have been a nice moment for him, but unfortunately, it didn’t happen.
With the release of Kenny Britt, it seems like Decker’s chances to stick around appear to be there, but so far this preseason, it certainly hasn’t gone well. Between his drops and issues like what transpired again Friday night, there continues to be reasons to be concerned with his play.
10) Jones gets back into it – One bright spot for the Patriots was the play of Cyrus Jones, who saw some time returning kicks down in Carolina.
Jones finished the night with three kickoff returns for 38-yards and also fielded two punts, making a fair catch on one while returning another for one-yard. But the big thing was the fact he looked much more confident and comfortable back there and showed some pretty good burst each time he caught the ball, which is encouraging.
— Dave Brown (@ThatDaveBrown) August 25, 2018
Either way, not a bad night for a player who had a rough start and it would certainly be advantageous for the Patriots if Jones can contribute both in the return game and on defense for them this season.
11) Hill Seemingly Escapes Injury – A scary moment happened late in the game after running back Jeremy Hill seemingly suffered an injury with just over 3-minutes left in the contest.
Hill was yanked down with a horse collar tackle following a 6-yard run on a 2nd-and-2, where Sterling Bailey decided to pull him down despite the fact Hill was near the sideline.
The running back limped off the field and looked to be in serious discomfort, which was frustrating given that he’s worked hard and seemed poised for a roster spot and it’s never a good thing seeing a player like that get hurt at that point in the game.
Fortunately, he told reporters after the game that he’s “good” and didn’t appear to be limping in the locker room, which thankfully means he avoided serious injury.
At the end of the day, while the game goes down as a loss, it will hopefully be a wake up call for a group that had been riding high after two nice wins to open the preseason. They’ll now return home to prepare to close out the preseason next week against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.