The Patriots improved to 3-0 on Thursday night after a 10-3 win over the Panthers and there were certainly some interesting moments to take away from this one.
Here’s a quick rundown with some thoughts on the win:
1 ) New England’s defense put on another terrific show Thursday night, completely dominating the Panthers’ offense in the first half while the starters were out there. They held Carolina to just 29 net yards of total offense, including 0-for-5 on third down and made Cam Newton completely miserable, sacking him twice. They beat up Newton so badly that the quarterback actually had to leave the game and was later spotted leaving the stadium in a walking boot.
Looking at their overall body of work, they were simply tough from every area. They brought pressure from the edge, up the middle, they tackled well and already appear to be gelling as a group. It was fun to watch, especially when even the coaching staff even got into it. Following one play late in the first quarter when Adam Butler got a sack, Jerod Mayo was spotted getting all fired up on the sideline. If that’s a sign of things to come, 2019 should definitely be an interesting year.
Brandon King’s 1019 season ended abruptly Thursday night.
2 ) The injuries were a little concerning and it appears the Patriots might have dodged a bullet Thursday night. Following a bone-crushing sack on Newton, Kyle Van Noy remained down on the ground after the play, clutching his leg. Replays showed him twist his knee awkwardly on the play and he immediately came off the field and went into the medical tent.
The good news was, he came out and stayed on the sideline and even returned to the game. Given his importance to the defense, the Patriots were fortunate it wasn’t worse.
Unfortunately, another player wasn’t so lucky. Special teams standout Brandon King suffered a quad injury and ended up being carted off the field. It’s already been reported by multiple outlets that his season is over.
Overall, eight players were hurt in this one, with Van Noy, King, Damien Harris, Ben Watson, Gunner Olszewski, Nate Ebner, Lance Kendricks and Stephen Anderson each suffering injuries.
Kendricks got sandwiched after making a tough 11-yard reception between two defenders in the fourth quarter. He stayed down on the turf for a bit before walking off the field under his own power. He didn’t return.
The one to Watson was frustrating because his came after a 10-yard grab on third down where he dove for the ball, made the catch and then took a head shot on a late hit by Carolina’s Eric Reid, which left the tight end dazed. Watson walked gingerly off the field after the play and immediately went into the blue medical tent and didn’t return. Reports seem to indicate Reid may be fined for the hit, which many felt was a dirty play.
With one preseason game left to play, one can hope that the Patriots avoid any further injuries as Thursday night was, unfortunately, a little more costly than it needed to be.
Brady played well Thursday night.
3) Seeing Tom Brady on the field on Thursday night was great for all the fans at Gillette Stadium who were hoping to see him play, but it was a reminder that all is not yet right with the offense.
Brady finished the night 8-of-12 for 75-yards throwing the football but one of the glaring things that stood out was the fact that despite a terrific preseason, dynamic receiver Jakobi Meyers and Brady aren’t quite yet on the same page.
Between both quarterbacks, Meyers finished the night with 7 receptions and a team-high 74-yards, but was 0-for-3 when Brady looked his way. The play where it was most evident that these two still have some work ahead was a play where Meyers gave up on a deep ball down the field on 3rd down on the team’s first drive and Brady was clearly expecting something else after Meyers eventually looked back and the ball sailed past. Brady was obviously frustrated as he came off the field and things didn’t get much better.
On the next drive, Meyers was called for offensive holding on a 30-yard run by Sony Michel, which negated the play. That was followed up by a chop block penalty by Shaq Mason, which put them in 1st-and-28, ending that drive before it ever got started.
Brady went to Meyers again on a 2nd-and-10 on the next drive but couldn’t connect and that would be the last time he looked his way before Brady’s night ended. The play to Watson came next, with Reid’s penalty helping move the ball to midfield. An 18-yard pass to Ryan Izzo was the most memorable of the evening, with Brady firing a strike between defenders that Izzo snatched out of the air and immediately got down before the defender got there. That put the ball at Carolina’s 8-yard line, setting up the game’s only touchdown when James Develin later took it in from one-yard out.
Meyers looked like a different player with Stidham after catching 7 of his 9 targets, but with Brady, it’s clear that there’s still a long way to go. With a few weeks still ahead before the beginning of the season, hopefully, they’ll figure it out.
4) With the Patriots in need of finding a reliable return man, Greg Olszewski proved that he could potentially be the right person for the job after his performance Thursday night. Following a fair catch on his frist attempt, Olszewski returned 4 punts for 63-yards.
He looked pretty smooth and one of the more impressive returns for him came in the 3rd-quarter on a 28-yard return. On that play, Olszewski evaded the initial tacklers and then looked pretty fired up and went looking for contact as and lowered his shoulder on Panthers punter Michael Palardy, who was the last one who was able to run him down. Olszewski delivered a pretty good shot on the play, and it was a pretty good exclamation point for a night that to that point had gone pretty well.
Unfortunately, his evening later ended after he took a shot to the head following a 15-yard reception with 10-minutes left to play. He came off the field and went into the blue medical tent before later heading into the locker room. Meyers took over the punt returns after that.
Stidham has had a solid preseason.
5) Stidham’s evening was another fairly good one, with the rookie coming into the game midway through the second quarter in relief of Brady.
Like Brady, Stidham missed just four passes after finishing 15-of-19 for 134-yards but he had a huge blunder early in the second half. After putting together a good drive that took the offense down into Panthers territory, Stidham was forced out of the pocket on a 1st-and-10 from the Panthers’ 21-yard line. As Stidham scrambled, he was caught from behind and had the ball knocked out of his hands, with former Patriot Woodrow Hamilton recovering the football for Carolina.
As Stidham came off the field, Belichick had a talk with him on the sideline and it was obvious he wasn’t pleased with the turnover. Call that a teaching moment for the rookie, who from there, played pretty well.
He led the Patriots down the field on their next possession, which ended on a 43-yard miss by Gostkowski. That miscue was caused by punter Jake Bailey, who botched the hold and was later spoken to by coaches on the sideline about it.
Stidham took them back down again on the next drive, with back-to-back passes of 17-yards to Damoun Patterson and 11-yards to Lance Kendricks putting them in scoring territory at the Panthers’ 14-yard line. Gostkowski would later finish the drive with a 23-yard field goal.
Overall, Stidham has completed 43-of-62 of his throws for 506-yards and two touchdowns in three games, with a completion percentage of 69.4%. What caught most people by surprise was the fact he entered the game as early as he did, along with the fact that Brian Hoyer didn’t see any action.
It’s not like Hoyer hasn’t had a good preseason. He’s 18-of-22 with 2 touchdowns and one interception, with an 81.8% completion percentage. But it was obvious that Belichick and the coaching staff wanted a longer look at Stidham, who was fairly consistent again from start to finish, albeit he still has some work ahead.
Whether or not the Patriots plan on going with three quarterbacks remains to be seen, especially given the amount of depth they have in important areas and the lack of roster spots they’ll have to keep them. That could spell trouble for Hoyer, regardless of how his next outing turns out.
These situations are what make the preseason interesting and with one week left to play before final cutdowns, each of these storylines should be fun to see how they all unfold as the team continues building their 2019 roster.
The Patriots will take on the Giants next Thursday night at Gillette Stadium in their final preseason game of 2019.