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Panthers 25, Patriots 14: 10 quick takeaways from third preseason game

Ryan Hannable
August 24, 2018 - 10:29 pm

CHARLOTTE — It should be on to the regular season for the majority of the Patriots starters as they fell to the Panthers 25-14 in the third preseason game Friday night.

Typically, the majority of the first-teamers do not play in the fourth preseason game.

Although the preseason isn't about wins and losses, Bill Belichick likely won't be pleased with the game overall as there were several areas that need cleaning up before Week 1 comes against the Texans. Despite the final, it's worth pointing out it was a 9-3 game at the half when the starters left the game.

Here are 10 quick observations.

1. Tom Brady and the first-team offense played the entire first half, but did not play at all in the second half. The 41-year-old was sharp as he went 12-for-18 passing with 102 yards. He looked comfortable in the pocket and was able to buy himself some time on a few plays to find an open receiver. It would seem like his preseason will come to an end after two games, but he looks ready for the regular season. As for Rob Gronkowski, he played just two series’ and didn’t have a catch on just one target.

2. At wide receiver, Phillip Dorsett stood out the most as he caught four passes on four targets for 36 yards. He could see a number of targets the first four weeks with Julian Edelman out of the picture. In addition to running routes on the outside, he made some plays over the middle of the field as well. Cordarrelle Patterson also showed what he can do when he gets the ball in his hands in open space with a few nice runs after the catch. It wasn’t all positive for Patterson as he ran the wrong route on one play, but Brady offered him a lot of encouragement in the huddle afterwards.

3. When it comes to the last spot on the roster at the receiver position, it is still hard to say. Based on snaps, it would appear Riley McCarron is ahead of Eric Decker on the depth chart since he played in the first half and Decker did not. There is still time for Decker to make the team, but it still seems like he’s struggling to pick up the offense. On his first series in the second half he saw a ball thrown over his head (not catchable), but he had no idea it was even thrown, and then he had a false start. New England could almost be better off taking a shot at a player not on the roster either via trade or on the waiver wire. 

4. Defensively, the first unit was similar to what we’ve seen in the past. It gave up a lot of yards, but held strong in the red zone. A prime example of that came on the opening drive of the game when the Panthers had the ball for just under 10 minutes, but could only get a field goal out of it. It allowed only three field goals in the first half, which was the end of the night for the majority of the starters.

5. The Patriots rotated a number of players at cornerback in the opening half with Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe starting, and then Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones and Keion Crossen coming in at various points. Cyrus Jones did not play at all in the first half, but did in the second half. It still seems like there’s a lot to be decided at this position and could come down to how many players are taken at other positions. It’s worth noting Rowe did see some time in the slot when McCourty and Crossen subbed in. J.C. Jackson and Ryan Lewis saw time in the second half. Of the young corners, Crossen is the most likely to make the team right now.

6. A development with the defense is Jason McCourty seeing time at safety. He played safety on the final drive of the first half and then again in the second half. This could be as a way to get him on to the roster and be able to get away with having one less safety. Not the best sign for Jordan Richards or Eddie Pleasant. 

7. There were a few concerns, as the tackling wasn't as good as against the Eagles last week and then the run blocking was poor as neither Jeremy Hill or Mike Gillislee could get anything going on the ground. The second unit on defense didn't show well as the second and third-team offense for Carolina was able to move the ball with ease in the second half. Hill did suffer what looked like an ankle injury late in the game, but was joking with teammates on the sideline afterwards.

8. Rookie linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley continued to show up not only on the stat sheet, but leading the defense. He was the signal-caller in the second half. Although Elandon Roberts played over him in the first half, having the red dot is a significant development as it shows the coaches feel he's comfortable enough with the defense to serve as the leader. His role could increase as the year goes on. Marquis Flowers may be in danger of making the team as he did not see any team with the starters and only played well into the fourth quarter.

9. When it came to return duties, Patterson saw the first rep both as a kick returner and punt returner. Returning kicks isn’t a surprise, but returning punts was. He hasn’t had any known reps as a punt returner in practice and only has one in a game over the course of his career. McCarron was the up-man on the first punt. Cyrus Jones returned both punts and kicks in the second half without any issues. The punter's job appears to be Ryan Allen's as undrafted rookie Corey Bojorquez still has yet to play in a game.

10. Injuries are starting to become a concern for a few veterans. Matthew Slater hasn’t been on the field in about a month and if it is a hamstring injury, that could be bad news since he never really recovered from the one he suffered last year. Trey Flowers and Rex Burkhead are two other players to watch, as they haven’t been full participants in practice lately or played in any of the games. Sony Michel hasn’t even been out on the field for walkthroughs, so at this point he could even be considered as a player to be placed on injured reserve with the chance to return to open the year.

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