Final, Panthers 25-14: That will do it for the New England Patriots’ third game of the 2018 preseason.
This was not the finest offensive display for New England, which managed just three points before halftime and didn’t find the end zone until the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
On defense, the Patriots’ starters struggled to contain Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey, but limited the Carolina Panthers to just three field goals in the first half.
Tom Brady and the first-team offense played the opening half before giving way to Brian Hoyer and the second-teamers. The backups likely will play the duration next Thursday as the Patriots close out the preseason against the New York Giants.
Fourth quarter, 2:51, Panthers 25-14: The Patriots found the end zone for the first time tonight but might have lost another running back.
Still in the game with less than four minutes remaining, Jeremy Hill appeared to suffer a lower leg injury as he was dragged down by an illegal horse collar tackle. Hill had ankle surgery over the offseason, so the location of this injury particularly is concerning.
Mike Gillislee scored from 2 yards out on the ensuing play, then added a two-point conversion.
Fourth quarter, 6:01, Panthers 25-6: Keion Crossen has bounced back nicely after his brutal showing against the Eagles last week. The rookie cornerback just broke up his second pass to help force a Panthers punt.
Fourth quarter, 11:06, Panthers 25-6: Eric Decker finally caught his first pass in a Patriots uniform. In fact, he caught two.
He was a yard short of the first-down marker on the second one, though, forcing the Patriots to settle for a 52-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal. After missing from 46 yards earlier, Gostkowski drilled this one to give New England its first points since the second quarter.
Decker’s two receptions totaled 12 yards.
Fourth quarter, 14:11, Panthers 25-3: The Panthers made the Patriots pay for Henry Poggi’s slip-up.
Garrett Gilbert found receiver Mose Frazier in the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown. Frazier beat Patriots cornerback Ryan Lewis on the play.
Third quarter, 1:58, Panthers 18-3: Henry Poggi’s slim chance of making the Patriots’ roster just got slimmer. The rookie fullback lost a fumble after hauling in a pass from Brian Hoyer.
Third quarter, 3:22, Panthers 18-3: A 30-yard punt return and a roughing the passer penalty on Adam Butler set the Panthers up for their fourth field goal of the night.
Third quarter, 9:09, Panthers 15-3: The Jason McCourty safety experiment continues.
McCourty, who switched positions late in the first half, allowed a 31-yard pass over the middle to Curtis Samuel, but also tackled running back Cameron Artis-Payne in the backfield to prevent a touchdown.
Carolina found the end zone anyway, though, with quarterback Taylor Heinicke scrambling in from 1-yard out. The Panthers’ two-point try was unsuccessful.
Cyrus Jones was the Patriots’ slot corner on that drive, with J.C. Jackson and Keion Crossen manning the outside.
New England went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, resulting in a Ryan Allen punt. Rookie punter Corey Bojorquez still has yet to appear in a game this preseason.
Third quarter, 13:01, Panthers 9-3: Tom Brady’s night is done.
Brian Hoyer entered the game to begin the second half, as did receiver Eric Decker, who did not play a single snap before halftime. Hoyer targeted Decker twice on the opening drive of the third quarter but couldn’t connect on either.
Decker also jumped offsides. It’s difficult to envision him making the Patriots’ roster at this point.
Cornerback Cyrus Jones returned the opening kickoff of the second half — his first game action since last August.
Halftime, Panthers 9-3: The field goal fest continued with Graham Gano booting a 23-yarder through as time expired in the first half.
Some interesting defensive tweaks on that final drive:
— Reserves Geneo Grissom and Trent Harris were in a defensive end. Both have made plays late in games this preseason.
— Eric Rowe moved into the slot, with Keion Crossen playing outside as the third cornerback.
— Cornerback Jason McCourty saw snaps at safety.
Second quarter, 1:49, Panthers 6-3: Stephen Gostkowski capped the Patriots’ second consecutive 14-play drive by pulling a 46-yard field goal wide right.
One of the biggest offensive standouts so far for the Patriots is Phillip Dorsett, who has four catches on four targets for 36 yards. That might not sound like much, but he didn’t catch more than three passes in any game last season and only caught more than one three times. He’ll need to step up for the Patriots once Julian Edelman begins his four-game suspension.
Dorsett, Edelman, Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson and Riley McCarron all have seen snaps at wide receiver in this first half. Eric Decker has remained glued to the sideline, though.
Second quarter, 7:05, Panthers 6-3: Tom Brady began to show some chemistry with several of his receivers on New England’s second possession, which resulted in a Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
Brady completed passes to Julian Edelman (9 yards), Phillip Dorsett (16 yards), Cordarrelle Patterson (10 yards) and Chris Hogan (10 yards), plus one to running back Brandon Bolden (6 yards) to guide the Patriots into the red zone.
Back-to-back-to-back tackles by superstar linebacker Luke Kuechly and an unnecessary roughness penalty on right tackle LaAdrian Waddle prevented the Patriots from scoring the night’s first touchdown. Bill Belichick pulled Waddle after his infraction and inserted Ulrick John.
New England followed that up by forcing a Carolina three-and-out, with Ja’Whaun Bentley making a nice play to stop Christian McCaffrey for a 2-yard gain and Duron Harmon breaking up a third-down pass.
Of note: Patterson has seen time as both a kick returner and a punt returner tonight. He didn’t play any special teams snaps in the first two preseason games, and he has little punt return experience.
First quarter, 0:50, Panthers 6-0: Carolina’s second drive produced another field goal.
Stephon Gilmore has struggled a bit tonight despite his earlier pass breakup, allowing two long receptions on this last Panthers possession. Eric Rowe continued his strong preseason with a goal-line PBU.
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy is having a nice night for New England. He’s up to five tackles after chasing down Cam Newton to prevent a first down.
First quarter, 3:46, Panthers 3-0: The Panthers’ first drive lasted nearly 10 minutes. The Patriots’ lasted 75 seconds.
New England went three-and-out on its opening possession, with Tom Brady completing short passes to Phillip Dorsett and James White and having one to Rob Gronkowski swatted down by Mario Addison.
Left tackle Trent Brown struggled on the drive, missing a cut block on Addison on the pass breakup and allowing a pressure on third down.
First quarter, 5:01, Panthers 3-0: Cam Newton gave Panthers fans quite the scare on the game’s opening drive.
Attempting to scramble for a first down, Newton dove and landed awkwardly on his neck, forcing him to leave the field and head to the sideline medical tent.
Newton missed just a few plays, however — former Patriots practice squadder Taylor Heinicke replaced him — before returning. Carolina’s drive ended up lasting 16 plays and spanning 77 yards, but stout red-zone defense forced the Panthers to settle for a field goal.
Lawrence Guy stopped Christian McCaffrey for no gain on first-and-goal from the 2, and Stephon Gilmore broke up a pass intended for D.J. Moore on third-and-goal to bring the field goal unit out.
Some other notes:
— Keionta Davis started at left defensive end for the Patriots for the second straight week. That’s a good sign for the 2017 undrafted free agent as he battles for a roster spot.
— Linebacker Elandon Roberts got the nod over preseason standout Ja’Whaun Bentley.
— Jonathan Jones is active for the first time this preseason. He was on the kickoff team to begin the game and later entered as the Patriots’ third cornerback. Eric Rowe and Gilmore were the starting corners.
— Safety Devin McCourty had a long discussion with an official during a timeout after being called for defensive pass interference on a third-down incompletion.
First quarter, 15:00, 0-0: The Patriots won the opening coin toss and chose to defer. It’s game time.
7:05 p.m.: Per reporters on the scene, the following Patriots players will not be in uniform tonight:
6:43 p.m.: It sounds like Braxton Berrios won’t be suiting up for the Patriots again tonight. He’s not among the players fielding punts and kickoffs during warmups, according to reporters on the scene in Charlotte.
Berrios, a rookie wide receiver whose best path to a roster spot was as a return man, also sat out last Thursday’s game with an undisclosed injury but was present at all four practices this week.
6:29 p.m.: It appears we will see Rob Gronkowski tonight.
That news is mildly surprising, considering Gronkowski rarely plays in preseason games. The tight end did play in two exhibition contests last summer as he worked his way back from a season-ending back injury, however, so this isn’t unprecedented.
How much will Gronkowski play? We’ll have to wait and see. The Patriots’ starters reportedly are expected to play into the second half.
4 p.m. ET: The New England Patriots will take the field tonight in Charlotte for their third of four preseason games. Their opponents: Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
While a rough sketch of the Patriots’ 53-man roster has begun to emerge over the past few weeks, several important spots remain up for grabs, including starting jobs at linebacker, cornerback, wide receiver and running back.
The list of Patriots players not expected to play in this one, according to ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss, includes running backs Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead, offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, linebacker Harvey Langi, safety Nate Ebner and tight ends Jacob Hollister and Ryan Izzo.
The lone surprise on that list is Hollister, who has been a full participant throughout the summer and is expected to take on a larger role in the Patriots’ passing game this season. The exact reason for Hollister’s absence is unclear, but his situation is not considered serious, according to multiple reports.
The absence of Hollister and Izzo should result in additional reps for tight ends Dwayne Allen and Will Tye, especially if Rob Gronkowski is held out for a third consecutive game.
The Patriots also will be without rookie offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn, who reportedly tore his Achilles last Thursday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Defensive end Trey Flowers and rookie cornerback Duke Dawson both were limited in practice this week, putting their status for tonight’s game into question. Flowers has yet to play in a game this preseason. Dawson played against the Washington Redskins but missed the Eagles contest.
After watching several of New England’s young corners struggle against Philadelphia, it will be interesting to see if Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones make their preseason debuts tonight. The former looks like favorite to be the Patriots’ top slot corner, while the latter could begin the season as the team’s punt returner. Both are coming off season-ending injuries.
As is customary in the third preseason game, the starters for both teams are expected to play into the second half. That includes Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who was sharp last week, completing 19 of 26 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions before exiting the game just before halftime.
Click the link below for more on the Patriots’ various roster battles, and be sure to follow along throughout the evening for full Patriots-Panthers coverage.
Thumbnail photo via Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports Images