After securing victories in their first two preseason contests, the New England Patriots traveled down to Charlotte, North Carolina to take on the Panthers in game three of the 2018 preseason. Dating back to 2005, Carolina has taken three of four from New England. The Patriots’ struggles against Cam Newton and company continued on Friday night.
The Patriots kicked off to begin the game, and the Panthers wasted no time in jumping out to an early lead. Sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey (12 rush, 48 yards) was finding holes in the defense all night long, and paced the Carolina offense into the red zone. At the goal line, the Patriots defense did their best “bend don’t break” impression. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore made a great play to break up a pass on a short third and goal. Carolina was then charged with a false start to set up one of Graham Gano’s four field goals of the evening.
Tom Brady’s first drive of the game did not last long. The Panther defense forced a three and out after dropping James White just before the first down marker. Cam Newton (11-17, 142 yards) took the field and marched again, completing two consecutive throws for 56 total yards. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy made a nice play to chase down a scrambling Newton to force another field goal. Gano put the Panthers up 6-0 to end the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Brady (12-18, 102 yards) and the offense started to gel. Brady found Edelman, Dorsett, Patterson, and Hogan for completions to take New England into the red zone. LaAdrian Waddle drew an obvious personal foul on the doorstep of the endzone to quickly erase the momentum, however. The Patriots settled for a 27-yard field goal to make it 6-3.
Brady’s Circle of Trust
You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who benefitted more in the loss than Philip Dorsett. Tom Brady’s notorious “circle of trust” that has victimized countless receivers over the years has serious vacancy with Kenny Britt’s recent release and Edelman’s looming four-game suspension. Dorsett caught all four of his targets for 36 yards on Friday night, including a critical fourth down conversion in the second quarter. A target on fourth down in Tom Brady’s offense is telling enough. But a catch, and a nice one at that, will go a long way for Dorsett in trying to infiltrate the starting offense.
Stephen Gostkowski’s first miss of the preseason came on a 46-yard attempt in the second quarter. Carolina extended their lead after Gano converted on a 23-yard chip shot as the half expired.
Tom Brady’s night was finished after the first half, but Eric Decker’s night was just beginning. A recent addition to the volatile New England receiving corps, Decker did not see a single snap with Tom Brady under center. Hoyer aired it out for the new Patriot, but Decker clearly was not on the same page as he stopped far short of the intended throw. His woes continued with a false start later that series, and is clearly on the outside-looking-in of Brady’s circle of trust.
The Panthers added a touchdown and a field goal to cap off a quiet third quarter from the Patriots. Jason McCourty did his best impression of his brother and lined up at safety as a natural cornerback. After allowing a big gain across the middle, the former Brown and Titan responded with a nice tackle after a Panther back found the edge in the red zone. It was McCourty’s first ever time playing safety.
Down 25-3 in the final quarter, the Patriots finally added to their scoring on a Stephen Gostkowski 52-yard field goal.
The Patriots encountered a scare on their last possession of the contest. Jeremy Hill bounced a carry outside for a solid gain but was brought down with a vicious horsecollar tackle. New England’s promising new running back left the game with an apparent ankle injury after a defender fell directly on Hill’s ankle. He quickly returned to the sidelines and said it wasn’t anything serious after the game.
Mike Gillislee put a bow on the scoring with the Patriots’ only touchdown of the evening.
Gillislee and Hill had their flashes in this one, and the defense clearly still has room to improve. The offense’s performance on third down was strong, with both Brady and Hoyer converting multiple times in key spots. But the main takeaway from this one is the development of Tom Brady’s arsenal of receivers. Decker still has a long way to go, but both Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson (5 catches, 37 yards) showed promise as contributors once the season commences.
The Patriots will wrap up the preseason this Thursday at 7pm in a date with the beloved New York Giants.
-Ethan Roy is a Staff Writer and covers the New England Patriots for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. Follow him on Twitter @ethan_roy1