After two joint practice sessions outside of Gillette Stadium, the New England Patriots defeated the Carolina Panthers 20-10 under the lights on Friday night.
Here’s a look at the preseason meeting before head coach Bill Belichick’s roster looks ahead to the NFL’s 80-man deadline and the end of August against the Los Vegas Raiders.
Mac installs across three drives
The 7 pm ET kickoff saw Carolina alternate between PJ Walker and Matt Corral at quarterback as Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold looked on. But New England took more of a “dress rehearsal” approach downtown.
Mac Jones missed three series after missing the first preseason game against the New York Giants. He completed 4 of 8 passes for 61 yards with no touchdowns or turnovers in his 2022 debut. A sack by Panthers linebacker Julian Stanford made the first drive three-and-out. An in-cut that sailed high and a jolt route that wasn’t on the same page led to a punt on the next set. Then a rainbow of a deep ball followed down the left sideline to wide receiver Nelson Agholor. He established a 7-3 lead.
Backup Brian Hoyer relieved the No. 10 with seven minutes remaining at halftime. By then, the play-action wrinkles and the outer area had been shown. Patriots offensive line coach and senior football adviser Matt Patricia took over the offensive duties of calling plays. That continued when Bailey Zappe entered the pack for the final stretch. Houston Baptist and Western Kentucky’s record went 16-for-25 for 173 yards and a late decision turned into an interception. Cornerback Tae Hayes returned it for a 50-yard touchdown.
2019 Patriots third round on track at swing tackle
With Isaiah Wynn still sidelined and Trent Brown out of uniform for New England’s starting offensive line, the depth of the bookend continued to take shape against Carolina.
Yodny Cdonde got the call up at left tackle after starting on the left side last week. The West Virginia product, who spent his initial NFL seasons on the non-football injured list and injured reserve, was penalized for a false start Friday. He is still on track to be the main forward. Justin Herron, who held that title last season, had two false starts in the preseason opener before becoming a recent absence from training camp. Mike Onwenu was given the nod in place of him on the right side.
Friday’s inside starters would be center and captain David Andrews, flanked by Cole Strange and James Ferentz. This last guard conceded a bullfight sack and was penalized for unnecessary roughness.
One game shy of averaging 2.9 yards per rush attempt, New England running backs took a subtle step forward Friday.
Damien Harris started as the safety man on the “12” staff and stayed on the field for the third down. He finished with three carries for 18 yards against Carolina. Rhamondre Stevenson headed in at the midpoint of the first quarter to grab a pair of handballs and his own chance on third down.
Waiting from there was Ty Montgomery, who recorded 18 scrimmage yards on five touches and came in for a goal-line touchdown to give the Patriots a 7-3 lead. In a backfield that no longer features retired all-decade pick James White, the hybrid receiver is projected to move the chains. However, JJ Taylor had a nail-biting blitz recovery in the second half, and the 5-foot-6, 185-pounder broke free for a 15-yard drive.
A Week 1 look at New England’s receiving room
Aside from Kristian Wilkerson, who went down in a kickoff drill during brawl-filled practices with the Panthers, the Patriots were without Kendrick Bourne. Still, the first wide receivers to take the field could be the ones who do so in September.
DeVante Parker and Jakobi Meyers each caught a pass for a combined 21 yards on a handful of targets. And the aforementioned Agholor converted on a third down to close out the first quarter before hitting a deep 45-yarder to open the second. That was the starting core with rookie ex-Baylor hotshot Tyquan Thornton then ruled out in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury.
The battle for a possible final spot in the room is fading behind them. Tre Nixon was the intended target on a pick-six and dropped a touchdown for which he had broken away from coverage. But Lil’Jordan Humphrey seems to be trending in the other direction. June’s signing via the New Orleans Saints had found the end zone as he doubled as a 6-foot-4, 225-pound punt gunner last week. He stretched to avoid a touchback this week and recorded five receptions for a team-high 71 yards in a growing ratio.
Cornerback Starting Combination
The league’s 85-man cut saw New England’s cornerback pool shrink as Malcolm Butler and Joejuan Williams landed on IR. And on Friday night, the question of who will start alongside new No. 1 Jalen Mills got closer to being answered.
Veteran nickel Jonathan Jones started on the edge against last year’s 16-game starter. In the second-down slot was Myles Bryant, who sparkled in Game 1 with his first punt return since high school and soon recovered more. The third-year pro also recovered a challenged fumble that was forced by safety Joshuah Bledsoe.
The next corner to step in for the Patriots would be the experienced Terrance Mitchell. He was flagged for pass interference on a pattern out before nearly causing a tackle. Shaun Wade, a trade acquisition last summer, joined him before intermission and opened the ball for a headed interception afterward. The 2020 Ohio State All-American is pushing for a spot on a depth chart also held by rookies Marcus Jones and Jack Jones. A lapse ensued when Wade collided with the first on a punt return.
Hidden defensive lineman in the end zone
From Northwest Missouri State to No. 200 overall, rookie Sam Roberts doesn’t look out of place.
After generating five quarterback pressures and six tackles against New York, Roberts’ leverage and explosiveness came with a 3-yard tackle for loss against Carolina. The defensive lineman then went down on a fumble in the end zone following a sack by undrafted rookie DaMarcus Mitchell of Purdue. A 10-point lead was the result in the final frame.
But a starting lineup of Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux and Christian Barmore served as a reminder of the numbers game to come.
Tight end time
Only one New England tight end took the field for more than pregame warmups in last week’s exhibition, as the experienced Matt Sokol logged 51 offensive snaps and 14 special teams snaps. He had company against Carolina that extended beyond starter Jonnu Smith.
Devin Asiasi showed up to collect a trio of passes in a trio of chances in two-minute mode before halftime. The 2020 third round ended with 32 yards. And coming Thursday, Jalen Wydermyer, who started camp as a rookie free agent with the Buffalo Bills, also suits up.
The main red zone target, Hunter Henry, did not make it after missing both joint workouts due to injury.
Jennings among those to carve a lead
Whether on the weak side or the strong side, Patriots linebacker Anfernee Jennings has moved to the right side. His role in the rotation could become a starter against three-time Pro Bowl red-sleeved Matthew Judon. He did it in white sleeves against the Panthers.
Friday marked 599 days since Jennings played his last snaps in the regular season.
The Crimson Tide alum recorded three tackles to go with a sack and a relentless chase in the final minutes. Fellow 2020 draft pick Josh Uche also rose to the occasion with his second sack in as many contests from the fringes. Sophomore Ronnie Perkins and veteran Deatrich Wise Jr. also hit the mark during a start that led to five in all for New England.