Patriots: Preseason game No. 2 against Carolina shows offense has a long way to go, but defense remains impressive

FOXBOROUGH – After any real football developments were overshadowed by multiple fights during joint practices earlier in the week, the Patriots and Panthers met one last time in a preseason matchup on Friday night at Gillette Stadium.

While it’s tough to get much out of the starting offense and defense playing minimal snaps, one thing is clear: there’s a long way to go for the offense, even with a 20-10 win.

Prior to the game, Cisco Brewers left a 4-pack of their new ‘New England Forever’ IPA’s for each member of the media in the press box, almost as if they knew drinks would be needed after this one. The good news is that the defense continues to impress, but the struggles the first team offense had against the Panthers’ second unit is still a cause for concern, and the backups weren’t much better.

“Well, it was good to see our guys go out there and compete tonight. I thought that they in all three areas put on a good effort,” said Bill Belichick. “Certainly there’s things we can do better and clean up, but I thought there was progress. We had a good week here, a couple good practice days against Carolina, and then some of the guys that didn’t get as many reps in practice got more reps tonight, so got a pretty good look at everybody. We’ll look at the film here and see how things went.

“You know, another step in the process, and we’ll just keep grinding it out here. Look forward to the week in Vegas, working with the Raiders and Josh [McDaniels] and the coaching staff out there. Just another opportunity for us to continue to build and evaluate our team. Feel like we had a good week here. Ready for another one.”

New England’s first two drives totaled six plays – both three-and-outs – with two positive runs totaling nine yards. Finally, on its third possession with Carolina leading 3-0, New England finally earned a first down with a short catch from Nelson Agholor on a third down play.

Ty Montgomery added a 5-yard third down pick up early in the second quarter on the same drive, and Mac finally had a big play with a 45-yard dime down the Patriots’ sideline to Agholor. Jones scrambled for six yards and dove forward on the next play, and moments later Montgomery punched in a 2-yard TD run. The drive totaled 10 plays, spanning 81 yards and 4:51. It was also Jones’ final series, wrapping up his night at 4-for-8 and 61 yards. He was also sacked once.

“It felt really good, I’m not going to lie,” Montgomery said of his first touchdown in Gillette Stadium, which was also his first TD in four years. “That’s my first touchdown – I don’t care if it’s preseason – since 2018, I’m just happy to be getting opportunities.”

“It was a little bit of a rocky start, but that’s kind of how it goes when you haven’t played for a little bit,” added Jones on the offensive struggles

Initially, Bailey Zappe looked better than he did when he first came out against the Giants, but regressed as the game went on. James Ferentz completely killed a good looking two-minute drill at the end of the half led by Zappe with a late hit, but the rookie connected with Lil’ Jordan Humphrey a few times to move the ball deep in Carolina territory.

Humphrey also made a fantastic diving play to down a punt inside the five late in the game and was probably the lone bright spot on offense Friday night. Eventually, that drive stalled with pre-snap penalties and ended with a ferocious sack by Carolina’s Brandon Smith. Tristan Vizcaino missed a 53-yard attempt to add to the offensive woes.

On his next opportunity, Zappe led another drive to midfield, but that also stalled when a 4th-and-1 run was stuffed. It didn’t get much better next time out as Zappe threw a horrific pick-six to Tae Hayes while rolling to his left. Hayes easily stepped in front of Tre Nixon and took it 50-yards to tie the game at 10-10 with less than two minutes left in the quarter.

Early in the fourth, Tre Nixon dropped a long touchdown and Josh Hammond dropped a deep ball on the same drive that would’ve made the offense’s night look better. Vizcaino booted a 51-yard field goal to put the Pats up 13-10 with 14:00 left, but it certainly didn’t erase the negativity surrounding the offense. To make matters worse, the team announced rookie speedster Tyquan Thornton had a shoulder injury late.

“At the end of the day it’s football, it’s the same game we’ve all been playing since we were little,” said Jones. “It was just good to get back out there. I know it’s a long season ahead, so it’s good to get your feet wet again and continue to grow from that.”

Defensively, playing against backups or not, it was hard not to like what we saw on Friday night, but you’ve got to think even they might start to get frustrated if the offense doesn’t improve. You can only do so much for so long.

Matt Judon, Josh Uche and Deatrich Wise both got off the edge and in the backfield with ease in the first quarter, Wise and Uche had early sacks too. Ja’Whaun Bentley (6 tackles) continues to look solid, Mack Wilson is absolutely going to be a factor, Myles Bryant recovered a fumble forced by Josh Bledsoe and even Shaun Wade – who has had a shaky camp – grabbed a third-quarter interception, although he did cause Marcus Jones to muff a punt by running directly into him a little while later. Anfernee Jennings has also been consistent throughout camp and added a late sack with Carolina backed up in its own end zone. DaMarcus Mitchell put the icing on the cake with a sack and forced fumble in the end zone in the final two minutes. Sam Roberts recovered for a TD and Vizcaino added the PAT for the 10-point margin. Brendan Schooler added one last interception just for good measure.

“That’s how we want to play, we want to play with a downhill mentality,” said Judon. “We want to be aggressive, we want to attack the line of scrimmage and knock it back.”

So, with another week of joint practices scheduled with old friend Josh McDaniels and his plethora of weapons this coming week in Las Vegas before the final preseason game next Friday, it’ll be interesting to see how this defense holds up all week against DaVante Adams, Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller. Offensively, I’m not sure what to expect at this point, but it’s got to be better than this when the team travels to Miami the second weekend of September.