The New England Patriots played their third preseason game on Friday night against the Carolina Panthers in what is generally considered the dress rehearsal for the regular season and while the Patriots were still missing some key players on both offense and defense (Rob Gronkowski, Jerod Mayo), they put on a quite a show against a Panthers team that in all likelihood will be in the playoff hunt in the NFC. Bill Belichick’s starters played well into the third quarter in this game and numbers don’t lie, so let’s take a look at the stat sheet to see what stands out and what might foreshadow the Patriots regular season.
Strong Quarterback Play
If Tom Brady’s stat line is any indication of what we can expect in the regular season then we’re in for a fun ride. The future hall of famer went 17 for 21 with 204 yards and two touchdowns. Brady threw for an average of more than nine yards per completion, wasn’t sacked and had a quarterback rating of 138.9. It doesn’t get much better than that. The Patriots have to be excited not just about their quarterback’s strong play, but also about the performance of the offensive line.
But it wasn’t just Brady who excelled at calling signals on Friday night. Rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo also shined, completing nine of his twelve attempts for 105 yards and one score. While we’re not likely to see many of the Patriots starters on the field in the final preseason game, we might be watching a competition for the backup spot behind Brady. Garoppolo has outplayed Ryan Mallet to this point in the preseason, but the coaches may value Mallet’s greater experience with the offensive system. If Garoppolo shines again in the final preseason game, however, it will be hard to ignore him sitting behind Mallet on the depth chart.
Vereen, Edelman at Center of Offense
There’s been a lot of hype around rookie running back James White in training camp, but make no mistake about it: Shane Vereen will be the featured pass catching running back in the Patriots offense. The value White adds at this point is redundancy in the event Vereen goes down with an injury, which is a distinct possibility given his history. Vereen’s receiving line was very impressive with five catches on just five targets for 57 yards and two scores. The fact that Vereen caught every pass thrown his way is exactly why Tom Brady will keep feeding him the ball throughout the season. When Vereen is healthy, the Patriots offense clicks on another level so let’s all hope he’s able to stay on the field consistently this season.
The stat sheet also shows that not much has changed at the wide receiver position from last year. Julian Edelman is the number one receiver on this team and his line shows that. Edelman hauled in eight balls for 99 yards and, like Vereen, caught every ball thrown his way. If Edelman and Vereen are this consistent in the regular season, the Patriots other receivers will have a hard time getting their hands on the ball.
Chandler Jones Poised for a Big Season
Defensive end Chandler Jones seems to get better every year and we should expect big things from him in 2014. Jones was a thorn in Cam Newton’s side on Friday night sacking the Carolina quarterback twice and notching another tackle for a loss. Jones is becoming exactly the kind of disruptive force the Patriots need up front and stands to benefit from an improved secondary as well. The only worry the Patriots should have about Jones is when teams will start to double team him.
Stat of the Game
While the Patriots offense excelled, the stat line of the game goes to a special teams player. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski looked in midseason form hitting three field goals and three (long) extra points. But what was most impressive about Gostkowski’s night was the 60 yard field goal he nailed at the end of the first half. It will be interesting to see if that kick gives coach Bill Belichick more confidence in the regular season to rely on Gostkowski in long range situations. In the past, Belichick has been fairly conservative in that regard, so we’ll see if that calculus changes at all this season.
- Steve Beauharnais’ interception and 61 return yards will help cement his spot on the 53 man roster
- Brandon LaFell was targeted five times but only had two catches. Will that affect Brady’s confidence in him?
- Michael Buchanan had two QB hits as he tries to makes the case for a spot on the roster