So which is it?
Is preseason game three the game that gives the most accurate projection of the team’s fortune for the coming season? Does it mean little and is just another preseason game where the starters get a little extra work?
Last year the preseason meant little as the New England Patriots were destroyed by the Detroit Lions 40-9 as quarterback Tom Brady was harassed and chased around Ford Field by the Lions defense and the running game was non-existent. In 2012 the Patriots fell behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in preseason game three as the Buccaneers rode a pick-six to a 20-7 halftime lead against the Patriots’ starters.
In 2011 it was the Detroit Lions again bullying the Patriots offensive line and stuffing quarterback Tom Brady and the running game while slicing through the defense like a knife through butter on their way to a 27-10 halftime lead. Finally, in 2010 the St. Louis Rams and quarterback Sam Bradford carved up the New England defense jumping to a 20-14 halftime lead as their backup tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (why does that name sound familiar?) pulled in two touchdown passes in the first half as head coach Bill Belichick left Brady and the starters in the game through the fourth quarter.
Despite the cries of the decline of the New England Patriots dynasty following these poor performances in past preseasons the Patriots somehow found a way to win double-digit games, win the AFC east, and in the past three seasons reach the AFC Championship game while all of their competitors have fizzled. Last year the Lions were a disappointing 7-9; In 2012 Tampa Bay finished 7-9 and out of the playoff picture. In 2011 the Lions at least were a playoff team winning ten games and losing in the Wild Card round to the New Orleans Saints; In 2010 the Rams finished 7-9 but strangely enough that somehow tied for the most wins in NFC West that season.
In short, the third game of the preseason really does not tell much about a team’s fortune in the coming season. In fact, the glorified scrimmage still consists of offensive and defensive coordinators running vanilla schemes and evaluating the talent to ascertain if what has been seen on the practice fields carryover between the white lines. Heck, as Belichick often states after the first game of the regular season, that game tells little about a team and is hardly a measuring stick for the season. Just look at September 7, 2003 when Buffalo crushed New England 31-0 in the “Lawyer Milloy Bowl”. New England finished 14-2 and won the Super Bowl. Buffalo finished 6-10 and mercifully ended the Gregg Williams era.
Yes, the Patriots looked very good on both sides of the ball against Carolina on Friday night. However, the offense did only 41 yards on 15 plays over the first three drives of the first quarter. Two punts and a field goal are hardly a dominant start to any game. The running game averaged 2.5 yards per carry with just 40 yards on 16 attempts in the first half. Brandon LaFell had just 2 receptions on 5 targets in the first half. Even the only scoring drive of the first quarter was only extended due to one of the many defensive illegal use of hands to extend the drive to get close enough for a 47-yard field goal.
There were many positives to take from the third preseason game and New England’s 30-7 victory over the Carolina Panthers. The defensive front seven crushed the Panthers’ offensive line and held one of the most dominant running games in check. Chandler Jones looked like the pass rushing beast most fans hoped for when the team traded up in the first round in 2012. As dominant as he was in slowing the passing game, Jones was a destructive force against the run.
The Patriots looked very good Friday night at home against the Panthers. What was not answered is if this will carry over into week one against Miami. While it was a good sign having a strong third preseason game it does not mean much…just ask the Detroit Lions last year!