On Friday, August 28th, I was fortunate enough to be able to watch the New England Patriots take on the Carolina Panthers live at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.
I went to the game with my family and some of our close friends, and I realized very quickly that I was in hostile territory. As we were walking towards the field, a Panthers fan saw our Patriots jerseys and yelled at us, saying “you boys are at the wrong game.” I was a little confused at what he meant when he said that, but I knew he wasn’t saying it out of the goodness of his heart.
Bank of America Stadium.
We got past security and the ticket gates, took some pictures in front of the field, and then headed for our seats. We were seated six rows in away from the highest seats in the stadium; I thought I could feel my nose bleeding from the lack of oxygen at that altitude. Even though we didn’t have the best seats in the stadium, I couldn’t have been more eager to watch my favorite team take on the Panthers in person.
One thing that was different about watching the game in person versus watching it on television was that I got to see how the fans reacted to certain situations during the game. Actually, the first time I experienced the fans’ live reactions was before the game when the Patriots ran out of the locker room to take the field. As soon as the first Patriot stepped onto the field, the relatively small crowd of fans already in the stadium erupted with boos and shouts about deflated footballs.
I wore my Tom Brady jersey with pride as the boos grew louder and louder, but I knew that if the Pats lost I was going to hear it from the Panther faithful. And in the beginning, it didn’t look good for me.
The first half of the game moved slowly, and both teams played sloppily. However, it was the Patriots that were the first ones to make a costly mistake. Brady threw a pass intended for Aaron Dobson, but Charles Tillman made a highlight-reel play that was reviewed and ruled an interception. The Panthers were able to capitalize on the turnover and kick a field goal. Then, to the delight of the home team’s fans, Brady threw his second interception right before the first quarter ended.
The second quarter wasn’t much more exciting. The Panthers kicked another field goal with about 2:13 left in the first half. It didn’t look good for the Patriots at this point in the game. The offensive line was letting the Panthers’ defense get into the backfield a lot, so the running game was nonexistent and Brady had defenders in his face all day. Also, Cam Newton was finding a lot of open receivers through the air and he should have carved up the secondary. Luckily, his receivers couldn’t catch wide open passes.
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Finally, with his last drive of the first half, Brady looked like the Brady we saw last year. He went 6-for-7 during that drive and topped it off with a touchdown pass to Scott Chandler to take a 7-6 lead at the end of the first half.
As I waited in line during halftime for my soft pretzel to be made, Cam Newton was slowly driving the Panthers down the field. He showed great poise as he brought his team down to the two yard line and then threw an easy touchdown pass to Mike Tolbert.
After that touchdown, it was time for the backup quarterbacks to shine. At first, Derek Anderson was obliterating the Pats’ secondary. He went 4/5 with 49 yards and led his team to a field goal and a 16-7 lead, but he would not return to the game after that series.
Up until the fourth quarter started, I felt like Jimmy Garoppolo seemed nervous, and I was nervous every time he dropped back to throw the ball. However, once the fourth quarter started, Garoppolo struck quickly and fiercely.
His first pass of the final quarter was a 40 yard bomb to Aaron Dobson. Then, he followed that pass up with a nine yard touchdown pass to Dion Lewis. Joe Webb was the quarterback for the Panthers in the fourth quarter and he couldn’t get anything started when he got the ball back or for the rest of the game; he finished the game 0-for-6. On the other hand, once Garoppolo got the ball back, he was able to drive the offense 27 yards down the field to set up a 53 yard field goal for Stephen Gostowski.
Unfortunately during that drive, James Develin caught a 10 yard pass and was injured during the play. He was carted off the field, and it was reported later that night that he broke his right tibia and is expected to miss 6-8 weeks.
Dec 7, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; New England Patriots fullback James Develin (46) catches a pass before the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
The Panthers weren’t able to move the ball at all after the Pats took the lead. However, New England almost gave the ball back to the Panthers with some time left in the game until Garoppolo made a solid throw to get the first down and wrap up the game.
I hooted, hollered, and clapped as the two drunk Panthers fans in the row in front of us flipped off the jumbotron with a picture of Brady shaking hands on it.
As the stadium cleared out, we started walking to our car and I thought about the game as I heard a few street performers playing old music to a disappointed congregation of Panthers’ fans.
I realized four things about this years’ New England Patriots team: 1) the running game needs to be more consistent (some games the backs rush for four touchdowns, but Brady was the second leading rusher against the Panthers behind Blount who ran for 31 yards), 2) the secondary is not nearly as strong as it was last year with Revis and company, 3) I trust Jimmy Garoppolo to lead this team until Brady comes back, and I think with a little more experience and confidence he can take over Brady’s position when the time comes, and 4) the Patriots are probably the most hated team in the league thanks to DeflateGate and every team will be looking to dethrone them this year.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my years of watching the Patriots, it’s that they’ll always find a way to win. So bring it on NFL…New England has a title to defend.