The Patriots defeated the Carolina Panthers in their second preseason contest of the 2022 summer, 20-10, evening their record at 1-1 but more importantly stacking 60 more minutes of quality experience against a live opponent.
Both the Patriots' first-team offense and defense made limited appearances but each echoed their respective work throughout the summer, with the offense showing a single big play and little else, while the defense made life difficult for Panthers starter PJ Walker almost every time he dropped back with pressure and forced turnovers.
Yes, it's still just the preseason, but here are four takeaways from the contest as the team prepares to move on to the final week of the preseason.
A lone highlight for first-team offensive performance
Things looked pretty bleak after the offense started with back-to-back three-and-outs, especially because it was coming against mostly Panthers backups, but on the third drive, the Pats got things going with Mac Jones finding Nelson Agholor streaking down the sideline for a 45-yard gain. It was a perfect throw by Mac, and a glimpse of the connection he's shown all summer with Agholor. A few plays later, New England would take the lead with a touchdown run by Ty Montgomery.
That would put a cap on Mac's night, leaving with an unfortunately small sample size coming on just three drives, 16 total plays. With both starting tackles out it was smart not to push it in the quarterback's first starting action of the summer, but it never felt like the offense found any kind of rhythm. The one big play to Agholor was a great moment but it still can't overshadow the same kind of choppy performance that we've seen for much of the summer.
Jones finished 4-of-8 for 61 yards, taking one sack before Brian Hoyer entered the game in the second quarter.
Defense stays disruptive
The defense has been a disruptive nightmare for opposing offenses this summer and the starters carried this play into the game against Carolina. Right out of the gate, Deatrich Wise and Josh Uche picked up sacks, while Ja'Whaun Bentley was a tackling machine who also blew up a screen for a loss. Matthew Judon was right in the mix as was Christian Barmore, as the Patriots pass rushers were in PJ Walker's face early and often before the starters began coming out in the second quarter.
Even the backups continued making game-changing plays, with Josh Bledsoe forcing a second-quarter fumble which Myles Bryant recovered. It was a needed big play for Bledsoe, who is stuck among a loaded safety group. The second-year player has still seen his fair share of action throughout camp despite the veteran depth ahead of him.
Mack Wilson's speed continues to show up as well, with him deflecting a second-quarter pass that could've been intercepted. Though also playing with the second group, Wilson has a unique skillset that could help change the dynamics on defense.
Shaun Wade, a second-year cornerback moving up the depth chart after Malcolm Butler and Joejuan Williams ended up on IR, also grabbed an interception in the third quarter. Wade has an enormous opportunity with the cornerback depth reduced to nearly nothing and big plays like the interception will help him make his roster case.
Sam Roberts finished things off by recovering a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown then Brendan Schooler picked up an interception that sealed the win. The rookies showed some prowess for closing games out.
Zappe stacking experience
Mac got three drives and Hoyer got just one, leaving Bailey Zappe to once again take the majority of the reps and the rookie quarterback continues to make strides this summer, despite throwing a 50-yard pick-six. His situational work near the end of the first half showed good poise, as he was able to connect with Devin Asiasi for 19 yards, then Tre Nixon for another 11 yards before a personal foul on James Ferentz moved them backward 15 yards and stalled the drive out.
Coming out in the second half, Zappe continued his strong showing, finding Lil'Jordan Humphrey for gains of 20 and 26 yards through the air on the first drive, then adding another for 16 yards on the next drive. The rookie moments are still there, like when Zappe didn't recognize a free rusher that would come barrelling down on him or a sack or on the pick-six, but he also looks like he can make plenty of throws and already has some pocket presence.
The Patriots should hope to never have to throw Zappe into a game this season, but for the second year in a row, the team has found a promising young quarterback that can hold his own and sees the field well. He should likely expect a reduced workload against the Raiders, but he's certainly gotten his feet wet through two preseason games.
We're on to Vegas
It's shaping up to be a fascinating final week of the preseason with the Patriots headed to Las Vegas for a set of practices against Josh McDaniels' Raiders before the third and last game of August. Last week, the Pats made some of their biggest strides of the summer working with the Panthers and could certainly use more work along those lines.
With such limited work for the starting offense, something also influenced by injuries along the offensive line, it seems like the final Raiders game should provide extended work for the offense. This one against the Panthers still left much to be desired both on the ground and through the air, as the Patriots attack remains a work in progress.
Now, the Pats offense will look to finally get in gear against the architect of their former offense.