A day of rest did little to extinguish the fire that burned between the Patriots and Panthers. After seeing multiple players on each side sent off the fields on the first day of joint practices, the teams suffered through another contentious morning that saw players from each side asked to leave once again on Wednesday.
The coaches reiterated to their teams the importance of maintaining discipline before practice but before long tempers once again flared, brought on by some physical play during a special teams period.
The ultimate spark came when Patriots receiver Kristian Wilkerson was knocked down, apparently from a clean hit during kickoff work. The problem, according to special teams captain Matthew Slater, came in the aftermath of the play as the Patriots took exception to the Panthers reaction.
"Football things are going to happen," Slater began. "Let me be clear: both teams were working hard and competing. But to see a guy down on the field, that's not the time to celebrate. It was a clean hit from my understanding. Personally I take issue with standing over a guy who is clearly in trouble. That was my issue with it."
It was difficult to see the hit in question as there were multiple bodies congested in one area. But Wilkerson wound up prone on the ground, clearly in need of medical attention. Panthers coach Matt Rhule said officials sent running back Chuba Hubbard off the field at the point because he was standing over Wilkerson, an act that upset the Patriots sideline.
Soon there were players from both teams on the field, and tempers were clearly running high, but cooler heads prevailed and the teams got back to work.
At least that's how it looked at the time.
At that point the teams moved toward the first 11-on-11 period of the morning, and on the Panthers first play – a Christian McCaffrey run toward the right sideline – all hell broke loose. McCaffrey was strung out to the boundary after a minimal gain, but the physicality didn't stop once the players were out of bounds. McCaffrey took exception to the extra polish and soon a pile of players were engaged in a huge scrum that ran all the way to the stands where spectators watched the action.
It took several minutes for order to be restored and Deatrich Wise was sent to the showers for the Patriots. The remainder of the practice featured a lot of jawing back and forth between the teams, but no more skirmishes.
"In a game situation we can't have the type of situations we had this week," Slater added. "We're not MMA fighters. That doesn't mean we're playing without passion; it just means we need to be playing under control. It was a clean block. It was a clean play. I have no issue with that. But I think we all saw that Kristian was in need of medical attention and that's not the time to celebrate."
Wilkerson was involved in an altercation that included Panthers safety Kenny Robinson on Tuesday and both were sent off the field. Robinson was involved in the play in question on Wednesday, and there was some thought that perhaps he was targeting Wilkerson but Slater and his teammates did not feel that was the case.
In any event, practice once again was slowed significantly as the coaches tried to keep their players under control. There were many instances after that where both sides were chirping after plays but fortunately the fighting was over at that point and the teams got their requisite work in.
Beyond the fighting, here are one man's observations from Day 14 of Patriots training camp, the final session open to the public this summer.
*The Patriots announced some transactions Tuesday night, placing cornerbacks Joejuan Williams (shoulder) and Malcolm Butler (hip) on injured reserve, thus ending their seasons. Both were banged up in the preseason opener against the Giants and were hoping to earn roles in the Patriots secondary this summer. Although neither was viewed as a lock to make the roster, losing a pair of veterans at the same position eats away at the depth a bit.
*In addition to the two corners being placed on IR, the Patriots released rookie punter Jake Julien.
*There were a couple of additions to the Patriots absentee list as Hunter Henry and Yasir Durant joined Bill Murray, Justin Herron, Isaiah Wynn and Andrew Stueber (NFI) on the sidelines. Henry left practice early on Tuesday and did not return so his absence wasn't a huge surprise.
*Former Patriots Dan Koppen and Tedy Bruschi were on hand for practice.
*Jalen Mills may have emerged as the Patriots best player in the two days of work against the Panthers. He routinely locked up with Carolina's talented wideout D.J. Moore and consistently held his own. Whether it was early one-on-one work, 7-on-7 or full team action, Mills was quite competitive with one of the best route-runners in the league.
"Anytime I'm lined up across from a guy like him I'm thinking the ball is coming my way," Mills said after practice. "That's my mindset in that kind of a situation. Just be ready and compete. That's what I tried to do."
Moore made a couple of catches during the afternoon but more often than not Mills either was there to prevent the connection or made life awfully difficult along the way.
*Mac Jones opened his first team period on fire with nice connections with Jonnu Smith on a deep drag route and a nice slot fade touchdown to Nelson Agholor as the teams worked from the red zone. From there, however, things weren't as smooth. Carolina upped its level of play all around and applied much more consistent pressure on the pocket and kept the passing game from getting into a rhythm. That first period ended with a couple of failed runs, a sack, and a short checkdown to Rhamondre Stevenson under heavy pressure.
*Jones had a couple of quality touchdowns to Jakobi Meyers in the ensuing 7-on-7 period, but even that saw some struggles in between. The Panthers coverage was much tighter than on Tuesday, causing Jones to hold the ball a couple of times and forcing incompletions toward DeVante Parker and Tyquan Thornton. Parker appeared to be held by Tae Hayes, drawing a flag from one of the officials.
*Jonathan Jones continues to work outside and had an up and down day. He showed terrific coverage with a great breakup against Stephen Sullivan but also gave up a touchdown to Moore when he couldn't get high enough to prevent the 6-0 receiver from making the catch.
*Bailey Zappe took most of the second-team reps after watching Brian Hoyer operate with the 2s on Tuesday. Zappe had some moments, particularly on an impressive seam route to Tre Nixon for a touchdown in 7-on-7s. Zappe wasn't as successful in 11-on-11 action as he wasn't able to find many open targets.
*Neither offense was particularly sharp in their two-minute chances at the end of practice. Sam Darnold was nearly picked by Mills to start his drive (officials ruled the corner out of bounds) before finding some rhythm with throws to Shi Smith and Moore to get the ball moving. He picked up a nice chunk with a dart over the middle to Sullivan before finishing the drive with a touchdown to Derek Wright, who caught Shaun Wade looking over the wrong shoulder.
*The Panthers pressure got Jones out of rhythm and made even the completions difficult. He found Nelson Agholor and Jakobi Meyers before being forced to throw it away twice due to the rush. Despite the struggles, the plays are scripted and eventually the ball was placed at the 9, where Jones hit Parker on a hook for a touchdown before finding Ty Montgomery off a sprint out to the right for another score from the 2. So both sides struggled to start but finished with touchdowns.
*Tristan Vizcaino handled the field goals for the Patriots toward the end of the practice and made 4 of 5 attempts including a 53-yarder to end it. His lone miss came when he hooked a 48-yarder.
*Matthew Judon and Panthers defensive end Brian Burns spent the final two-minute period chatting on the field behind the offense.
*In addition to Mills and Slater, Mac Jones, Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger, Agholor, Anfernee Jennings, Jonnu Smith, Rhamondre Stevenson and Hoyer were among those who spent time chatting with the media.
*Wednesday's practice with the Panthers was the Patriots final workout open to the public this summer. The teams will play in preseason Game 2 Friday night at Gillette Stadium (kickoff 7 p.m.) and the Patriots will then travel to Las Vegas on Sunday in preparation for joint practices and the preseason finale with the Raiders next week.