Charlotte, NC – Once again, if it wasn't for two rookies lighting things up, Patriots fans would have been served just another boring preseason game.
Both the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots played lackluster football on offense Thursday night. Even the Patriots first offense, which short of racking up points had at least looked crisp and moved the ball in previous games, had nothing to offer a Carolina defense which is far from a force in the NFL.
That didn't bother rookies Michael Bishop and Sean Morey. Trailing 13-10 in the fourth quarter, the two entered the game and continued their exciting brand of football. This time they hooked up for 47 yards on a second-and-10 play from New England's 39. The completion brought the Patriots down to the Carolina 15. After a Harold Shaw 4-yard run, Bishop found tight end Henry Lusk in the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown and a 17-13 lead.
Not to be outdone, the Panthers staged their own brand of electricity in the final minutes of the game.
A Diallo Burks reception brought the Panthers down to the Patriots 1. From there, fourth-string quarterback Dameyune Craig kept the ball over the middle for the touchdown with 1:32 left in the game and a 20-17 Panther lead.
Then the real lightning struck in the form of field goals.
Starting at his own 22, Bishop brought the Patriots down to the Carolina 40 with plays that included runs for a total of 23 yards and a Morey reception for 15. With :09 still left on the clock and facing a fourth-and-seven, the Patriots rolled the dice and sent Adam Vinatieri on the field for a 58-yard attempt.
The ball barely edged its way over the crossbar for a 20-20 tie.
It wasn't over.
Following a squib-kick recovery, the Panthers had :01 to try a John Kasay 62-yard field goal. And, yes, it was good for a 23-20 Panthers win, ending the Patriots preseason record at 1-3.
The Panthers struck first, early in the second quarter, with a 10-play drive ending in a John Kasay 21-yard field goal. Carolina came as close as the Patriots 3-yard line before New England was finally able to stop a third down conversion.
New England answered at the end of the first half with a 28-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal. The scoring drive came as a result of a Kadar Hamilton interception of a Jeff Lewis pass. Lewis had come in in relief of Steve Beuerlein and saw his fourth pass go off the hands of Muhsin Muhammed and into the hands of Hamilton who took the return down to the Carolina 15.
After Vincent Brisby couldn't manage to get both feet down in the back of the end zone on a third-and-five Bledsoe pass from the 10-yard line, New England elected to go for the field goal.
The Patriots defense showed some resolve on the Panthers second drive of the game taking over after the Patriots had gone three and out on their first possession. Mixing pass and run effectively, Beuerlein brought Carolina from his own 45. The big play was a screen/outlet pass to running back Tim Biakabutuka for 25 yards.
After getting inside the Patriots 5-yard line, the New England's front seven got tough, stopping William Floyd on three consecutive run plays. Facing a fourth-and-one on the 1-yard line, Carolina chose to go for the touchdown with a pass play. Willie McGinest would have none of it, breaking in and sacking Beuerlein for a 5-yard loss and giving the Patriots offense the ball.
Carolina took the ball in on their first possession of the second half with an eight-play drive. Third-string running back Winslow Oliver carried much of the load as Carolina started on the New England 40 and ended with a Steve Bono to Iheanyi Uwaezuoke touchdown hook-up from nine yards out and a Carolina 10-3 lead.
Carolina upped their lead to 10 points when they stopped the Patriots subsequent drive on six plays and then went on their own 12-play drive that finished with a Kasay 30-yard field goal. It was a Willie Cohens sack of Bono on third-and-six from the 6-yard line that forced the three-pointer.
New England's first touchdown was due to the work of Lamont Warren, who carried six times during a 12-play, 70-yard drive. Warren scored from 1-yard out on a run straight up the middle. Through the air, it was Tony Simmons on the receiving end of three John Friesz passes for a total of 40 yards.
On the injury front, rookie middle linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer left the game in the first quarter with an ankle injury