In many ways, Brandon Bolden is one of the prototypical kinds of Patriots from the last two decades. After going undrafted, Bolden made the Patriots in 2012 and, like many rookie free agents, secured his spot by showing an ability to play special teams, but over the years Bolden has emerged as a football swiss army knife, one who is ready, willing and able to fill any need that might arise.
"Brandon's one of my favorite guys that I've had a chance to coach," said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels earlier this week. "You talk about unselfish teammates that are always prepared and ready to go, that kind of defines Brandon. He obviously plays an incredibly important role for us in the kicking game in all four phases. He's out there on every special teams snap... covering, tackling, blocking, protecting the punter. You name it, he does it. He's returned kickoffs for us before, he's blocked punts. And now here he is, you need him to come in and fill a critical role for your team in terms of blocking blitzes, and helping protect on the edge or catching the ball out of the backfield or being handed the ball on some critical plays. He's always up to the challenge."
When James White was lost for the season with a hip injury, Bolden was thrust into the role that McDaniels mentioned, the third-down back that is tasked with a variety of critical tasks on the most important down in football. With 20 catches for 162 yards, Bolden is already knocking on the door of his career highs in the passing game and he should continue to be a key piece for the offense going forward.
After opting out of 2020, Bolden has not only picked up where he left off but he's become one of the most important players on offense.
"It's been good getting back into the swing of things and showing the young guys how Patriots football can be played," said Bolden on Thursday afternoon, who credited his three kids for keeping him on his toes while he wasn't playing football last season.
"He's a great example of what this team is about," said McDaniels. "You're on the team not just to do one thing and the more things you can do well the more ways you can help the team. I'm quite certain if Bill said 'Brandon we need you to play on defense this week' he wouldn't even blink, he would just say 'okay, tell me what I've got to do and I'll try to do the best I can at it.'
"[He's] just a joy to have in the room and I'm not surprised he's been able to fill in and give us a lot of productive plays in those situations and we'll certainly be counting on him moving forward."
This weekend, Bolden sees a Carolina Panthers defense that plays fast and aggressive, calling them one of the fastest defenses in the league.
"It's going to come down to execution, it's going to come down to finishing," said Bolden of the coming matchup. "It's going to come down to us actually doing what we need to do each and every play."
Patriots.com's Mike Dussault shares his players to watch ahead of the Patriots Week 9 matchup against the Carolina Panthers.
Five Points of Emphasis vs. Panthers
- Gotta Finish: After a red zone explosion at home against the Jets, the Patriots converted just one red zone trip into a touchdown against the Chargers. For much of the season, finishing inside the 20-yard-line has been a challenge for the incubating Patriots offense, but against one of the toughest defenses they'll face this season in Carolina, it's one of the biggest keys to the game. On the road, things have been particularly difficult for New England, as they rank 31st in the league. Josh McDaniels might have to reach into his bag of tricks as the Patriots close in on the end zone.
- Steal Some Points: This feeds into the red zone focus, but this is a week where the Patriots could need to get some unconventional points, whether it's another pick-six like they got last week or breaking Gunner Olszewski free on a punt return. Whatever the method, putting P.J. Walker and the battered Carolina offense against the wall, forcing them to chase throughout the game by putting the ball in the air. Points will be at a premium and if the red zone struggles strike again, finding another way to get into the end zone will be a major boost.
- Less of Moore: The biggest piece of the Panthers offense at this point is receiver D.J. Moore, who is by far their most potent weapon until Christian McCaffrey gets fully back up to speed. With J.C. Jackson battling an illness this week, it could be even more of a group effort from the secondary as they try to slow down Moore. By forcing Walker to look elsewhere, the Patriots defense will give themselves a leg up.
- Find the Gilly Lock: Matt Rhile says he expects Stephon Gilmore to once again be limited to just third downs, but that will still be enough reps for Gilmore to adversely affect the Patriots' offensive gameplan. It will be imperative for Mac Jones to identify where the lockdown corner is every time he is on the field and avoid making bad decisions in his direction. A good bet is that he'll be lined up on Jakobi Meyers, who has 13 catches on 23 third-down targets for 11 first downs, leading the Patriots by far.
- Win: The Pats are rolling on a two-game win streak and now have a chance for a winning record for the first time since going 2-1 through the first three weeks of the 2020 season. Carolina's defense will provide a difficult test for a Patriots offense that had their struggles in Los Angeles last week. But it's Carolina's banged-up offense that provides the most reason for optimism. The New England defense must make sure that a backup doesn't give them the same kind of trouble that Davis Mills and Houston gave them in Week 4.
Practice & Injury Report
J.C. Jackson returned for the final practice of the week, a good sign for his potential availability this weekend after missing the first two sessions with an illness. Jackson was removed from the final injury report, though Jake Bailey and N'Keal Harry were both additions on the final day and are among the 13 questionable Patriots. Bailey, who handles kickoffs, punts and field goal holding responsibilities will be one to monitor when inactives are announced, his injury could necessitate a late roster addition.
For the Panthers, Sam Darnold was listed as questionable but remains in concussion protocol while also dealing with a shoulder injury. Christian McCaffrey's status remains unknown as well, as he has not officially been activated from IR and is not yet listed on the injury report.
Quotes of Note
Bill Belichick on Christian McCaffrey:
"Christian is a very explosive guy. Anytime he touches the ball, it's a potential touchdown. He's an excellent receiver. He's very good, obviously, on any type of catch-and-run plays. He can get vertical on the defense, coming out of the backfield or empty formations. He's really just a threat to go all the way on any play; inside runs, outside runs, passes, screen passes, you name it. He's a hard guy to tackle. He's very explosive. He gets vertical very quickly, and he can outrun most every other player on the field. Definitely a guy we're going to have to keep close tabs on. You don't want him to get the ball in space, or he's going to gain a whole bunch of yards."
Joejuan Williams on being a fan of Jalen Mills while in high school:
"J-Mills is like a big brother to me. It's funny because when I was in high school I was planning on going to LSU watching [him] play. I just loved his energy I loved how he played so it just all came together. It's very cool how things work out."
Jalen Mills on the Panthers offensive weaponry:
"When you talk about the receiving corps you can start with Robbie Anderson. He's a guy that has been doing it for a long time, super fast guy, can take the top off the defense. Then you got DJ [Moore], a guy who gets yards after the catch. I think the biggest thing for us with him is get him to the ground when they do try to get the ball into his hands, that's when he's at his best, when he has the football in his hands in space."