Charlotte, N.C. – Forget Jimy Williams line-up changes. How about Bill Belichick starting Drew Bledsoe for the first series, inserting Tom Brady for the next four and then putting Bledsoe back in the game in the second quarter to finish the last four series of the first half. It was part of Belichick's plan to use as many players as possible early in the game against Carolina's best and overall, the Patriots looked impressive, beating up on the Panthers, 23-8.
Both Brady and Bledsoe looked good with Brady passing for 11 of 18 for 122 yards and a touchdown and Bledsoe completing 9 of 16 passes for 73 yards. Bledsoe had one pick, a ball that bounced off Troy Brown and into the hands of Panther Michael Rucker.
And again, the Patriots defense looked solid, with only a third quarter touchdown breaking its scoreless streak at six quarters. Bobby Hamilton, Richard Seymour and Matt Stevens had active games on that side of the ball.
New England's first touchdown of the preseason came on a drive that began at the end of the first quarter as Brady impressively moved his team from its own 20. David Patten, who was called on often early in the game (6 catches for 65 yards in the first half), snagged a nice 16-yard slant to put the Patriots up, 10-0 with the extra point.
The big plays in that drive were a Brady to Bert Emanuel hook-up for 14 yards on third and 8 and a Patten reverse for another 14 yards. The drive numbers: 10 plays, 80 yards, 4:46.
Second half scoring included a Vinatieri 37-yard field goal after Antwan Harris picked off Chris Weinke of Carolina to set up New England on the Panthers 27 yard line.
Another Weinke interception, this one by Leonard Myers, had New England on the Panthers 10. But after Damon Huard just missed Rod Rutledge in the end zone, Vinatieri kicked his third field goal of the game, a 23-yarder, for a 16-0 Patriots lead.
Carolina finally answered after that score with one of their own in the third quarter. Kato Serwanga fell prey to two Weinke to Steve Smith passes, one a 20-yard gain on third and 11, and then Chad Dukes broke through for a 35-yard run to put the Panthers down to the Patriots 3. Nick Goings snuck through on the next play for the touchdown. Carolina went for the 2-point conversion and was successful with Weinke hitting Jim Turner to cut the Patriots lead to 8.
A 7:08 drive put the Patriots up, 23-8. J.R. Redmond picked up 23 tough yards on 8 carries behind the third string offensive line, finally getting in on a 1-yard plunge. Damon Huard was calling signals at that point and had an 11-yard completion to Curtis Jackson during the 12-play drive that went 54 yards.
Those third string offensive linemen looked awful good when Walt Williams came into the game in the fourth quarter and proceeded to pick up 33 yards while Brady, back in the game for Huard, had time to throw 5 times for 62 yards. Ronny Daniels and Sean Morey caught passes for 22 and 23 yards respectively and the Patriots were on the Carolina 9-yard line when Brady began taking a knee to end the game.
New England notched the game's first score on a drive set up by a Ty Law interception. On the Panthers first possession, quarterback Jeff Lewis got some air under a pass and Law was able to take it to the New England 40.
After coming in to relieve Bledsoe for New England's second series, Brady was helped right off the bat by a nice Antowain Smith cut on an end run as he broke one off for 22 yards. Down at the Panthers 18-yard line, however, Brady was unable to move the team much closer and Adam Vinatieri booted a 33-yard field goal for a 3-0 New England lead. The field goal was the first of the preseason for Vinatieri as Owen Pochman handled the kicking duties in the game against the Giants.
It looked like Carolina might generate a score itself on their next try when Patriots safety Matt Stevens gave Jeff Lewis a shot to the head in the backfield. The penalty put Carolina on the Patriots 38 after which Chris Hetherington rambled for 16 yards to the 20. But two consecutive sacks, the first by Jace Sayler for a loss of 9 and the second by Stevens making up for his penalty, put the Panthers back to the 36 where they were forced to punt.
Notes: Richard Seymour showed some nice pressure and had two deflected passes … Patriots coaches and staff wore a "DR" on their sleeves in memory of Dick Rehbein … Ex-Patriot Chris Slade knocked down two Bledsoe passes … Antowain Smith had another strong showing running the ball in first half with 8 carries for 48 yards