The Patriots won for the second straight summer week with Friday night's 17-16 comeback over the Panthers in Carolina.
Once again the first offense – one still very much lacking in terms of its personnel due to health issues – led by Tom Brady struggled to move the ball for much of the first half. In fact the unit's only third-down conversion came on a Brady run, while the Super Bowl MVP threw a pair of interceptions.
While the offense was struggling, though, the New England defense was making key plays to keep Cam Newton and Co. in check. The unit got a boost from the summer debuts for Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower and forced the Panthers to turn the ball over on downs on the opening drive. That was followed by the group forcing three punts and holding Carolina to a pair of field goals.
That allowed Brady to finally get something going with a 75-yard drive in two-minute mode late in the first half to an 18-yard touchdown throw to Scott Chandler that sent the team's to the locker room with the visitors holding a 7-6 advantage.
The Panthers would take a 16-7 lead in the second half before Jimmy Garoppolo got things going a bit for himself with two fourth-quarter scoring drives, first a 9-yard touchdown throw to Dion Lewis and then a short march to what ended up being a 53-yard Stephen Gostkowski game-winning field goal.
It was another victory. Everyone will agree that cleaning up errors and mistakes is more enjoyable coming off of a win, even in the preseason.
But, there will be plenty for Bill Belichick to hammer home to his team now that it has only the somewhat meaningless final preseason game and a pair of roster cuts standing between it and the regular season opener against the Steelers.
"We've got a lot of work to do," Belichick said. "The clock is ticking but we'll keep on grinding here."
What was good enough to win on this night in Carolina won't likely be good enough to win come September.
Beyond the overall tone of the game, here's a look at the some of the better and worse individual performances in the "dress rehearsal" third preseason affair.
Jerod Mayo – Mayo's August debut was very impressive. He played a key role in third- and fourth-down stops to force the Panthers to turn the ball over on downs on Carolina's opening drive, stuffing Jonathan Stewart twice. Mayo has been a beast on the practice field and brought that to game field in Carolina. He looks ready to return to his key role in the middle, as both a leader and a tackle machine.
Dion Lewis – The potential third-down or passing back had another very impressive performance. He showed burst on his runs, with 12 yards on three carries including an 8-yard scamper. He also had a team-high four catches on four targets for 20 yards, including a nice, easy 9-yard touchdown in which he lined up wide and ran a slant. Lewis added a 30-yard kickoff return as he built on his debut a week earlier. The veteran newcomer is making a strong run at the roster and a role on the offense, especially on a night when James White did not play.
Ryan Allen – The veteran punter got plenty of early chances with the offense struggling and was good. He averaged 47.6 yards on five punts with a 40-yard net and two downed inside the 20. Allen also had a very nice hold on a low snap for Gostkowski's game-winning kick.
Tarell Brown – Looking like the odds-on favorite for a key job in the new-look back end, Brown got the start at right cornerback and had a couple really nice pass breakups early. Brown continues to work back from a foot injury, but he saw his most extensive playing time against Carolina's offense, one that's admittedly lacking at the receive position, and showed up well.
Scott Chandler – The veteran first-year Patriots tight end made his debut and made plays. Beyond his pretty 18-yard touchdown catch from Brady at the end of the first half, the big tight end caught a total of three passes for 40 yards. It was good for him to get on the field and get some time working with Brady as he prepares to be a likely key complementary cog in the passing game. Nice first step.
Tom Brady – Brady led a unit that Belichick said "couldn't throw it, couldn't run it." He's working without many of his top weapons – missing Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and behind a still-developing line – but Brady just didn't get much going until the final drive of the first half. He made a less-than-perfect throw on his first interception and a bad decision/throw on his second.
Jimmy Garoppolo – While the second-year backup finished with solid numbers -- 13 of 17 for 126 yards with one touchdown and an no picks for a 116.3 rating – he made a number of bad throws and decisions that could have been costly. He nearly/should have thrown a pick-6 interception on his first throw that was dropped by the corner. He had another out that ended in a dropped interception. Garoppolo took a major step forward against the Saints, but was less impressive even with good numbers and a good result against the Panthers. Throws like his near-picks likely would lead to bad things in a regular season game.
Aaron Dobson – The third-year receiver ended the game with two catches and tied for a game-high 51 yards, including a 40-yard big play to set up a touchdown. But he also was the target on a Brady throw that he failed to bring in that resulted in an interception. Though it wasn't his fault, he was also the target on his quarterback's second interception. Even when he got behind the defense for his big play, the reception wasn't quite perfect. There are opportunities to be had at receiver due to all the injuries and the third-year former second-round pick just hasn't been able to take full advantage.
Joe Cardona – The rookie long snapper hasn't been bad this summer, but he's been less than perfect, including on the practice field. That was the case on Friday night with a low snap on Gostkowski's game-winning field goal. Cardona faces the expectations that come as the rare long snapper to be drafted who was also declared the best in college football. He's been OK, but once again was not quite perfect.
What do you think of our list? Additions or changes? Let us know with a comment below!