FOXBORO -- New England Patriot fans could be in store for one of the better defenses in recent memory.
Through three preseason games, the Patriots have had 12 players record sacks. As a team, they have totaled 15 sacks for 136 yards. They had four different players record them on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium as the Patriots got after Carolina Panthers starting quarterback Cam Newton in the early going and never let up in their pursuit, ultimately staying unbeaten in the preseason with a 10-3 victory.
And despite the positive result on the field, it was not all good news. An extensive list of players required medical attention, including Kyle Van Noy (returned), Ben Watson, Damien Harris, Nate Ebner, Stephen Anderson, Lance Kendricks, Gunner Olszewski and Brandon King (left on cart). It’s something you don’t want to see in any game, but especially in the preseason.
New England quarterback Tom Brady, however, gave the fans at Gillette something to cheer about as he made his first start of the preseason and completed 66 percent of his passes. Brady helped the offense score its lone touchdown of the game during his third and final drive of the contest. Earlier in the drive, Brady scrambled for a three-yard gain on first down to move the chains, then found Rex Burkhead for a gain of six yards and threw a bullet to tight end Ryan Izzo for 18 yards to set up a touchdown run by fullback James Develin three plays later.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots defense impressed. New England held the Panthers just 99 total yards in the contest, with their three first-half sacks going to linebacker Kyle Van Noy as well as defensive linemen Adam Butler and Michael Bennett. Ufomba Kamalu added his lone sack of the preseason in crunch time.
The Patriots’ defensive starters during Week Three of the NFL Preseason included defensive lineman Lawrence Guy and Bennett, linebackers Chase Winovich, Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Hightower, cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty, with safeties Terrance Brooks, Duron Harmon and Devin McCourty. Usual starting safety Patrick Chung, who was inducted on drug charges that were released prior to the game on Thursday, was not on the sideline.
The Patriots are so deep and talented in almost every position defensively, it’s going to require some hard cuts.
New England’s offensive starters included left tackle Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon with Brady at quarterback, Sony Michel and Develin in the backfield and Jakobi Meyers and Phillip Dorsett at receiver and Izzo at tight end.
Brady was decent on the whole. It was far from his best night, but he completed eight of his 12 passes, five of which went to Dorsett for 41 yards. Brady connected with three other players, including Izzo (one reception, 18 yards), fellow tight end Ben Watson (one reception, 10 yards) and Burkhead (one reception, six yards).
Four of Brady’s first seven passes were completed to only Dorsett, while the undrafted Meyers and Brady could not connect in their three tries during the first quarter. Brady did not have a completion in his first two drives, but Dorsett, a third-year Patriot, made his case loud and clear on why he deserves a roster spot. His experience and reliability, along with his clear connection with Brady, should earn him a spot on the 53.
Jarrett Stidham was the second-string quarterback on Thursday, completing 15 of his 19 passed for 134 yards. Brian Hoyer did not play.
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski gave the Patriots a 10-3 lead with 5:13 remaining following a 10-play drive, however, it followed a missed opportunity heading into the fourth. Following a bad hold by newcomer Jake Bailey, Gostkowski missed his third kick of the preseason, from 43 yards out. It would have given the Patriots a two-possession lead heading into the fourth quarter, in a game which offense was at a minimum.
A major part of that was the Patriots defense. The Panthers tallied just 63 yards in the first three quarters and went 1-for-7 on third down.
The Patriots will close out their preseason next Thursday as the New York Giants visit Gillette Stadium, the second consecutive week the Patriots will host.