Patriots vs. Panthers: Pats defense dominates in preseason win

Two preseason games down, one to go for the New England Patriots.

After a fight-filled week of joint practices with the Carolina Panthers, the Patriots let their play do the talking with a 20-10 victory in Friday night’s exhibition. They’re now 1-1 in the preseason and will look to finish on a high note when they visit the Las Vegas Raiders next week.

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Mac Jones started under center in Friday’s win, marking his first appearance of the preseason. The second-year quarterback completed four of his eight passes for 61 yards and was sacked once before being replaced by Brian Hoyer in the middle of the second quarter. Rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe took the majority of the snaps, completing 16 of 25 passes for 173 yards and an interception.

Pats running back Ty Montgomery scored the team’s only offensive touchdown of the game early in the second quarter.

Here are five takeaways from New England’s victory over Carolina.

Matt Patricia handles the offense

The Patriots’ preseason opener left us with more questions than answers regarding the offensive play-calling responsibilities. Matt Patricia and Joe Judge split the duties as they have all spring and summer long and Bill Belichick provided some assistance.

This time, the keys to the Patriots’ offense appeared to belong solely to Patricia. He called plays for Mac Jones to start the game and continued to do so for Brian Hoyer and rookie Bailey Zappe. That’s especially notable since Judge took over for Patricia when Zappe entered last week’s game.

We won’t know for sure what Belichick’s plans are for the offense until Week 1 of the regular season. For all we know, Judge could take over the duties in next week’s preseason finale. But as of now, it looks like Patricia will be the guy.

No sign of Kendrick Bourne

It’s been a rough summer for Patriots wideout Kendrick Bourne, to say the least. After an encouraging first season in Foxboro, Bourne hasn’t looked like the same player in camp. He was also ejected for his involvement in the first fight between the Pats and Panthers on Tuesday.

Those two factors led to Bourne running with the second-team offense in part of Wednesday’s practice and being a surprise inactive for Friday’s preseason action. Our Phil Perry wonders whether this is simply one week of disciplinary action from Bill Belichick, or if it could be something more.

“I wonder if he might be dealing with something physically. It’s really hard to tell,” Perry said on NBC Sports Boston’s Early Edition.

“I have spoken to enough people in and around the team to be able to feel confident that the team likes his contract quite a bit. Because if you look at it for a starting-caliber receiver it is very cost-effective. If you were to trade him, I think teams would covet him no questions asked. Does that maybe make him expendable? Because I know receiver-needy teams have been calling the Patriots about potentially making a deal.”

That’s certainly a situation worth monitoring heading into next week’s preseason finale.

Nelson Agholor makes most of his opportunities

With Bourne out, Nelson Agholor took advantage of his reps.

Agholor wasn’t a major difference-maker in his first season with the Patriots, but he’s on the right track toward a bounce-back in 2022. In contrast to Bourne, the 29-year-old has had a strong camp and carried it over into Friday’s game.

The highlight of Agholor’s night was a 45-yard reception on a perfect throw from Mac Jones. The play set up the Patriots’ first and only touchdown of the game.

Agholor finished with two catches on three targets for 52 yards.

Patriots defense puts on a show

The Panthers had no answer for the Patriots’ stifling defense. It was a dominant performance from start to finish as Ja’Whaun Bentley got the party started with a tackle in the backfield. New England’s 2021 tackle leader finished with six total tackles on the night.

Shortly after that, Deatrich Wise and Josh Uche notched back-to-back sacks on Panthers quarterback PJ Walker. Matt Judon was involved in both plays.

Speaking of Judon, he made his presence felt by swatting a pass at the line of scrimmage.

Second-year safety Joshuah Bledsoe, a strong breakout candidate for 2022, forced a fumble in the second quarter. Bill Belichick was in midseason form as he challenged the ruling on the field of an incompletion and had it overturned.

Cornerback Shaun Wade added to the fun in the third quarter with an interception. The 23-year-old is only making it more difficult for Belichick to narrow down his cornerback depth chart.

The win was capped off by a strip-sack recovered in the end zone for a touchdown, then an interception by Brenden Schooler.

The offense still hasn’t found its rhythm, but the defense looks like a real strength heading into the new campaign.

Lil’Jordan Humphrey shines for second straight week

Signed to a one-year contract this past offseason, Lil’ Jordan Humphrey has been one of the breakout stars of the preseason through two games. The former New Orleans Saints wideout tallied six catches for 62 yards and a touchdown in the opener and impressed again on Friday.

Humphrey’s encore performance included five receptions on six targets for 71 yards. He connected with Zappe on a 26-yarder from Zappe early in the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Humphrey made his presence felt again, this time on special teams. He laid out to down a punt at the three-yard line, preventing a touchback.

At this point, Humphrey has stated his case for a spot on the active roster. It may not work out with the Patriots due to the team’s receiving depth, but he should at least earn a role with one of the 32 NFL teams.

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