The New England Patriots knocked off the Carolina Panthers 27 - 3 Friday night in Charlotte. Laurence Maroney - who was back in the lineup for the Patriots for the first time this preseason - shouldered the load. Sloppy play from both teams left a number of questions in key areas just two weeks from the season opener.
New England cruised to an early lead using a heavy dose of rushing plays starting the game by running the ball nine times before their first pass. Laurence Maroney took the bulk of the carries, while Sammy Morris contributed a pair of key plays to keep drives going. It was Morris' carry on a fourth down play from the Patriots' own 24 that sparked the offense. The first down was part of an 18-play, 90-yard drive that chewed up nearly 10 minutes. The resulting chip shot field goal by Gostkowski was the first score by either team.
Carolina's following possession established some rhythm for Jake Delhomme and the Panthers offense. Delhomme directed an 8-play 48-yard drive to put the team in position for a field goal attempt. The 49-yard John Kasay attempt was blocked when a surge of Patriots defenders crashed the right side of the Panther's special teams line. Wilfork managed to get both hands up to swat the ball backwards.
|New England Patriots' Vince Wilfork (75) blocks a field goal attempt by Carolina Panthers' John Kasay (4) during the second quarter in an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Aug. 24, 2007. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)|
After the game, Panther's coach John Fox explained that Carolina was using backups on special teams, which contributed to the kicking struggles.
"We had a couple of guys we were holding out and we took a look at a couple of new guys and we were a little smaller in there than we would normally be," Fox said. "We had a couple of injury concerns with some of our bigger guys in there that play those positions and we didn't want to take a risk."
The Patriots managed to take advantage of the blocked attempt as Tom Brady guided the offense down field with a mix of runs and passes. Marcellus Rivers' 6-yard touchdown catch from Brady put the Patriots up 10-0.
Another three-and-out by Carolina looked to be the beginning of a blowout. But then New England had their own miscues. A questionable holding call on Stephen Neal negated a 13-yard run by Sammy Morris that would have given the Patriots a first down at the Carolina 12. Instead, the Patriots settled for a 53-yard Gostkowski field goal attempt, which was wide left.
The miss was the first of two by Gostkowski for the evening. Head coach Bill Belichick explained that the whole team - not just Gostkowski - has a long way to go.
"There's a lot of things that we could do better out there," Belichick said after the game. "There's a lot of things we need to do better in all three phases of the game - offense, defense and special teams. We still have a lot of stuff to work on."
|Carolina Panthers' Keary Colbert (83) races toward the end zone for ana48-yard touchdown aa New England Patriots' Eugene Wilson (26) looks on during a preseason NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Aug. 24, 2007. (AP Photo/Rick Havner)|
The Panthers took immediate advantage of their best field possession of the game by putting up their first points of the game three plays later. Jake Delhomme hit a slanting Keary Colbert who took advantage of a stumbling Mike Richardson. Colbert outraced Eugene Wilson who fell short in an attempt to catch the speeding receiver as both raced for the corner of the end zone.
The score put Carolina within three points at the half 10-7.
Both teams kept their starters in for the second half. The Patriots who kicked off in the first half took possession at their own 23 after a 29-yard run back by C.J. Jones. The 8-play-77-yard scoring drive that ensued was capped by an 8 yard Heath Evans touchdown catch over the middle. The highlight of the drive was a 37-yard bomb from Brady to Donte Stallworth who outleapt the defender to snare Brady's high floater.
It was the finale for the first team offense after establishing a commanding 17-7 lead. The Patriots special teams defense continued to set the tone when Jarvis Green blocked another Kasay field goal on the next Carolina possession.
Bill Belichick characterized the block as a team effort of the defense to get penetration. "It looked like Vince [Wilfork] got both of them, but it's a team effort. It's not just one guy," Belichick said. "The linebackers are pushing those guys inside. Vince got off on the ball. It was two big plays."
The Patriots scored the final points of the game when Evans took a Matt Cassel handoff and rumbled in from the 2. Cassel bobbled the snap, but was able to snatch it out of the air and get it to Evans in time for the fullback to continue the play. The drive capped another 8-play scoring drive, this time fro 74 yards. The highlight of the drive was a 43-yard rumble by Evans who took a handoff inside then bounced outside to get into the secondary. By the time the Panthers were able to run Evan's down he was at Carolina's 11.
The Panthers were unable to answer the rest of the game as the Patriots defense found ways to stifle the most promising of attacks.
Vinny Testaverde made his first appearance as a Patriot in 2007 when he directed a short three-play drive. Matt Gutierrez directed a six-play drive to put the Patriots back into scoring position. The drive ended with a second Gostowski miss, this time from the 46.
Notes: The win improves the Patriots' preseason record to 1-2.
The last time the Patriots' blocked two field goals in the same game came against the Colts in 2001.
Heath Evans has 1 career touchdown during the regular season. He has three during the 2007 preseason and had three in 2006.
Sixth-round pick Mike Richardson deflected a pass intended for Carolina receiver Steve Smith on a third-and-5 in the second period. On the next drive, Panther receiver Keary Colbert beat Richardson resulting in a 48-yard Panthers touchdown.
Safety Eugene Wilson, who was unable to tackle Colbert on the Panthers touchdown play, appeared to injury his leg (Hamstring) when giving chase. He missed the tackle and did not return to the lineup after that play.
Randy Moss was not active for the game, and has yet to see any live action as a member of the Patriots this season.
Rookie linebacker Justin Rogers managed another sack for his second of the season .Rogers was the benefactor of pressure caused by teammate Santonio Thomas collapsing the pocket to flush quarterback Brett Basanez into a 14-yard loss.
Official Game Thread
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