Chandler Jones

Chandler Jones

FOXBORO — Not only can a very good secondary limit what opposing quarterbacks can do against a defense — it also can help the other members of the defense get after the quarterback.

The Patriots finished with three sacks in their 30-7 win over the Panthers, all in the first quarter against starting quarterback Cam NewtonChandler Jones had two and Rob Ninkovich had the other.

“œThe first play of the game was definitely a coverage sack,”€ Ninkovich said. “I was just trying to mirror the quarterback and make sure he didn’€™t get out of the pocket. I was just collapsing and collapsing and I was able to get to [the quarterback]. That goes to the secondary.”

The Patriots secondary now has arguably the best cornerback in the game in Darrelle Revis, as well as Pro-Bowl safety Devin McCourty to go along with rising-star corners Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan — as well as the former member of the Seahawks Legion of Boom secondary, cornerback Brandon Browner. (Although it should be noted, he is suspended for the first four games of the season and didn’€™t play until the fourth quarter Friday night).

All those players stepped onto the field together for the first time this preseason and were able to give the entire defense some added energy and boost to their games.

“€œ[We] had a tremendous time. Football is fun,” Jones said. “We’€™re out there in the preseason we get a chance to go against a different team. Whether it is in practice, going against the Redskins or the Eagles. We got an opportunity to go out in our third preseason game and execute and we went out and did a good job.”€

The defense played very well, with the starters playing a little over a half, holding the Carolina offense — which made the postseason last year — to just 94 total yards in the first half.

“It’€™s just working hard throughout camp, and all week, trying to prepare and knowing that we were going against a good team and a good quarterback that was able to scramble around and get out of the pocket,”€ Ninkovich said. “It was a good game all around.”

Having a strong secondary has allowed the Patriots to go with a 3-4 defensive alignment — which they have shown a lot over the course of the summer — and in turn has given Jones and Ninkovich, who line up on the outside, a better chance of getting to quarterback.

“I think as a defense you are always doing multiple things,”€ said Ninkovich. “Whatever we are in, a end of the line players like we are, our job is to stop the run at the edge and get some pressure on the quarterback. Whatever it is, we are going to play it to the best of our ability and try to help the team out.”

Jones finished last season with 11 1/2  sacks after totaling six in his rookie season, while Ninkovich has finished with eight in each of the last two seasons. In the 3-4 set — with the strong secondary behind them — both players could be looking at similar, if not better numbers.

With the third preseason game as the so called “dress rehearsal” for the regular season, it went almost as well as they could have hoped for — giving them plenty of reasons to be excited for the upcoming season.

“€œIt felt very good to be out there with my teammates,” Jones said. “€œCoach [Bill Belichick] put us in great positions, we got some plays to execute and out-executed [the Panthers].”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

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FOXBORO, Mass. — WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Chris Price assess the performance of Tom Brady, Shane Vereen, Chandler Jones and the Patriots in their 30-7 preseason win over Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers Friday night at Gillette Stadium. Brady was 17-for-21 passing with two touchdowns and 204 yards passing while Jones had two sacks and six tackles in containing one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

FOXBORO — To Tom Brady, the numbers Friday night said one thing. The feeling he took from the 30-7 preseason win over the Carolina Panthers said another.

There’s no disputing that 17-for-21 for 204 yards, two touchdowns and a 138.9 quarterback rating are numbers most NFL quarterbacks would take in their final regular season tune-up. But, of course, Tom Brady is not most quarterbacks.

He knows that the rhythm wasn’t there to begin the game, as a miscommunication with his wide receivers on third down and a stumble and near fumble on the second series would indicate. He didn’t appear to have his timing on the first two series, both ending in punts. Then Ryan Mallett came in on the third series to get some work in with the starters.

Brady tripped over someone’s foot and fell awkwardly to the turf, handing off to Shane Vereen in the nick of time, but not before a defensive lineman came barreling over him to get to Vereen.

“I couldn’€™t tell because I had my back turned, but I think someone just got my foot,” Brady said. “I don’€™t know if it was a defensive lineman or offensive lineman, but, yeah, you never want that to happen. That, against a good team like this, usually ends drives, and that one certainly did this time.”

Brady certainly recovered. On the next series after Mallett came out of the game, Brady led the Patriots down the field, going completing all four pass attempts, including a 40-yarder to a wide open Shane Vereen in the right flat on the Vereen staple – the wheel route – for a touchdown.

“Yeah, it was a slow start all the way around, but it was good to make some plays there late in the second quarter and then the third quarter,” Brady said. “There’€™s a lot of work to do, but it was fun being out there. It’€™s great to win, especially this game. They’€™re a good football team and if you don’€™t execute well, they’€™re going to be really tough. I’€™ve got a lot of respect for those guys [from] playing them last year. They’€™ve got a great team.”

Even on the 60-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski before the half, Brady and Bill Belichick thought that maybe with some slightly better clock management, they could’ve made things easier on themselves and their kicker. Still, for the starters to put 20 points up on the board against one of the better defenses in football provides some confidence going into the season.

“Yeah, it wasn’€™t bad, but there are a lot of things that we left out there,” Brady said. “We got bailed out there a few times on a few defensive calls. Missed some blitz stuff, missed some throws. I think we can be a lot better. It’€™s an important week for us to try to get better. The days are winding down until all these games count. It gets pretty exciting here in a few weeks, but you’€™ve still got to try to use these days to make as many improvements as we can. This game was good because you can really see where you’€™re at and you can see the things you need to get better. I think there’€™s a lot of things we can improve on.”

Brady was referring to the illegal use of hands called on defensive end Frank Alexander on third-and-15 that wiped out the incompletion intended for Brandon LaFell, and kept the third quarter touchdown drive alive. Brady explained why the Patriots can’t rely on those bailouts in the season.

“I think you look at each of those individual plays and you figure out what we need to do better to execute better to make the plays so that ‘€“ you never want to rely on things like that. You’€™re right ‘€“ you get a little bonus chance. And we’€™ll get those from time to time over the course of the season, and it’€™s really good to take advantage of those when you do get them. There are going to be times when we get calls on third down that go in our favor. But you know when we have opportunities to execute plays; that’€™s what we really want to do.

“We don’€™t want to have to wait for the ref to throw a flag or something like that. But we’€™re learning. We’€™re all learning out there with each other. Football is always about anticipation and confidence in one another and everyone being on the same page. Anticipatory offensive football is what the best offenses are all about. Those are the things that we still need to improve on. That’€™s why it’€™s still the preseason. We’€™ve got a few weeks until it matters and we have to try to do as many good things as possible over the next few weeks to make those improvements and then over the course of the year you try to do that every week also.”

Given new life, that drive ended with the second touchdown pass of the day to Shane Vereen, and Brady’s night was over.

“Yeah, he made some great plays tonight,” Brady said. “He’€™s been that way ‘€“ he’€™s really had such a dependable role for us for the last few years and just done a great job. When the ball is in his hands, good things are happening for our team. We’€™re going to try to just keep getting him the ball.”

Here are some other takeaways from the Brady postgame presser Friday night:

Q: In your experience, are you guys where you need to be about this time of the summer?

TB: Yeah, I think we’€™re just still working at it. You can never stop getting better. We’€™re going to hopefully be that way through the whole season. Each of these games you learn something. Different players do different things and find different roles for themselves. This was a good game because we’€™re playing a really good team. They challenge in a lot of areas. Like I said, we got off to a slow start, which you never really want to do, but we made a few plays and got some momentum and ended up having a great lead there at the end of the game. But I think we’€™re just going to focus on the individual plays and see where were can get better. Because you have to go out there and do it and see where you’€™re at and adjust to the game speed, adjust to the coverages, and then go out there and execute against a great team in a couple weeks.

Q: Is your back OK? It looked like someone maybe kneed you in the back when you were trying to get the ball to Shane.

TB: No, I’m good. I feel pretty good.

Q: Your kicker kicked a 60 yarder. How does that uplift a team?

TB: Yeah, I mean, incredible kick. That’€™s a long ways away, so it gives everybody a lot of confidence that if you get the ball to whatever, the 42-yard line, you’€™ve got a chance at three points. That was a great kick, great execution by everybody. Hopefully we can get him a little closer during the season and make it a little easier on Steve [Gostkowski], but we know he’€™s got it there in him if we need that to happen at some point this year.

Q: Defensively was it encouraging to get the ball back pretty quickly?

TB: Yeah, they played great. We’€™ve been going against them all camp, so it’€™s nice to see them go against another offense and watch those guys rush the quarterback, pass breakups, tight coverage. That’€™s what we’€™ve been getting all camp, so it’€™s been great for us, great for our passing game to see the type of coverages that our defense plays. We’€™ve got a lot of experience with those guys. It was great to see them out on the field, rallying to the ball, making plays. We can’€™t lose if they don’€™t score, so that’€™s a good thing for offensive football.

Q: Overall is this a confidence builder game?

TB: Well, we could have lost 30-7 and none of it’€™s going to matter two weeks from now. I think it’€™s more just about our improvement and guys finding roles for themselves and getting into their game conditions. I think that’€™s what this game is all about. It’€™s not so much the final score; it’€™s just more how guys are playing and how guys are reacting to situations and whether guys can find a role on the team.

Q: So how much does it help you and the offense in general to have so many receivers back from last year, as opposed to having so many new faces last year?

TB: Yeah absolutely. I think there’€™s a lot of growing that you do over the course of the year. There are a lot of balls you throw, a lot of meetings, conversations you have. All the guys that came last year, there was a lot that was forced on their plate, and they’€™ve been able to handle it and that’€™s why they’€™re still here trying to work their butt off to try to find a role this year. You’€™re right, there’€™s not as many things you need to go over. You’€™re still trying to make improvements. You’€™re always trying to get better. No matter what point you’€™re at, you’€™re trying to build. It’€™s just that we were building from a different place last year. We have a lot of confidence in each other, KT [Kenbrell Thompkins] and Josh [Boyce] and Aaron [Dobson] and those guys from last year that were new ‘€“ Danny [Amendola], certainly. We made some plays tonight that would have been tougher to make last year, just based on the situation in the game and the anticipation that you need from both positions.

Q: Were you able to say hi to Luke Kuechly or anybody and talk about how last year’€™s game ended?

TB: No, I missed those guys. I didn’€™t say anything. I saw them after the game, a few of the guys, but no, we didn’€™t bring up last year. That was’€¦Yeah we won’€™t forget that one. That was some way to end it.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

FOXBORO — Shane Vereen is the most versatile player the Patriots offense has.

While they have highly-touted players in Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, no one player can more things than Vereen.

If Vereen stays healthy, he could put up some giant numbers this season — similar to dynamic running back Darren Sproles, now of the Eagles.

The 2011 second-round pick out of Cal has certainly showed some flashes of stardom, but he’€™s yet to play a full season — playing in five, 13 and eight games respectively in his first three seasons in the league.

A 5-foot-10, 205 pounds, the running back’s strength is catching passes out of the backfield –€“ something he displayed Friday night, catching two touchdown passes in the Patriots’€™ 30-7 win over the Panthers.

“I was just glad the offensive was able to string together a couple drives — string together some plays,” said Vereen. “We kind of hurt ourselves a little bit, we still have a lot to work on, but it was good to get out there and develop some kind of rhythm.”

On the first touchdown Vereen was able to showcase his speed, as after catching a short pass from Tom Brady out of the backfield, the running back took off up the right side bursting past members of the Panthers secondary for 40 yards and the first touchdown of the game.

“I was hoping — running that fast I definitely didn’€™t want to get caught — I would hear it from everyone here in the locker room [if I did],” Vereen said.

His second touchdown came in the third quarter — also from Brady — a 6-yard quick out route from the backfield as he outstretched the ball just inside the pylon. At first it was ruled he was out of bounds inside the 1-yard line, but Bill Belichick challenged the play and it was overturned for his second touchdown of the game.

“€œI couldn’€™t tell if I stepped out of bounce or not, but I tried like hell to get in there,” Vereen said.

Vereen finished the game with 75 all-purpose yards — five catches for 57 yards and six rushes for 18 yards.

Plagued by injuries, last season was cut short when he broke his wrist in the first game of the season in Buffalo. He did return later in the season, but only played in eight total games — rushing for 208 yards and a touchdown, while catching 47 passes for 427 yards and three touchdowns. His rookie campaign was also shortened to five games due to a nagging hamstring injury.

Going off his numbers last season — if converted to a full 16-game season — Vereen would have finished with 416 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, while catching 94 balls for 854 yards and six touchdowns. Added up he would’€™ve had a 1,248 all-purpose yard season with eight total touchdowns.

In comparison, Sproles averaged 385.75 yards rushing in the four seasons he was able to play all 16 games and 517.25 yards receiving, while reaching the end zone six times a year in those year’s spanning from 2008-2011. Vereens’s 16-game numbers would have in fact turned out better than Sproles’.

“€œHonestly, I just go out and work on a lot of things in practice and whatever they ask me to do, I just go ahead and do a good job of that the game,” Vereen said.

On the first touchdown Vereen scored Friday night, the Patriots featured a two-back set in the backfield with he and James White split behind Brady. With backs having tremendous speed it creates a nightmare for opposing linebackers and Brady was able to exploit it. It could be a formation featured a lot in the upcoming season, especially given the results Friday night.

“I think it’€™s something that now defenses will need to prepare. It’€™s something that we work on and I think it’€™s something we’€™ll be able to use to our advantage,” said Vereen.

The fourth-year running back played the most snaps among the running back group, finishing with 28 snaps (including penalties). As demonstrated with past performance, if Vereen can stay on the field for a full season, he could be one of the best running back pass catchers in the game.

Like most members of the team, he isn’€™t thinking of anything like that as he is focused on the team preparing itself for the games that matter.

“We have done some good things, but there is also a lot that we need to work on,” he said. “You have to still take into account this is still the preseason and we still have some weeks to go until we get to the real thing. It’€™s good to see some success, but we still have a long way to go.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

FOXBORO — The Patriots topped the Panthers in the third preseason game for both teams Friday night at Gillette Stadium, 30-7.

FOXBORO — The Patriots topped the Panthers in the third preseason game for both teams Friday night at Gillette Stadium, 30-7.

Tom Brady ended up playing 41 snaps, and went 17-for-21 for 204 yards with a pair of touchdown passes as New England took a 13-0 lead at the half and never looked back.

New England also got eight catches for 99 yards from Julian Edelman, and eight carries for 28 yards from Stevan Ridley (who didn’t put the ball on the ground). In addition, Shane Vereen had six carries for 18 yards, as well as five catches for 57 yards and a pair of receiving touchdowns, while linebacker Steve Beauharnais added an interception for the Patriots.

On the other side of the ball, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton went 8-for-12 for 88 yards in the loss.

Here are 10 things we learned about the Patriots Friday night:

Tom Brady had one of the best third preseason games of his career.

When you’re measuring Brady’s preseason stats, his work in the third preseason game of the 2010 season against the Rams remains the gold standard — that night at Gillette Stadium, he was 18-for-22 for 273 yards with three touchdowns in 30 snaps — but this one wasn’t too far off. After a relatively slow start (and a brief sitdown in favor of Ryan Mallett — more on that shortly), Brady looked very sharp for the bulk of the evening. He wasn’t sacked, and went on an impressive streak in the second quarter, where he was 9-for-11 for 116 yards and a touchdown. He got a bunch of pass-catchers involved in the action, but the bulk of his targets were directed toward Edelman and Vereen. So much of a receivers’ success in the passing game can be traced back to winning the trust of Brady, and it’s clear (at least on a night where the Patriots didn’t have Rob Gronkowski) that the quarterback has the utmost faith in both Edelman and Vereen.

Bill Belichick always keeps his players on their toes.

The Patriots coach took everyone by surprise midway through the first half when he yanked Brady from the game and went with Mallett. Mallett helped put together a drive that ended with a 47-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski — which gave the Patriots a 3-0 lead — but Belichick went back to Brady on the following drive. Belichick has long used the preseason to sprung those type of surprises on his players, with the idea that you need to be mentally prepared to go into the game at a moments’ notice. (In the 2006 preseason finale, he yanked Matt Cassel midway through the preseason finale and went to emergency quarterback Troy Brown for a series.) While every detail regarding the Patriots quarterback situation is under the microscope (Is Mallett the No. 2 quarterback? Where does this leave Jimmy Garoppolo?), this would appear to be a simple case of Belichick keeping Mallett on his toes.

Darrelle Revis is likely done for the summer.

The cornerback saw his first extended action with the Patriots, playing just about the entire first half and the first defensive series of the second half. By our unofficial count, he finished with 28 snaps, with 26 of them coming on the left side. He was thrown at three times by Carolina, and the Panthers completed one ball in his direction (a really impressive slant from Newton to rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin) while another completion was nullified because of a penalty. On the preseason, we have him for 36 total snaps (33 on the left side and three on the right, with three balls in his direction and one completion. With the preseason finale set for next week against the Giants, it’s likely the last time we’ll see Revis before the regular season opener against the Dolphins in Miami.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again — Julian Edelman is poised to have a very good year.

Edelman has been in sync with Brady all summer long, and their connection was on display again Friday against the Panthers, as he made a series of impressive catches on a variety of routes, including on short, intermediate and deep balls. His highlight came when he and Brady hooked up on an impressive 35-yarder on the first drive of the second half down the seam for the Patriots. He played the bulk of the first three quarters, and caught all eight of his targets for eight receptions and 99 yards.

If he can stay healthy, Shane Vereen should also have a terrific year.

The four-year running back out of Cal, who has battled injuries over the course of his career, flashed some of his trademark speed out of the backfield on a second-quarter scoring play for the Patriots. Brady hit him on a short wheel route out of the backfield, and he was off to the races for a 40-yard touchdown. Almost impossible to catch when he gets into open space, the play was reminiscent of his catch-and-throw with Brady a couple of years ago against the Jets where he was matched up against a linebacker and he made New York pay. It’s important to note that on that series, the Panthers were without their best coverage linebacker in Luke Kuechly, but still, it was an impressive sequence for Vereen. He was limited to eight games last year because of injury, but still managed to put up 44 rushes and 47 catches. If he can stay away from the injury bug, he certainly sets up to have a terrific 2014.

The punt team has shown some improvement over the last week.

With the offense stalled out early, the punt team got some work in in the early going, and looked much smoother than it did last week against the Eagles when they had a pair of botched sequences. Ryan Allen, who has been money all spring and summer, was able to connect on a series of nice drives Friday against the Panthers.

It was a big night for Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich.

The two end of the line defenders in Jones and Ninkovich had very good starts to their evening, as Ninkovich had a coverage sack on the first play from scrimmage and Jones added a pair of first-half sacks at the expense of Carolina left tackle Byron Bell. While some of it had to do with the work of the New England secondary providing good coverage on the Panthers’ pass catchers — and leaving Newton with nowhere to go — the overpowering work of Jones off the edge has to be an encouraging sight when it comes to the Patriots, who would love to see Jones develop more consistency in his third year in the league.

There are still questions about who is going to start at center and right guard.

As expected, the Patriots utilized several different combinations along the offensive line. Some of it should be taken with a grain of salt because starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer didn’t play (Marcus Cannon got the start in his place), but the group looked mostly good against the Carolina defensive front. The starting offensive line, from right to left: Cannon, Jordan Devey, Ryan Wendell, Logan Mankins and Nate Solder. The Patriots shuffled Dan Connolly in at center for a sizable portion of the night, while Wendell was working with Garoppolo and the rest of the third-teamers late in the fourth quarter. The two positions that appear to be still up in the air at this point are center and right guard, with a combination of candidates for both jobs. A position that will certainly bear watching as the preseason comes to a close next week against the Giants.

Stephen Gostkowski is having a really good summer.

The kicker had an excellent training camp, and has had a very good preseason. He missed a 43-yarder and a 54-yarder in his first two games, but Friday against the Panthers, he connected on a 60-yarder at the end of the first half.

The kick return job is still up in the air.

Rookies James White and Roy Finch started as the kick returners, but New England didn’t get much of a chance to work in the kick return game for the rest of the night, as the Panthers struggled to move the ball on offense, much less get it into the end zone. Belichick could still have a mystery candidate in mind for the job — after all, LeGarrette Blount had just one return in the preseason last year and ended up coming away with the regular-season gig — but it appears that the competition will come down to next week’s preseason finale against the Giants in North Jersey.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

FOXBORO — The night didn’t start out smoothly for Tom Brady but by the end, his numbers spoke volumes as the Patriots starting quarterback had a productive night in the dress rehearsal for the regular season.

Tom Brady was in complete command in preseason game No. 3 against the Panthers. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Tom Brady was in complete command in preseason game No. 3 against the Panthers. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — The night didn’t start out smoothly for Tom Brady but by the end, his numbers spoke volumes as the Patriots starting quarterback had a productive night in the dress rehearsal for the regular season.

Brady played five series, finishing 17-of-21 for 204 yards, with a pair of touchdown passes to Shane Vereen as the Patriots built a big lead on their way to a preseason win over the Carolina Panthers. Brady’s quarterback rating was 138.9.

Brady looked a little shaky on his first two series, misfiring with Brandon LaFell on a third down pass and tripping and nearly fumbling a handoff to Shane Vereen on the next series. On the fumble, he appeared to be kneed in the back.

He came out of the game as Ryan Mallett got his only look of the night with the starting unit. Mallett led the Patriots down the field to a field goal.

Brady then played the next three series, including opening up the third quarter. Brady connected with Vereen on a perfectly executed wheel route down the right sideline for a 40-yard touchdown in the second quarter. On his final drive of the night, Brady connected with Julian Edelman on consecutive passes for gains of 18 and 35 yards, with the latter coming on a perfectly thrown ball over Edelman’s right shoulder on a go route.

Brady capped off his drive by finding Vereen in the flat on a red zone route at the Panthers 4. Vereen turned his body and stretched for the pylon for the touchdown.

Brady is likely to sit out next Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Giants at MetLife Stadium.

 

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

FOXBORO — The following Patriots players were not spotted on the field in full uniform prior to the Patriots-Panthers third preseason game Friday night: wide receiver Aaron Dobson, running backs Tyler Gaffney and Brandon Bolden, linebacker Cameron Gordon, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Michael Hoomanawanui, offensive linemen Chris Jones, Bryan Stork and Sebastian Vollmer and defensive linemen Dominique Easley, Sealver Siliga and Chris Jones.

For Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable