The third preseason game has always been the one that has served as the final chance for many starters to get reps before the beginning of the regular season. But for the Patriots, the third game of the summer has also been tinged with a few odd (and memorable) stories the last dozen or so years. Here are a few of them:

2010: We’ve written about this before, but suffice to say, two things about this third preseason game really stand out: one, it was the finest preseason game of Tom Brady’s career, as the veteran was positively surgical against the Rams, going 18-for-22 for 273 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions on 30 snaps. And two, this was the first game where you saw the awesome potential of then-rookie Rob Gronkowski, who had three catches (two for touchdowns) for 66 yards. On one of his touchdowns, he dragged St. Louis linebacker James Laurinaitis into the end zone.

2009: The Albert Haynesworth Game. This time around, the Patriots were in Washington for their third preseason game of the year, and Brady was just starting to round back into form after almost a year away because of his knee injury. The quarterback was mostly sharp in the first half, but on the final play of the second quarter, he was driven to the turf by Haynesworth. Brady didn’t play at all that night after the hit, but finished 12-for-19 for 150 yards with two touchdowns, no picks, one sack and a QB rating of 122.7 on 29 snaps.

2007: Tom Brady was missing for a couple of days before this one (sound familiar?) because he was in Los Angeles for the birth of his son, but that didn’t stop him from having one of the best preseason games of his career against Carolina: 17-of-22 for 167 yards and two touchdowns.

2004: In a game that was billed by some in Carolina as a chance for revenge because of the loss in Super Bowl XXXVIII six months before, the Panthers came into the game talking trash.

“It’s going to be Super Bowl 2, Round 2,” said Carolina safety Mike Minter. “We’re going to be jacked. I can tell you that right now.”

“If you think this is just a preseason game, you’re mistaken,” added Carolina defensive lineman Brentson Buckner. “It’s going to be a war.”

The Panthers took great pride in their 20-17 win over the Patriots that night, but the outcome produced very different reactions.

“As much as you want to downgrade it, and say that it was preseason, they were still the guys who beat us in the Super Bowl,” said Carolina quarterback Rodney Peete, “So it feels pretty good to beat them.”

“That meant nothing to us,” Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest said of the Super Bowl rematch. “We don’t really care. We won the Super Bowl. That’s over. There’s nothing to talk about.”

That year, the Patriots would go on to win Super Bowl XXXIX. The Panthers would finish 7-9.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

According to Sarah Wroblewski of Fox 25, it’s going to be pretty warm Friday night in Carolina for the preseason tilt between the Patriots and Panthers.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Friday night represents another opportunity for Aaron Dobson and some other young receivers to make their mark. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Friday night represents another opportunity for Aaron Dobson and some other young receivers to make their mark. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

1. The back end of the wide receiver depth chart. With Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell all not likely to play and veterans like Nate Washington subtracted from the mix this week, the opportunity is there for the handful of young receivers who are competing for a job to distinguish themselves. DeAndre Carter, Chris Harper, Devin Lucien and Aaron Dobson are all part of a group that is angling for one — maybe two spots, tops. None of them could gain any sort of separation last week against the Bears. With the regular season looming, their chances will become few and far between in the coming week. Friday night’s game represents an excellent opportunity for one of them to step up and assert themselves.

2. The fifth cornerback position.
The first four — Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones and Justin Coleman — are pretty much set. But there’s a real positional battle brewing for the fifth spot among a group that includes Darryl Roberts, Cre’von LeBlanc and Jonathan Jones. From this viewpoint, LeBlanc and Roberts have been going head-to-head over the last two weeks, but a late push from Jones could force the Patriots to make some tough decisions when first cuts come down later this month.

3. The right side of the offensive line.
Gradually, the left side of the offensive line has started to come into focus, as Nate Solder (left tackle), Joe Thuney (left guard) and David Andrews (center) are now clearly locked in on starting positions. How about the right side? Presumed starting right tackle Marcus Cannon could continue to use as many reps as possible to get ready for the regular season. (And if he appears shaky Friday against the Panthers, that could jump start a search for another tackle — either a trade or free agent pickup — between now and the start of the regular season.) And right guard appears to be a race between a few possibilities, including rookie Ted Karras. More answers should be forthcoming Friday night.

4. How the backs hold up in protection.
Earlier in the week, James White described his continuing education in the art of blitz pickup as a “work in progress.” If he wants to continue to get the majority of reps as the third-down back going forward, that progress needs to continue. The Panthers have an excellent front seven when it comes to pressure, and with the New England offensive line continuing to be in a state of flux, the backs will be tasked with doing their part to help provide protection for the quarterbacks.

5. The speed of the game, especially for the younger players.
The third preseason game is the one where the intensity and pace get ramped up, as starters get the bulk of the playing time in the first half in a final prep for the regular season. Will Jimmy Garoppolo (whenever he plays) be able to handle a Carolina defense at full speed? With many veterans like Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman expected to be on the sidelines, can the younger players on the offensive side of the ball handle the quickness and new level of competition they’re about to face? In short, Friday should be a good test for several guys on the roster as they start to grow accustomed to something approximating real NFL football. (In that same vein, it’ll be interesting to see if there are any veterans playing late in the third and into the fourth quarter. That’s not a good sign for an established player, especially in the third preseason game of the year.)

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Friday night represents another opportunity for Aaron Dobson and some other young receivers to make their mark. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Friday night represents another opportunity for Aaron Dobson and some other young receivers to make their mark. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

1. The back end of the wide receiver depth chart. With Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell all not likely to play and veterans like Nate Washington subtracted from the mix this week, the opportunity is there for the handful of young receivers who are competing for a job to distinguish themselves. DeAndre Carter, Chris Harper, Devin Lucien and Aaron Dobson are all part of a group that is angling for one — maybe two spots, tops. None of them could gain any sort of separation last week against the Bears. With the regular season looming, their chances will become few and far between in the coming week. Friday night’s game represents an excellent opportunity for one of them to step up and assert themselves.

2. The fifth cornerback position.
The first four — Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones and Justin Coleman — are pretty much set. But there’s a real positional battle brewing for the fifth spot among a group that includes Darryl Roberts, Cre’von LeBlanc and Jonathan Jones. From this viewpoint, LeBlanc and Roberts have been going head-to-head over the last two weeks, but a late push from Jones could force the Patriots to make some tough decisions when first cuts come down later this month.

3. The right side of the offensive line.
Gradually, the left side of the offensive line has started to come into focus, as Nate Solder (left tackle), Joe Thuney (left guard) and David Andrews (center) are now clearly locked in on starting positions. How about the right side? Presumed starting right tackle Marcus Cannon could continue to use as many reps as possible to get ready for the regular season. (And if he appears shaky Friday against the Panthers, that could jump start a search for another tackle — either a trade or free agent pickup — between now and the start of the regular season.) And right guard appears to be a race between a few possibilities, including rookie Ted Karras. More answers should be forthcoming Friday night.

4. How the backs hold up in protection.
Earlier in the week, James White described his continuing education in the art of blitz pickup as a “work in progress.” If he wants to continue to get the majority of reps as the third-down back going forward, that progress needs to continue. The Panthers have an excellent front seven when it comes to pressure, and with the New England offensive line continuing to be in a state of flux, the backs will be tasked with doing their part to help provide protection for the quarterbacks.

5. The speed of the game, especially for the younger players.
The third preseason game is the one where the intensity and pace get ramped up, as starters get the bulk of the playing time in the first half in a final prep for the regular season. Will Jimmy Garoppolo (whenever he plays) be able to handle a Carolina defense at full speed? With many veterans like Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman expected to be on the sidelines, can the younger players on the offensive side of the ball handle the quickness and new level of competition they’re about to face? In short, Friday should be a good test for several guys on the roster as they start to grow accustomed to something approximating real NFL football. (In that same vein, it’ll be interesting to see if there are any veterans playing late in the third and into the fourth quarter. That’s not a good sign for an established player, especially in the third preseason game of the year.)

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Barkevious Mingo gets after Jacksonville's Chad Henne during a 2013 game in Cleveland. (Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Barkevious Mingo, seen here getting after Jacksonville’s Chad Henne during a 2013 game in Cleveland, has seven career sacks in 46 games in the NFL. (Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

If the Browns — a team desperately in need of pass-rush help — were OK giving up on Barkeviovs Mingo, what should the Patriots expect from the former LSU product?

Granted, part of that is because they weren’t really playing to his strengths in Cleveland. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Mingo is a hyper-athletic freak who had phenomenal numbers at the 2013 combine: a 4.58 40-yard dash, 6.84 3-cone and a 10-foot-8 broad jump. That led the Browns to believe he could spend time dropping into coverage as well as getting after the passer. As we’ve seen from edge defenders in New England over the years, not every can do that. (It’s the defensive equivalent of trying to bang a square peg into a round hole.) It’s also worth debating how much the Browns continued to do it with the idea of trying to justify spending a top 10 pick on him.

Now, the 25-year-old comes to the Patriots for a fifth-round pick. From a practical perspective, he certainly fits the mold of the desired end-of-the-line players Bill Belichick has coveted over the years: the longer, leanish types. Sometimes that works (Willie McGinest), something, it doesn’t (Shawn Crable).

The bottom line? If the Patriots narrow the list of responsibilities and Mingo is able to accept that role and execute within the framework of the defense, he’d basically become a specialist who sees the field in third-down and other passing situations. If he recognizes he’s in a far more optimal situation than the one in Cleveland, Mingo could be a specialist in the mold of an Akeem Ayers or Mark Anderson, both of whom had a productive year in Foxboro and hit the open market having rebuilt their careers with New England.

But that’s the long-term. In the short-term, he’ll become part of a conversation at the defensive end spot that will vie for playing time while Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard try and heal up. He’ll likely battle the likes of Geneo Grissom, Trey Flowers and Rufus Johnson for playing time in hopes of climbing the depth chart. (It’s also worth mentioning that Mingo played a whopping 84 percent of Cleveland’s special teams snaps last season, something that clearly played a role in New England’s decision to acquire him.)

Ultimately, the acquisition of Mingo represents another potential Cleveland reclamation project for the Patriots, a pipeline that produced impressive results last year with the pickup of Sheard and Dion Lewis. He’s not the second coming of Lawrence Taylor, or the type who will hold up over the course of a full season against the run as an every-down end. But if he can give New England half the production this coming season as the other two did in 2015, it’ll represent a win for the Patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Before taking off for their third preseason game in Carolina Friday night, the Patriots took care of some administrative business Thursday.

The team reinstated defensive tackle Alan Branch from an internal suspension for violation of team rules.

Alan Branch

Alan Branch

Before taking off for their third preseason game in Carolina Friday night, the Patriots took care of some administrative business Thursday.

The team reinstated defensive tackle Alan Branch from an internal suspension for violation of team rules.

The NFL transaction wire confirmed the move Thursday afternoon.

News of Branch’s suspension broke several hours before last Thursday’s preseason game against the Bears at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots have represented a new chance in the career of the 6-foot-6, 350-pound 31-year-old tackle.

On Aug. 24, 2014, one day after being arrested for a DUI, Branch was cut from the Bills. Two months later, Branch had signed a one-year deal with the Patriots. Branch played a big role for the Patriots defensive line, along with Vince Wilfork, as the Patriots went onto win Super Bowl XLIX, where he beat another former team, the Seattle Seahawks.

Branch re-signed with the Patriots on March 15, 2015, agreeing to a two-year deal worth a maximum of $6.6 million.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Barring another run-in with a pair of scissors, Tom Brady will be on the field Friday night when the Patriots take on the Panthers in the third preseason game at Bank of America Stadium.

Tom Brady

Tom Brady

Barring another run-in with a pair of scissors, Tom Brady will be on the field Friday night when the Patriots take on the Panthers in the third preseason game at Bank of America Stadium. Whether he starts or even plays against the Panthers, that is – as Jimmy Garoppolo would say – anyone’s guess.

According to the Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe, the Patriots quarterback made the trip with the team on the charter Thursday down to Charlotte.

Brady was slated to start last Thursday against the Bears at Gillette Stadium before a last-minute mishap with a pair of scissors while poking out something from his cleats caused a minor cut and caused Bill Belichick to pull him for Jimmy Garoppolo.

What ensued was several days of speculation on the reason for Brady not staying at Gillette for the game and instead leaving and heading home. There has even been speculation that there is tension between Brady and the head coach behind the scenes.

Chris Price details just how much Brady has played in years past in the third preseason game, widely considered to be the most significant game as starters get final tuneups for the season opener Sept. 11 in Arizona. Of course, Brady won’t be around for the first four games, as Garoppolo fills in for the four-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

With the trade for Barkevious Mingo, here’s a quick look at the Patriots’ draft capital for 2017 at this point on the calendar.

First-round pick.
Second-round pick.
Third-round pick.
Fourth-round pick vacated because of Deflategate.
Fourth-round pick (via Seattle).
Sixth-round pick.
Seventh-round pick (a conditional choice as the result of the Bryan Stork deal).

While their chances are slim, they could also get compensatory picks for lost free agent signings. However, given the way things transpired this past spring, that doesn’t appear likely at this point.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price