Tom Brady fires one of nine passes on the night Friday in Charlotte. (Jim Dedmon-USA Today Sports)
Tom Brady made his long-awaited preseason debut in relief, completing 3-of-9 passes for 74 yards, including a perfect touch pass for a touchdown to Chris Hogan, as the Patriots beat the Panthers, 19-17, Friday night at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
The Patriots (3-0) get their final preseason tune-up this Thursday night at MetLife Stadium against the Giants. The Patriots will have to cut their roster down to 75 players by Tuesday at 4 p.m.
Brady came on late in the first quarter for a struggling Jimmy Garoppolo and played four series, mostly in the second quarter. Brady was sacked on his last snap of the night. It was the first time Brady came on in relief in a game of any kind since replacing Drew Bledsoe against the Jets on Sept. 23, 2001.
Also making his preseason debut was receiver Julian Edelman. He played most of the first half, catching one pass (from Brady) on three targets for six yards.
Garoppolo started and then came in for Brady to run a two-minute drill at the end of the first half. He nearly fumbled the ball inside the Panthers 15 before James White recovered. Garoppolo finished the first half 5-for-9 for 37 yards, a fumble and an intentional grounding.
Not including taking two knees to end the first half, Garoppolo, who started the second half, was under center for six series, going 9-for-15 for 57 yards for the game.
Jacoby Brissett came one and completed his first three passes late in the third quarter, completing an in-cut to DeAndre Carter from 12 yards for a touchdown. Brissett, the rookie out of North Carolina State, completed all nine passes on the night for 83 yards and the touchdown.
For the full box score, click here.
Another big highlight was an electric 60-yard punt return in the third quarter by rookie Cyrus Jones that set up Brissett’s first touchdown.
The best news of the night for the Patriots was the play of the secondary. They completely shut down 2015 MVP Cam Newton, intercepting him twice on picks from Logan Ryan and Devin McCourty. Duron Harmon also picked off Derek Anderson.
Nate Ebner, who suited up last week against the Bears but did not play, also made his preseason debut on Patriots special teams after a summer spent playing for Team USA Rugby at the Rio Olympics.
An utterly frustrated Newton played eight drives in the first half, finished 13-of-29 for 100 yards and the two picks. Newton came out to start the second half and moved the Panthers down to the Patriots 11. Newton found an open Ed Dickson at the goal line but the veteran tight end dropped it. The Panthers settled for a 29-yard Graham Gano field goal.
On the second Carolina drive, Anthony Johnson and Trey Flowers teamed on what appeared to be a stunt at the line before Flowers overpowered his man for a sack. The Patriots ended Newton’s third drive with a Logan Ryan interception on a pass intended for Kelvin Benjamin.
On the next drive, Malcolm Butler laid out Dickson with a clean hit to the sternum, knocking the breath out of the receiver. The Patriots, primarily rushing only three defenders, contained Newton for most of the first quarter until a nine-yard rush around the end, setting up a fourth-and-2. That fourth drive ended with another incomplete pass from Newton.
Garoppolo started and played the first three drives. As has been the case in the first two preseason games, Garoppolo and the offense were sluggish. He was called for an intentional grounding and miscommunicated with Julian Edelman in the red area on third down. Stephen Gostkowski then pushed a 30-yard field goal attempt wide right.
After Garoppolo’s three drives, Brady made his debut with 1:56 left in the first quarter. On his very first snap, he connected with Aaron Dobson on an seam route for 37 yards down to the Panthers 12. But Brady missed over the middle on second down for Edelman.
On third down, Brady spotted Martellus Bennett open in the back of the end zone but the tight end couldn’t bright it down. The Patriots had to settle for a Gostkowski 25-yard field goal for the first points of the night.
Whether it was Garoppolo or Brady, the Patriots could not get it done on third down, failing in all four tries in the first quarter and all seven in the first half.
Newton was picked off for a second time when Chris Long stuck his right hand up in the air and tipped the pass. Devin McCourty, playing center field, hauled it in and set up Brady’s second drive of the night early in the second quarter.
Brady got some help from the run game to set up the second score of the night. Tyler Gaffney, fighting for a running back spot on the roster, made his case stronger with runs of 15 and five yards down to the Panthers 28. After a Nate Solder false start, Brady lofted a perfect pass down the right sideline to Chris Hogan. The pass carried just over the shoulders and into the arms of Hogan at the 5-yard line. Hogan did the rest, scampering into the end zone. The only miscue of the drive for Brady was misfiring to Aaron Dobson for a 2-point conversion over the middle.
Brady’s third drive of the night ended in frustrating fashion, as tight end AJ Derby, also fighting for a roster spot, dropped a sure first-down pass in the right flat on third down. That was followed up with Gostkowski’s second miss of the game and preseason, as the kicker pulled a 52-yard try wide left.
After five drives, two of which ended in interceptions, Newton was pulled with over six minutes left in the first half for Derek Anderson. Harmon intercepted Anderson inside the Patriots 5 to end the sixth drive of night.
Gostkowski finished out the New England scoring with a 30-yard field goal with 5:25 left in the fourth quarter, capping another impressive Brissett drive.
With just over two minutes left, the Panthers got on the board again late in the fourth when third-string quarterback Joe Webb hit Marcus Lucas from 18 yards out for a touchdown. Then, with 27 seconds left, the Webb hit Lucas again and followed with a 2-point conversion.