The proverbial dress rehearsal hardly resembled the main event Friday night for the Patriots, who suffered their first loss of the preseason in a 25-14 on the road to the Carolina Panthers.
Tom Brady played the entire first half offensively for the Patriots, during which time the team mustered only three points. He completed 12 of 18 passes for 102 yards, his completions far more noticeable for who was on the receiving end.
•Phillip Dorsett caught only 12 passes all of last season, no more than three in a single game. He had four Friday on 36 yards, including a catch on a target from Brady on fourth-and-3 to keep a first half drive alive.
In-depth news coverage of the Greater Boston Area.
•At the start of the summer, Dorsett's roster status was anything but a given. With his competition at receiver being shown the door one by one, not only is Dorsett an iron clad roster lock at this point, it's clear he's going to get every opportunity to develop chemistry with Brady that never came about his first year in Foxboro.
•Eric Decker, meanwhile, didn't play a snap in the first half with Brady and the rest of the starters. He could be seen running on to the field at one point, only to head back to the sideline for reasons unknown. Once he entered the game in the second half, he drew a flag for a false start on New England's first drive. He finished with two catches for 12 yards, both receptions courtesy of Brian Hoyer.
•It was Riley McCarron who saw snaps in spots which one could have presumed Decker would see action Friday in the first half. Though he wasn't targeted by Brady, McCarron's appearances on the field as a punt returner could give him yet another leg up on Decker for the team's final spot at wide receiver.
•Rob Gronkowski played ... sort of. He was targeted just once by Brady, on a ball that was batted down at the line of scrimmage. We'll next see No. 87 on Sept. 9 vs. the Houston Texans.
•Also of note on the offensive side of the ball, LaAdrian Waddle drew the start at right tackle in place of Marcus Cannon, who has missed 12 straight practices for the Patriots due to injury. Waddle was briefly pulled from the game by Bill Belichick after being flagged for a personal foul with New England knocking on the door of the end zone. In his place stood Ulrick John, who has the early lead in filling Isaiah Wynn’s roster spot.
•Jeremy Hill, who's outperformed Mike Gillislee in game action this summer, left the game with an apparent ankle injury inside 3 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
•Defensively, Keionta Davis started the game at defensive end for the Patriots, recording one tackle while in with the starters. After signing with the team as an undrafted rookie in 2017 – only to miss the entire season on the non-football injury list – Davis has made a late surge up New England's depth chart, further clouding the equation on an already-strong defensive line.
•Jason McCourty's time in the first half came at a position he has virtually no experience at in the NFL: safety. It's hardly unprecedented for cornerbacks to slide back to safety later in their careers – think Charles Woodson or Rod Woodson – and while McCourty had a nice run stuff at one point, he was a step late getting to a ball while in coverage as the roaming "center fielder."
•For the second time in three games, rookie Ja'Whaun Bentley finished atop the stat sheet for the Patriots in tackles, with five (technically, he tied for the lead with Kyle Van Noy).
•Van Noy had an outstanding first half with two run stuffs and a tackle of Cam Newton on third-and-long to get the defense off the field.
•Notable defensive players who remained in the game well into the fourth quarter for the Patriots included Eric Lee, Vincent Valentine, Jordan Richards, Marquis Flowers and Cyrus Jones.
•Stephen Gostkowski missed a 46-yard field goal, but also made a 52-yard attempt later on. It's his second field goal from 50 or more yards this preseason, to go along with a 49-yarder against the Eagles.
•Two roster battles that are unquestionably over, if they ever even started: punter and fullback. James Develin was always going to beat out Henry Poggi for the battering ram role in the backfield, but Poggi lost a fumble are securing his only catch of the game. In 16 punting opportunities this summer, incumbent Ryan Allen has taken them all. Undrafted rookie Corey Bojorquez has remained on the bench.