The Carolina Panthers’ short week ended with a lopsided loss, a banged-up quarterback and a long flight back to Charlotte.
The way the Panthers looked Friday night, they have some serious work to do before taking off for Tampa in two weeks. And their coach indicated they might get more work than is customary during the final week of the exhibition schedule.
New England quarterback Tom Brady carved up the Panthers’ defense to the tune of 204 yards and two touchdowns Friday in the Patriots’ 30-7 win against Carolina at Gillette Stadium.
The loss dropped the Panthers to 1-2 in the preseason, with their final exhibition set for next week at Pittsburgh. Panthers coach Ron Rivera traditionally has sat most of his starters in the last exhibition, although Rivera indicated that might not be the case this year.
“I was asked the last couple of days what I was looking for, what did I expect? I expected consistency. I expected a better performance,” Rivera said. “If we expect to be a playoff team, we need to be consistent.”
The Patriots beat the Panthers in every phase in what was the second-worst exhibition loss in Carolina’s 20-year history. The Panthers lost 35-10 at Jacksonville in a 1999 exhibition.
Only a Joe Webb-to-D.C. Jefferson touchdown pass with 1:12 remaining kept the Panthers from getting shut out.
If you want the abridged version of what went wrong for the Panthers, start with this: They failed to put even the slightest pressure on Brady, while Cam Newton was under duress all night.
Newton was sacked three times and spent most of the second half in the training room getting treatment on his surgically repaired left ankle and his back.
Newton sustained a back contusion when someone’s cleat struck him during a 7-yard scramble in the first half. Rivera said Newton was sore, but X-rays were negative.
Newton, usually one of the last players in the locker room, was on the team bus after the game and unavailable for comment.
Because officials stopped the clock for an injury, Newton came out of the game for one play before returning.
Newton was 8-of-12 passing for 88 yards, but Rivera said the timing of the passing game is still off. As a result, Rivera said he plans to play Newton next week against the Steelers, assuming he’s healthy enough.
“He’s fine,” fullback Mike Tolbert said of Newton. “He’s a warrior, so I’m sure he’s good.”
The defense against Brady was not so good.
Brady completed 17 of 21 passes for a quarterback rating of 138.8 (a perfect rating is 158.3). Brady’s performance was aided greatly by the Panthers’ inability to get so much as a hand on him.
The Panthers -- playing without defensive end Charles Johnson, who was in Charlotte with a pulled hamstring -- never sacked Brady or either of the Pats’ other quarterbacks.
“We expected a whole lot of max protection, chipping (with running backs) and whatnot. And we expected to get back there and sack him, and it didn’t happen,” said defensive end Greg Hardy, who sat out the second half with a bruised shoulder.
“You know us, we don’t really make excuses or complain,” Hardy added. “We should have gotten a whole lot more pressure, a whole lot more sacks and I feel like that would have affected the outcome of the game tremendously.”
It’s not the first time Brady, the two-time MVP, has carved up a defense. And he did it in the first half with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year on the bench.
But it had to be a little disconcerting to the Panthers’ coaches to watch Brady take his offense down the field twice in the second quarter to put the Patriots up 13-0 at halftime.
After sitting out a series, Brady returned and led New England on a pair of scoring drives against a Panthers’ defense that was missing middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who came out after playing three series.
Rivera said Kuechly was on a predetermined, 15-play limit. So Kuechly could only watch as Brady quickly took a 3-0 lead and turned it into a blowout.
“You want to be out there. It’s hard to watch it from the sideline,” Kuechly said.
“It’s weird, you don’t think about it,” Kuechly said of his play count. “You’re just out there, you’re running around, you’re having fun. And then bam, 15 plays. It goes quick because you don’t necessarily count the plays. But they sneak up on you.”
The Patriots’ last two first-half drives began on their 9. They went 91 yards in 14 plays on the first one, taking more than seven minutes off the clock before Brady found running back Shane Vereen for a 40-yard touchdown on third-and-7.
Vereen came out of the backfield on a wheel route along the sideline, and outside linebacker A.J. Klein was slow to react.
Rivera hoped Newton would get to work in the two-minute offense. Instead, it was Brady who took over inside his 10 with 1:47 remaining in the half after a Panthers’ punt.
Brady, who was not sacked in the first half, quickly drove the Patriots into Carolina territory before Stephen Gostkowski booted a 60-yard field goal that just cleared the crossbar with 3 seconds left in the half.
The Patriots outgained the Panthers 194-94 in the first half. For the game, New England held a 405 to 271 edge in total yardage.
“We’ve got to get better. I think that’s very obvious,” Kuechly said. “Guys played hard. It wasn’t so much that. We’ve got to communicate better, and I think that’s what it comes down to -- knowing what coverage we’re in, knowing where we’re fitting.”
Tolbert wasn’t overly concerned with the score.
“It’s good that it happened now instead of October.”