The worst thing about Thursday night was three quarters of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton not even being there on the sideline at Gillette Stadium.
Newton left the game with an apparent left foot injury, and once he went to the training room, he never returned. For the second consecutive preseason game, the Panthers offense was tepid at best in a 10-3 loss to the New England Patriots. Not that the defense was much better. Despite not giving up many points, the Panthers constantly allowed the Pats to produce time-consuming drives.
Grading the Panthers:
D When the first half ends with the former NFL MVP quarterback injured, and zero Panthers points, there are obviously troubles. The Patriots blitzed constantly when Newton was in the game and Carolina didn’t react well at all; the pass rush got to Newton, either for sacks or hurries, before receivers came open.
In his only action of the preseason, Newton delivered some decent mid-range passes. However, the sight of him leaving the field, with a slight limp on his left foot, grimacing on the sideline, then leaving for the training room, was chilling. Newton’s backup, Kyle Allen (3-of-6 passing for 16 yards), didn’t get anything going when he came in for the second game in a row.
Rookie quarterback Will Grier converted a fourth-and-2 at midfield early in the fourth quarter, buying some time for Reggie Bonnafon to get open. It’s clear Grier’s timing is still a challenge as he catches up to the speed of NFL defenses.
C- Christian McCaffrey didn’t get a lot of work in his only preseason appearance, which is probably wise as far as the injury risk. He averaged 5.3 yards on three carries. As coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday, the primary objective concerning the running game was getting looks at rookies Jordan Scarlett and Elijah Holyfield.
The offensive line continues to commit penalties, which disrupts any kind of sustained drive. When a team goes scoreless until about 10 minutes remain in a preseason game, there are layers of issues. Worse still, rookie tackle Greg Little left the game to be evaluated for a possible concussion.
C Rookie linebacker-defensive end Brian Burns ran down Patriots backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham from behind early in the second half, knocking the ball loose to force a fumble. That’s the sort of big play Carolina’s pass rush lacked most of last season. Burns had another sack — he has four for the preseason — and tackle Dontari Poe forced pressure up the middle for a sack in the first half.
There was some pre-snap confusion in the secondary early in the game, and safety Eric Reid had a late hit that isn’t the sort of penalty you expect veterans to commit. Linebacker Antwione Williams was flagged for pass interference, but mitigated the damage with a sack right after that.
F The Patriots crossed 100 rushing yards early in the fourth quarter, more than double the Panthers’ total at the same juncture. That contributed to a time-of-possession advantage of about 10 minutes for New England. The Patriots were constantly converting third downs, which is telling about how the Panthers were beaten physically. Sure, Carolina didn’t give up a lot of points, but that wasn’t the same as getting the defense off the field.
D The Patriots’ Gunner Olszewski had a 28-yard punt return. That’s a week after the Buffalo Bills’ Andre Roberts returned a punt 37 yards. A team that isn’t generating much offense sure can’t afford to give up field-flipping special team plays week after week.
D Rivera will be second-guessed for playing Newton, considering whatever happened to the quarterback’s foot. Penalties, confusion in the secondary and giving up all those third-down conversions add up to a team that was dominated far more than the score reflected.