There’s no better regular-season dress rehearsal for the Carolina Panthers than playing the reigning Super Bowl champions.
That’s what the Panthers will get Friday night when they host the New England Patriots, but one large question hangs over the game. How much will Super Bowl Most Valuable Player quarterback Tom Brady play?
Brady has been suspended by the NFL for four games for his involvement in what has become known as Deflategate. Whether he serves any or all of that time is being handled in the courts, and there will be a resolution before the regular season.
While that’s being worked out, Brady can practice with the Patriots and play in exhibitions. But he has done very little of that.
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Through two exhibitions, Brady has taken just 16 snaps in five series with one first down and four three-and-outs. He’s 3-for-9 for 23 yards.
New England coach Bill Belichick historically is guarded about strategy, so it’s unclear what his plan for Brady is Friday night. But logic would indicate he would like to get Brady going and pick up more than one first down this preseason.
The Panthers and Patriots met in the third exhibition last year and Brady roasted Carolina. He played more than half the game and was surgical in the passing game, going 17-of-21 for 204 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Of course, there was no doubt Brady would be the Week 1 starter last year. This year that cloud hangs above the Patriots, and they have been planning for other scenarios.
Second-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has seen all the other time at quarterback for New England this preseason. Garoppolo is 48-of-63 for 428 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions through two exhibitions.
“I had an opportunity to watch tape (Wednesday) night, and I like his presence in the pocket,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of Garoppolo. “I think he’s done a nice job. He seems to really pick up what they’re doing offensively. You watch him with handling their offensive calls and the way he handles things at the line of scrimmage, I think he’s coming along very nicely for them.”
Rivera plans to use his starters for 35 to 40 plays Friday night, and he hopes that stretches into the first series of the third quarter. Much like Brady, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton also needs to find his rhythm in an exhibition.
Newton has nine completions in 20 attempts for 125 yards. He led one touchdown drive against Buffalo, threw an interception against Miami and couldn’t get into the end zone in four tries inside the 2 against the Dolphins.