In the Patriots third preseason game, New England flew into Carolina and put up a 24-7 beating on the former NFC Championship contender. The Panthers fought hard, but by the time the Patriots got on track, the Panthers were down by double digits and a long way from getting back into the game.
Preseason is one way for coaches to evaluate players, but too much shouldn't be read into the results. Many times coaches try things in preseason that they would only use under desperate times in the regular season. Such was the case when the Patriots opted to run the ball 9 times in a row before finally relenting to throw a pass. Another example could be when Bill Belichick opted to go for a first down on a fourth and one form the Patriots' own 24 yard line.
So if you can't really count on the results, then what can you take away from a game like the one that transpired in Charlotte on Friday night?
Personnel evaluations. That's what the team was looking to conduct, and they may have been able to get enough of it done by week three to make the decisions on final roster spots a little easier.
Here's what we learned from the 24-7 win over Carolina.
1) Sammy Morris is for real: We've been beating the drum that Sammy Morris brings a lot more to the table than just a backup to Laurence Maroney. It was Morris' hard running on a fourth down and again on a third down play during the team's 18-play near 10 minute scoring drive that kept the chains moving. Morris simply could have gone to the turf to protect himself rather than reach for the extra yard, but somehow he twisted his body the extra distance to ensure the conversion. Morris moved the chains 3 out of the team's 5 first downs in that drive, carrying defenders past the line of gain each time. He would have had another first down had Stephen Neal not committed a holding penalty.
Morris will be more than just a backup to Maroney, he is an all-purpose back who has proven he can gain the tough yards - a task Maroney may need him to do if the sophomore is to protect his injured shoulder.
2) Mike Richardson is making a case for a roster spot: Richardson impressed at points in training camp, and continued his efforts through the preseason. It was his near interception against the Titans in the first preseason game, which turned some heads. Richardson was modest about the play knowing he has a long way to go to make the final roster. But two weeks later, the Notre Dame product again came up with big plays. Twice in the Panthers first four possessions, Richardson was the defender who stopped the Panthers short. Of course, it was also Richardson who lost Keary Colbert on an inside slant pattern just before the half that allowed the Carolina receiver to take a short pass and run the distance for a 48-yard score. Eugene Wilson's leg issue may have also been the cause of that long gain, it was his job to cover Colbert over the top.
3) Wilson may be headed to the PUP/IR: On the Keary Colbert touchdown score in the first half, Eugene Wilson had over the top coverage on the play. Video replays show Wilson pulling up short on in initial attempt to close on Colbert and then falling far short in his attempt to jump tackle Colbert near the end zone. Wilson did not return to the game after starting the entire game with the first team defense.
|Carolina Panthers' Keary Colbert (83) races toward the end zone for ana48-yard touchdown as teammate Steve Smith (89) and New England Patriots' Eugene Wilson (26) and Randall Gay (21) look on during a preseason NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Aug. 24, 2007. (AP Photo/Rick Havner)|
Wilson was placed on injured reserve last season after injuring his hamstring in the third week. He attempted to come back during the season, but ended up on I/R in December after appearing in just 4 games during the season.. If he re-aggravated the hamstring, it's likely Wilson will start the season on the PUP list to give him time to recover properly, or he may end up on injured reserve.
4) Matt Gutierrez deserves a shot: Although Matt Gutierrez has shown signs of promise throughout training camp, it's unlikely with Vinny Testaverde on the roster that Gutierrez will get a chance to keep a spot on the active roster. The Patriots almost never keep four quarterbacks on the active roster, which means Gutierrez could be a victim of the roster cuts this week.
At this point Gutierrez's body of work in the NFL is sketchy at best. He could benefit from sitting behind a couple of veteran signal callers like Tom Brady and Testaverde, but roster numbers are at a premium. Gutierrez will likely get one more shot to show he deserves a chance, and that will be on Thursday against the New York Giants in Foxboro. If he's cut, the Patriots would most likely try to sneak the former Michigan signal caller onto the practice squad, but it's unlikely they would be successful seeing that many teams need a promising young signal caller to groom.
Gutierrez's fate may rest on the Patriots decision to win now vs winning later, by choosing Testaverde over Gutierrez for the team's third quarterback roster spot.
5) Willie Andrews has moved up the ladder: We've been - or at least I've been - a strong advocate of Willie Andrews since the Patriots used a seventh round draft pick on him in 2006. Once considered a throw away pick, Andrews has parlayed his opportunity on special teams to one that may actually enable him to be a valuable contributor for the Patriots. Such was the case when Andrews was chosen as the player to replace the injured Eugene Wilson in the Patriots' first team defense Friday night.
After spending a good portion of training camp covering receivers out of the slot, Andrews' versatility as both a safety and a corner may be just what he needs to secure a roster spot. It was Andrews' smack down of Jake Delhomme on a third-and-five from the Patriots 25 that forced Delhomme to hurry a surefire touchdown to Steve Smith in the end zone. Andrews timed his safety blitz perfectly, waiting until it was almost too late to get through the line. Andrews went untouched and leveled Delhomme as the Panthers' QB lobbed a deep ball for Smith in the end zone. Smith had the coverage of Randall Gay beaten, but the ball was uncatchable, thanks to Andrews' pressure.
Add in Andrews' ability to return kicks, or block for kick returns (see Ellis Hobbs returns of 33 and 40 yards against Tennessee in 2006 for an example), and Andrews has become the consummate all-around player.
|New England Patriots' Heath Evans (44) stretches out for a touchdown as Carolina Panthers' Thomas Davis (58) and Adam Seward (59) defend during the third quarter in an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Aug. 24, 2007. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)|
6) Miami made A mistake by cutting Evans: When we asked Seahawks.net contributor Doug Farrar about Heath Evans in 2005, we thought that the Patriots had just picked up a guy that Seattle gave up on after four seasons (2001-04), and that Miami didn't know what to do with (2005). We were told Evans never lived up to his reputation, and that the Pats might be able to get "something" out of him, but not to expect too much.
The Dolphins picked up Evans to start the 2005 season, but released the Auburn product mid-season. He was picked up November 1, 2005 by New England. Evans had his first breakout game against his former team (Miami) two weeks later. Evans rushed for 84 yards on 17 carries and caught 3 passes fro 18 yards sparking New England's 23-16 victory. It was that game - one he filled in for Corey Dillon - that showed what Evans could do if used properly.
Evans had a big game against Carolina, scoring a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter. In 7 carries he rushed for 58 yards (8.2 avg.), including a 2-yard TD plunge. He also caught a pair of passes for 19 yards; one of them was an 8-yard score. It was a 43-yard rumble on the second scoring drive, which showed why he could be such a threat. Not only does Evans have the size to run inside, he has the speed to get outside for a big gain.
7) Nick Kaczur CAN block: In the much-analyzed competition for duties at right tackle between Nick Kaczur and Ryan O'Callaghan, it appears the job is now Kaczur's to lose. While left tackle Matt light had tight end help much of the game to slow down the Carolina rush, it was Kaczur who performed well without an extra blocker on the outside. Kaczur routinely knocked his opponent backwards on run plays getting a strong push often in tandem with RG Stephen Neal. More importantly, Kaczur managed to avoid getting beat when Carolina brought pressure. Tom Brady had enough time to get the ball to his receivers, sometimes even waiting on receivers to get open after the initial pattern.
O'Callaghan was part of the third quarter drive that put more points up on the board, and there's little doubt he can drive block. The challenge for New England now is how to rotate this pair throughout the year in case injury besets the duo as it did last season. O'Callaghan started the year for Kaczur who was coming off a shoulder injury. The pair switched back when O'Callaghan was sidelined with an injury of his own (neck).
8) New England Really Missed When They Passed On LB Beason: Jon Beason was selected with the 25th pick in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft, one pick after the Patriots selected Brandon Meriweather. New England was interested enough in Beason that Bill Belichick flew to Florida to work him out personally. After seeing the former University of Miami linebacker fill holes and rush to the ball, it looks like Belichick may have missed a great opportunity to land a linebacker of the future.
While it's far too early to label Beason as anything more than a potentially solid rookie, instinct tells us that he's going to be everything the Panthers thought they were getting when they selected him. Tied for a team high 6 tackles on Friday night, Beason appeared to be in on many more plays. He was everywhere.
More Quick Hits on the game:
-- Stephen Gostkowski's training camp struggles with long distance kicks has continued through the preseason. Gostkowski needs to lock in on every kick and not pull so many wide left. Gostkowski made 1 of three field goals on the night - the shortest of his three attempts, a 23-yard chip shot in the first half. His pair of misses were from 52 and 43 yards out .
-- Oscar Lua may make the roster over Corey Mays, despite being a step (or two) slower. Lua put himself in position to intercept a David Carr pass at the New England 10-yard line to snuff out an 11-play 63-yard drive. Mays did not record any statistics for the game.
-- Le Kevin Smith can play both NT and DE. Smith lined up at both the interior and the end positions during the second half of the game against the Panthers. While the Nebraska product hasn't seen much action on the inside, his performance was encouraging as the Panthers chose to abandon the interior running plays after meeting little success.
-- Still no Moss. Randy Moss has not plays in a single preseason game for the Patriots. Although experience tells us that is it s a long season and Moss can build his way into the rotation, the issue is how long it will take Moss to develop live action chemistry with Tom Brady.
-- Blocked FGs may be the norm. The Patriots were able to block two Panthers field goal attempts. Although the Panthers were shifting their line around on special teams, and did not have their regulars in the mix, New England's ability to destroy the protection with Vince Wilfork, Jarvis Green and Santonio Thomas bodes well for their potential to do that during the season. The Patriots actually tipped another kick by John Kasay -- an extra point attempt -- but the kick was good.
Jon Scott has covered the NFL since 1995. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long time contributor to the Scout.com network. A New England native, Scott has followed the Patriots for over two decades and covered the team since 2001. He can be found in the Insider's Lounge under the handle JSinCT