FOXBOROUGH, Mass. Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes. Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 60-yard field goal. The New England Patriots didn’t allow a point for more than 58 minutes.
More importantly, they’re not getting carried away with their 30-7 preseason blowout of the Panthers on Friday night.
“We could have lost 30-7. None of it’s going to matter two weeks from now” in the season opener, Brady said. “It’s not so much the final score. It’s just more how guys are playing.”
Carolina’s didn’t play very well.
They were outgained 405-271, allowed three quarterbacks to direct scoring drives and didn’t score until Joe Webb threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Jefferson with 1:12 left.
“There was no consistency in the way we played,” said Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who may use his regulars longer than he had hope next Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. “It’s something that has to be corrected and has to be fixed now.”
Brady led the Patriots (2-1) to scores on three of his five series and completed 17 of 21 passes for 204 yards. Newton was 8 for 12 for 88 yards and was sacked three times. All five of his possessions ended in punts.
Both quarterbacks left after their first series of the third quarter.
Regulars usually see their most action in the third game, and it was clear that the Panthers (1-2) must get better play from their offense and from a defense that was the second stingiest in the NFL last season.
New England had more time to prepare after beating the Philadelphia Eagles 42-35 a week earlier.
“There’s no game plan,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “We can’t game plan for 90 guys. We can barely get it right when we have 46. That’s just not what this game is.”
The Panthers had just four days to get ready after last Sunday night’s 28-16 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
“That’s an excuse,” Rivera said. “I don’t want to use excuses. We practiced. We had a good game plan.”
Rivera would like to limit Newton’s running, despite his skill, and one dash Friday night appeared to stun the quarterback. He was tackled after running 7 yards when he couldn’t find a receiver. Trainers went on the field to check on him, and he was replaced by Derek Anderson before returning after one play.
Newton had the wind knocked out of him and X-rays on his back were negative, Rivera said.
Brady played the first two series before Ryan Mallett came in for some snaps against the first-string defense. His drive ended with a 47-yard field goal by Gostkowski.
“A lot of the breakdowns we had today were because of lack of communication,” Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said.
The first of Brady’s two long drives covered 91 yards and ended with a 40-yard touchdown on a pass to Shane Vereen that the back carried for the last 37. Brady completed 4 of 5 passes for 83 yards on the series.
His next drive began at his own 9 with 1:47 left in the half and ended with Gostkowski’s long field goal, 6 yards better than his career long.
“It’s really a win-win situation,” Gostkowski said. “Nobody really expects you to make it so it really puts your mind at ease.”
In the third quarter, Brady ended an 80-yard march with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Vereen that made it 20-0.
On the next series, Carolina moved from its 20 to the Patriots 7, but Steve Beauharnais intercepted Anderson’s pass and returned it 61 yards to the Carolina 35. That drive ended in a 21-yard field goal by Gostkowski, and the Patriots tacked on another touchdown on Jimmy Garoppolo’s 11-yard pass to Taylor McCuller.
“The days are winding down until these games count, so it gets pretty exciting here in a few weeks,” Brady said, “but you’ve still got to try to use these days to make as many improvements as we can.”