At least for one series Tom Brady looked like Tom Brady again.
The four-time Super Bowl champion overcame two early interceptions to lead his first touchdown drive of the preseason as the New England Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers 17-16 on Friday night.
New England's first six possessions included four three-and-outs and two Brady interceptions, although one came when Panthers cornerback Charles Tillman wrestled the ball away from Aaron Dobson on the ground. Brady's other pick came when he fired over the middle in traffic and safety Kurt Coleman stepped in front of the pass.
Before his TD drive, Brady had a quarterback rating of 2.8. He exited at halftime, finishing 7 of 13 for 84 yards.
"We didn't do much offensively," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said when asked to assess Brady's performance.
Brady left without speaking to reporters after the game; the Patriots are not making him available to the media in a preseason that has been a titanic struggle for Brady, who is awaiting word on his appeal of a four-game suspension for his role in "Deflategate."
After managing just three first downs in his first 11 preseason possessions, Brady finally got on track, leading an 80-yard scoring drive before halftime running the hurry-up offense. He capped the drive with a well-placed 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Scott Chandler over the shoulder of linebacker Thomas Davis.
The Patriots played again without tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receivers Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman.
Carolina managed just two field goals in the first half behind Cam Newton and trailed 7-6 at halftime. Corey Brown bobbled away an easy TD pass from Newton - one of four Carolina drops in the first half.
Newton finished 17 of 28 for 160 yards and a touchdown.
Carolina's first-team offense has had struggles of its own this preseason, scoring 20 points on 15 drives as penalties and drops ruined scoring opportunities.
"As an offense we need to be better," Newton said. "It's frustrating that at halftime, with the defense playing its tails off, and we only had six points."
Observations from the game:
Patriots: Backup Jimmy Garoppolo was 13 of 17 for 126 yards, including a 9-yard TD pass to Dion Lewis.
Panthers: Backup Derek Anderson didn't see much action, going 4 of 5 for 49 yards before being relieved by Joe Webb. Webb misfired on all six pass attempts.
Patriots: You never know what Belichick is going to do at running back, but neither Brandon Bolden nor Jonas Gray could find any holes early in the game. Bolden had 12 yards on five carries and Gray had 11 yards on five carries.
Panthers: While Brown struggled at wide receiver, Ted Ginn Jr. had a solid game for the Panthers with three catches for 30 yards and also had a 32-yard punt return. He could challenge Brown for a starting job.
Patriots: Chandler finished with three receptions for 39 yards, including the TD.
Panthers: With Kelvin Benjamin out for the season, look for Pro Bowl TE Greg Olsen to be Carolina's top receiving option this season. He had five catches for 43 yards, although he did have a rare drop. Olsen is coming off a career season in 2014 with 84 receptions for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns.
Patriots: Backup fullback James Develin was carted off the field in the fourth quarter after injuring his left leg.
Panthers: Tillman (head), WR Jerricho Cotchery (groin), and center Brian Folkerts (ankle) left early. Tillman had an interception and Cotchery had four catches for 38 yards.
WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR YOU
Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula expressed hope earlier in the week that Brown might step up and become Carolina's No. 1 wide receiver with Kelvin Benjamin out for the season. But Brown has dropped five passes in the last two games. After Brown's third drop, Newton walked over and hugged a dejected Brown on the sideline and patted him on the helmet.
Veteran Reggie Wayne played about 20 snaps after joining the Patriots earlier in the week. He was targeted once on a quick slant, but couldn't come up with the catch.
"You go from on the beach chilling to playing football, so it was definitely a shock to the body," Wayne said.
WHERE'S THE BEEF
For third straight preseason game, the Panthers played without starting defensive end Charles Johnson (calf) and defensive tackles Star Lotulelei (foot) and Kawann Short (back).