FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Picked-up pieces from reviewing the second quarter of the Patriots’ 30-7 preseason win over the Panthers:
1. A good example of the toughness that fullback James Develin has brought to the Patriots was seen on Stevan Ridley's 9-yard run to help the Patriots dig out of some tough field position (their own 9) and ultimately go on an impressive 14-play, 91-yard touchdown drive. Motioning right to left, Develin (6-3, 255) delivered a wham block on defensive lineman Dwan Edwards (6-3, 305) that helped open the initial hole. Without Develin's effort, Edwards probably drops Ridley for a loss. While Bill Belichick noted it was a tough night for the running game, which is reflected by the overall numbers (31 carries, 82 yards, 2.6 avg.), I thought the team's running in specific/critical situations was effective, with this play one example.
2. First-year running back Jonas Gray's presence in the second quarter was notable. I view it as similar to when the Patriots put quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo into the game in the second quarter last week to see how he responded. The 5-foot-10, 225-pound Gray (5 snaps) was competitive in his first-half reps (e.g. 8-yard run) and his presence reflects how the Patriots have some good depth at running back, even on a night when the Patriots had some struggles in the running game.
3. Tom Brady's best throw of the night? I'd go with the 21-yard sideline gem to Kenbrell Thompkins on third-and-19. He had great protection up front (Nate Solder-Logan Mankins-Ryan Wendell-Dan Connolly-Marcus Cannon) against the four-man rush and it was a smooth route from start to finish by Thompkins. Second-year Panthers safety Robert Lester looked like he was late coming over, helping to create the opening.
4. This was Ryan Wendell's quarter to show that he still deserves the starting center spot. He played both series and they both ended with points on the board. Not a lot of pressure up the middle, with Wendell's one noticeable blemish a false start penalty in which his body twitched, while his strong block on Star Lotulelei helped contribute to a 5-yard run by James White on the 91-yard touchdown drive. I thought Wendell made a statement that he is still deserving of the spot, especially when paired with Dan Connolly at right guard.
5. The ability for cornerbacks and safeties to play strong in run force is valued highly by the coaching staff and Tavon Wilson showed he was up to the task on DeAngelo Williams' carry for no gain early in the quarter. Wilson was fearless in taking on pulling tackle Byron Bell, forcing Williams to turn the run inside, where Chandler Jones gobbled him up.
6. Jones played a remarkable first quarter, but the second didn't get off on the right foot for him. Aligned across from tight end Greg Olsen on the defensive right side, Jones lunged at Olsen at the snap, appearing to play the run. But Olsen released into a pass route and Jones was forced to hold him to recover, which was correctly penalized by the officiating crew. Olsen, a savvy veteran, might have fooled Jones by initially stepping to his left as if it were a running play, which was augmented with fellow tight end Ed Dickson motioning to the same side to create a strong side to run toward. Jones took the bait.
7. This game wasn't about schemes, or matching personnel, so we'll tread lightly on running back Shane Vereen's 40-yard touchdown catch-and-run while pointing out that it came out of the seldom-used-in-2013 "pony" grouping with two running backs on the field at the same time (Vereen and James White). I asked Panthers coach Ron Rivera after the game how the two-RB package can create stress on a defense, and he said, "It depends on who the backs are. If it's with people who [have] speed, and you've got two quality backs in there, that could create some tough situations." Vereen's work in the passing game is well-documented, and White could contribute in that area too, so we'll be keeping our eyes on the "pony" personnel in 2014. Specific to Vereen's touchdown, Rivera felt it was less about the stress put on the defense and more of a case of linebacker A.J. Klein not reacting accordingly to a wheel route and getting his eyes caught looking in the backfield.
8. The two-minute offense featured four receivers and one running back as the main grouping. That reflects an adjustment without tight end Rob Gronkowski, as the Patriots would normally have a tight end in that scenario. The four receivers were Julian Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins, Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell.
9. Great reaction from Patriots players to kicker Stephen Gostkowski's 60-yard field goal at the end of the quarter, with many of them congratulating him and showing genuine excitement. That seemed to reflect how well-liked Gostkowski is among teammates. Kickers can sometimes find it a lonely existence but it has often been said that Gostkowski has blended in well as a football player among his teammates. That moment, in part, seemed to reflect that.