FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - TOM BRADY got what he wanted.
The 15-year New England quarterback had mentioned on Wednesday that "it'd be nice" to have a good preseason Week 3 this year after "a couple of doozies" in recent years.
He and the Patriots delivered Friday night with a 30-7 victory over the Carolina Panthers. Brady was 17 for 21 for 204 yards, two touchdowns and a rating of 138.9, as he and the New England starters dominated the Panthers.
"It's an important week for us to try to get better," Brady said after the game. "The days are winding down until all these games count.
"We could have lost 30-7 and none of it's going to matter two weeks from now. I think it's more just about our improvement and guys finding roles for themselves and getting into their game conditions. I think that's what this game is all about. It's not so much the final score; it's just more how guys are playing and how guys are reacting to situations and whether guys can find a role on the team."
The Patriots lost 40-9 in preseason Week 3 of 2013 and 34-10 in 2011, but of course advanced to at least the AFC Championship game both of those years. Both preseason losses came to the Lions.
Brady played five drives and saw his final snap at 8:30 remaining in the third quarter, but sat out one drive in the first quarter while Ryan Mallett took over. Bill Belichick likely wanted to give Mallett a brief chance to play against better competition, as rookie Jimmy Garoppolo got that opportunity last week against the Eagles.
Garoppolo played the tail end of the third quarter and all of the fourth. He was 9-for-12 for 105 yards and a touchdown, while Mallett only attempted three passes and had two completions for 14 yards on his lone drive.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots pressured Panthers quarterback Cam Newton frequently while he was in. Rob Ninkovich even started things off by sacking Newton on Carolina's first offensive play of the game. Chandler Jones then forced fourth down on both of the Panthers' first two drives with sacks of his own.
Vereen's big game
Shane Vereen had 427 receiving yards for the Patriots last year, which was more than double the amount of rushing yards he had. So it was no surprise to see Vereen playing an instrumental role in the passing game Friday night.
In the second quarter, the fourth-year running back out of California caught a short pass from Brady on the right side and found plenty of room in front of him on his way to a 40-yard score. Then, in the third quarter, Vereen caught another short pass and dove for the pylon as he was falling out of bounds. After Vereen was initially ruled down at the two-yard line, a successful challenge by Belichick overturned the call.
Belichick seemed to be keeping the red flag in his pocket previously during this preseason, most notably on what may have been an incredible Brian Tyms touchdown catch at Washington. On Friday, the New England head coach came up on the right end of a challenge decision and gave Vereen a well-deserved second touchdown. Vereen finished with five receptions on five targets for 57 yards.
Stephen Gostkowski made three field goals Friday, including the longest one he's ever made in a game, from 60 yards out.
The kick came on a play that started with eight seconds left in the first half and Gostkowski got just enough of the ball to put it over the bottom bar of the upright.
"The thing about trying a long field goal like that is there are no expectations," Gostkowski said. "You go out there, and it's really a win-win situation. Nobody really expects you to make it, so it really puts your mind at ease.
"We got out there a little late, the play clock was running down, so I didn't really get to aim. I just kind of kicked it, and luckily the wind blew it enough to the left, a nice little draw, and it just fell in there. It was cool to see everybody getting excited and stuff like that. It was just a pretty cool experience.
"Any kicker in the NFL can kick a ball 60 yards, it's just kicking it straight and then when the pressure's on, it's a different story."
Belichick was very pleased with Gostkowski's kick, as it was a valuable preseason experience to keep in mind moving forward."I think it really visually now gives our offense as clear of a picture as they could possibly have of where we need to get to, how much a couple extra yards means in that situation and hopefully we can make those kicks when we get in the regular season," Belichick said.
Belichick also said that he would normally try to get the ball to the 35 for Gostkowski and that Friday's big kick was from around the 42. The longest field goal Gostkowski had ever attempted in a game previously was from 54 yards out.