Popped & Dropped: Which Patriots shined vs. Panthers?
FOXBORO — Thursday's preseason game between the Patriots and Panthers saw Bill Belichick's top defense continue to cause headaches for opposing offenses, as it has all summer. It saw Tom Brady play more than a quarter and go 8-for-12. It saw Jarrett Stidham enter as the No. 2 quarterback and play every snap after Brady's departure.
But who made the most of their opportunities and who didn't? Find out in our latest edition of "Popped and Dropped."
POPPED: Michael Bennett
The Patriots continued to pressure quarterbacks with ease this preseason, and they did so with the help of a veteran who hadn't yet played in an exhibition game this summer. Bennett looked quick off the line and generate pressure from his spot as the nose tackle. His first sack as a member of the Patriots came on Carolina's final drive of the first half on third down when he got by the center easily with a nice arm-over move.
POPPED: Gunner Olszewski
With Braxton Berrios out, the rookie corner-turned-receiver out of Bemidji State got New England's punt-return reps and opened some eyes to his short-area quickness. His 28-yard return in the third quarter was sparked by a slipped tackle early in the return. Olszewski then reversed field to find open space. He finished the return off by lowering his shoulder on punter Michael Palardy. His first four returns went for a total of 63 yards. Doesn't feel like Olszewski is in line for a 53-man roster spot, but if the Patriots are desperate to get Julian Edelman away from punt-return responsibilities . . . maybe Olszewski is their guy? Maybe? Olszewski did appear to suffer a head injury after a fourth-quarter catch and was forced to leave the game. Jakobi Meyers took was the next returner up after Olszewski's departure.
POPPED: Ryan Izzo
The second-year tight end was on the receiving end of what was probably Tom Brady's most impressive completion to a tight end this summer. Running up the seam with linebacker Jermaine Carter in coverage, Brady threw a dart just outside Carter's frame. Izzo located it and snatched the rope of a throw before hitting the turf. Izzo had a questionable holding penalty earlier in the game, but he saw plenty of first-team work with Matt LaCosse out and could have put himself in better position to make the roster with one of the better offensive plays of the night for the Patriots.
DROPPED: Jakobi Meyers
The rookie wideout looked better once he was on the field with Jarrett Stidham, but when he saw reps with Tom Brady he didn't finish running a route deep down the field that helped ensure an incompletion. He also dropped a pass that was thrown slightly behind him but should've been caught. Later he was called for a holding penalty that negated a long run by Sony Michel. As someone vying for a role in a receiver room loaded with question marks, he didn't exactly cement himself as one of Brady's best available targets.
DROPPED: Patriots second offensive line
Hjalte Froholdt was called for a penalty that helped squash any momentum the Patriots had generated with a couple of long completions by Jarrett Stidham. James Ferentz got Stidham sacked on a snap earlier in the first half. Dan Skipper was called for being illegally downfield on a pass attempt. That second offensive line unit also failed to create enough room for Nick Brossette to pick up a fourth-and-short conversion. The starting group was better, but they were docked for a personal foul penalty when Marcus Cannon and Shaq Mason were flagged for a chop block that killed a drive.
DROPPED: FIeld goal operation
This might need some time to iron out. Stephen Gostkowski has had Ryan Allen holding for his kicks since 2013. On his first field goal attempt since Allen was released, a 43-yarder, he hooked it wide left. A closer look at the hold, though, showed that rookie punter Jake Bailey had the laces facing Gostkowski on the kick. Not ideal. Special teams coach Joe Judge was seen chatting with Bailey after the fact. That's something they'll have to get straightened out before Week 1. They did nail a kick later in the game, but it was from just 23 yards away.