FOXBOROUGH — Tom Brady completed 17 of 21 passes for 204 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Shane Vereen in the Patriots’ 30-7 victory over the Panthers Friday night at Gillette Stadium.
Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski hit a 60-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the first half against the Panthers Friday night, giving his team a 13-0 lead.
Had the kick occurred in a regular-season game, it would have been the longest in team history — currently the record is 57 yards, by Adam Vinatieri in 2002.
Gostkowski was mobbed by his teammates after the conversion, the highlight play in a solid half for the Patriots on both sides of the ball.
“I thought we took another step in our preparation tonight,” coach Bill Belichick said. “There were a lot of positive things out there, some stuff we have to work on. The guys had good effort tonight; it followed a good week.”
As expected, most of New England’s starters played the majority of the half and into the third quarter.
Brady started and played the first two series, but was pulled for Ryan Mallett for one series. Belichick was testing Mallett, making sure he was mentally and physically ready in case an emergency situation ever arises.
“That’s a situation that a quarterback can be in,” Belichick said. “That’s our opportunity to do it, so we did it.”
Mallett led the Patriots to their first points. Starting at midfield after a 30-yard punt return from Julian Edelman, a third-down run from Vereen ended just short of the first-down mark when the running back slipped.
New England went for it on fourth down, and there were two flags thrown against Carolina, giving Mallett a fresh set of downs. Again the third-down conversion fell just short, as former Boston College standout Luke Kuechly stopped Edelman short. Gostkowski’s 47-yard field goal try went right down the middle for a 3-0 lead.
When Brady returned, he led a 14-play touchdown drive, overcoming an offensive pass interference call against Danny Amendola that pushed New England to its own 10.
Kenbrell Thompkins had two receptions for 35 yards on the possession, though he dropped a third pass. Vereen finished off the drive in impressive fashion. He was wide open on a wheel route from Brady and ran into the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown.
Brady left after the Patriots scored on their first possession of the second half.It was another long drive, this one covering 80 yards, and ended when Vereen scored on a 6-yard toss from Brady.
Vereen stretched for the goal line and hit the right pylon but was initially ruled down. But Belichick challenged the call and after review, referee Carl Cheffers gave Vereen the touchdown.
Brady finished with 13 of his completions going to two of his favored targets: Edelman (8 receptions for 99 yards) and Vereen (5 for 57).
“It was a slow start all the way around, and it was good to make some plays in the second and third quarter,” Brady said. “It’s good to get a win, especially in this game – if you don’t execute well, [the Panthers] are going to be really tough. I have a lot of respect for them after last year.”
Rookie Jimmy Garoppolo took over at quarterback with 1:26 remaining in the third after linebacker Steve Beauharnais ended Carolina’s best series with a red-zone interception of Derek Anderson.
Anderson had the Panthers moving, but on a third and 7, Beauharnais, a seventh-round pick last year, read him all the way and stepped in front of the pass, running it back to the Carolina 35 before he was pushed out of bounds.
It was the only turnover of the night for a stout Patriots’ defense.
Chandler Jones put the league on notice that he is primed for a major season. He had drive-ending sacks on back-to-back possessions in the first quarter, manhandling left tackle Byron Bell both times.
Jones also dropped back into coverage a couple of times, including once on Panthers’ first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin.
“It was something I worked on in camp,” Jones said. “Kelvin Benjamin, he’s a legit player. I’ve watched him in college and I saw a few glimpses of him tonight. He’s a tremendous player. We kind of joked at the end of the play, like ‘Oh that was a close one.’ He was calling for the ball, so it was a good play.”
New England also looked strong against the run. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who had a stellar night running against the Patriots last November, was held in check, as were running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
The Panthers had 18 runs through three quarters, but gained just 41 yards.
Newton took a knee to the back courtesy of Jamie Collins in the first half, and went to the sideline for one play. After the game, Carolina coach Ron Rivera said Newton got the wind knocked out of him. He had precautionary X-rays that were negative.Shalise Manza Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.