FOXBOROUGH — The New England Patriots came to play in the "dress rehearsal" third preseason game, handing the Carolina Panthers a 30-7 defeat.
It was the first extended action we have seen from the top units, with the starters getting plenty of playing time through the first half before giving way to the backups in the second half.
The Patriots were particularly impressive on the defensive side of the ball, where they held the Panthers to just 67 rushing yards, 16 total first downs, and most importantly, just seven points.
Here are some of the risers and fallers from tonight's win.
Jamie Collins: It took a little, but Jamie Collins began to come into his own at the end of the 2013 season and in the playoffs, and he showed up in a big way on Friday night. He came up with an open-field tackle of tight end Greg Olsen on a screen pass, and another on a scrambling Cam Newton while in spy duty. He also stepped up in a leadership role; with Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower both out of action for the night, Collins wore the green dot helmet for the Patriots defense. Collins is a candidate for a second-year jump, and the Patriots linebacker looks ready to make big contributions to the defense in 2014.
Chandler Jones: Logged two sacks of Cam Newton in the first half, including one on third down, and also chased down Newton from behind after the quarterback broke the pocket on a six-yard scramble. He also consistently set the edge against the run. With the Patriots switching to more 3-4 looks, Jones has spent more time at outside linebacker than at defensive end. He seems to be settling into his new role nicely.
Shane Vereen: The Patriots offense has a dynamic, movable piece in Shane Vereen. It wasn't a brilliant night on the ground for Vereen (six carries, 18 yards) but he turned on the jets on a 40-yard touchdown reception on a wheel route, and showed off his field awareness on his second receiving touchdown by sneaking the tip of the football across the goal line and touching the pylon as he went out of bounds. If Vereen can stay healthy, the Patriots have a potentially game-changing weapon on offense — although, admittedly, the same could be said of several Patriots offensive players (Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson).
Ryan Wendell: The battle between Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly rages on over who will be the starting center. Wendell got the start tonight, but his first series was the only series he has played with the first-team offense all preseason, and he came out on the next drive in favor of Connolly. Wendell also had a false start penalty in the first half and was still playing with backups in the second half. It's still possible for the Patriots to keep both Wendell and Connolly, but if it's one or the other, Connolly appears to be the front-runner after tonight.
Brandon LaFell: LaFell has had some bright moments since joining the Patriots, but Friday night was not one of them. Facing off against his old team, LaFell slipped on a route resulting in an incomplete pass, and dropped another pass that hit him in the hands (and that's not counting Ryan Mallett's overthrown pass down the sideline). LaFell is not in any danger of being cut, but tonight was a reminder that there is an adjustment period for all receivers in the Patriots' offense.
Ryan Mallett: The opportunities are becoming few and far between for Ryan Mallett, who came into the game in the first quarter for one drive before going back to the bench. The strategy on that decision may have been to see how Mallett fared being inserted into the game at a random spot — such is the life of a backup quarterback — but Mallett didn't do much with his opportunity, going 2-for-3 for 14 yards as the offense moved 22 yards and capped the drive with a field goal.