CHARLOTTE (AP) — Tom Brady overcame two early interceptions to lead his first touchdown drive of the preseason as the New England Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers 17-16 on Friday night.
The preseason has been a titanic struggle for Brady, who is awaiting word on his appeal of a four-game suspension for his role in “Deflategate.”
After managing just three first downs in his first 11 preseason possessions, Brady finally got on track, leading an 80-yard scoring drive before halftime running the hurry-up offense. He capped the drive with a well-placed 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Scott Chandler.
The Patriots played again without tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receivers Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman.
Carolina managed just two field goals in the first half behind Cam Newton and trailed 7-6 at halftime. Corey Brown bobbled away an easy TD pass from Newton — one of four Carolina drops in the first half.
Newton finished 17 of 28 for 160 yards and a touchdown.
New England’s first six possessions included four three-and-outs and two Brady interceptions, although one came when Panthers cornerback Charles Tillman wrestled the ball away from Aaron Dobson on the ground.
Brady’s other interception came when he fired over the middle in traffic and safety Kurt Coleman stepped in front of the pass.
Before his TD drive, Brady had a quarterback rating of 2.8 for the game. He exited at halftime, finishing 7 of 13 for 84 yards.
Carolina’s first-team offense has had struggles of its own this preseason, scoring 20 points on 15 drives as penalties and drops ruined scoring opportunities.
Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula had expressed hope earlier in the week that Brown might step up and become Carolina’s No. 1 wide receiver with Kelvin Benjamin out for the season. But Brown had multiple drops for the second straight game.
After Brown’s third drop of the game, Newton walked over and hugged a dejected Brown and patted him on the helmet.
“Coach talks all of the time about playing a clean game and not beating ourselves,” Panthers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. “I think that was the epitome of the offense for the first half. It was self-inflicted wounds and that is why the performance wasn’t what it should have been.”