FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Cleaning out the notebook from the New England Patriots' 30-7 victory over the Panthers at Gillette Stadium on Friday night:
Versatile Jones making mark in front seven. Chandler Jones was one of the star performers on defense with a team-high six tackles and two sacks. The Patriots have been playing a basic 3-4 defense, with Jones at right outside linebacker. In the past, he's also played right defensive end in the 4-3, reduced inside to rush over the guard in sub packages, and also has lined up over the tight end. "He's a very athletic player with good length, and good playing strength, so he had a lot of versatility athletically," coach Bill Belichick said. "He [also] has a lot of versatility mentally. That just gives our defense more flexibility."
More on Vereen's 40-yard touchdown catch-and-run. One of the things that made Shane Vereen's 40-yard catch-and-run touchdown a bit unique was that it came out of the "pony" grouping with two running backs on the field at the same time (Vereen and James White). The Patriots used that grouping once all last season (vs. the Colts in the playoffs), and on Friday night, Vereen ran a wheel route and left linebacker A.J. Klein behind. "A.J. should have expanded with the back and he was looking where he shouldn't have been," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "He had dirty eyes. So he got beat to the flat and he was able to turn it up and get the edge on him and score."
When coverage and the rush work together. One theme heard from both locker rooms was how the Patriots' combination of rush and coverage was the key to their solid defensive performance. Defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich said his first-quarter sack was a result of having so much time. "Definitely a coverage sack," he said. "That goes to the secondary." Meanwhile, one of Jones' two sacks came on a nice inside move against Byron Bell, who failed to take away the inside.
Pass protection keeps quarterbacks clean. The Patriots had 36 pass attempts and there were no quarterback sacks. In-game statisticians registered just one quarterback hit. "Give them credit -- they protected their quarterback, and their quarterbacks got the ball out quick when [they] needed to," Rivera said. "We did blitz, but the timing of the blitz was not very good. Tom Brady and the other quarterbacks all made good decisions and good, quick reads."
Beauharnais delivers big play in extended playing time. Second-year linebacker Steve Beauharnais was among the players drawing a big media crowd after the game, as he started in place of the injured Jerod Mayo and returned a third-quarter interception 61 yards. "Any time I'm out there, it's always the opportunity of a lifetime," he said, crediting position coach Patrick Graham for preparing him.
Collins and the green dot. With Mayo and linebacker Dont'a Hightower not playing in the game, second-year linebacker Jamie Collins was thrust into the role of leading the defensive huddle, receiving the play-call in his helmet, and serving as the primary communicator and relaying that play-call to others. "It was a good opportunity," Belichick explained. "Jamie has had several opportunities in camp to do it, but did a good job of it [Friday night]. I think it's a good experience for different guys to handle the communication and see how that kind of affects the rest of their play and also gives them more familiarity with the calls."
Worthy all smiles after debut. Defensive lineman Jerel Worthy made his Patriots debut in the second half and he was all smiles in the locker room afterwards. He was credited with one tackle. Asked about his prior health issues, he said, "I'm 100 percent healthy. I feel great. These guys have taken care of me since Day 1 when I got here. Even with the guys up in Green Bay, they took care of me, so I'm just ready to get back to playing football and having fun and just helping out this defense the best way I can."