Tom Brady was laser sharp in what was probably his last work in the pre-season. (USA TODAY Images)

There are no dress rehearsals, we are professionals
This is the big time…
Willie Nelson

Without wanting to put too much into a pre-season game with little game planning and preparation, the New England Patriots look like they are ready for the season to start. The Patriots dominated a tough Carolina Panthers team from start to finish and won their third pre-season game 30-7 on Friday night in Foxboro.

Jones/Defense Strong: The Patriots defense really stepped up, especially the run defense as they bottled up QB Cam Newton and didn’t allow him the room to run and the defensive line clogged up the middle not allowing the Panthers to get untracked.

Chandler Jones was on fire notching two sacks on Newton and generally was all over the field. Fellow DE/OLB Rob Ninkovich also sacked Newton and the secondary looked strong. The Panthers didn’t score until there was little more than a minute left in the game as the Pats defense definitely made a statement.

To be fair, Cam Newton still didn’t look anywhere close to 100 percent physically and the Panthers played on Sunday night just 5 nights ago. But the Patriots defense really answered the bell and if they can continue to play like this, the sky is the limit. By the fourth quarter the Panthers looked like a team that had played just a few nights before, as they were laboring out there.

The third down defense was impressive allowing only 5 of 13 attempts by the Panthers as they swarmed Newton time and again disrupting his timing.

Brady In Mid-season Form: On the offensive side of the ball, Tom Brady was razor sharp completing 17-21 for 204 yards and two TDs. He was intent on getting Brandon LaFell involved early and did as they two hooked up on a couple of plays. But more importantly, without a viable tight end option in the passing game the Patriots went to their “20” personnel package (2 RBs, 3 WRs) and used both James White and Shane Vereen very effectively in the passing game.

Brady found Vereen coming out of the backfield with Panthers LB A.J. Klein late on the play and Vereen turned it into a 40 yard touchdown. Vereen had 5 catches for 57 yards and two touchdowns. Brady didn’t throw an incompletion to Vereen, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola going 13-13.

Special teams play was much improved and provided an exclamation point when at the end of the first half Stephen Gostowski nailed a 60 yard field goal with just three seconds left. Gostowski had been hitting 60+ yard field goals when we watched him back in the June mini-camps and this one gave the team a huge lift going into halftime.

Jimmy Garappolo again looked poised in the pocket and put together a nice touchdown drive capped off with 11 yard touchdown pass to Taylor McCuller. The drive went 12 plays for 82 yards and Garappolo kept his eyes down the field and moved around the pocket well. He’s still got a long way to go, but he continues to improve.

Back-up LBs Get Long Looks: Steve Beauharnais wasn’t having a great night but he made a fantastic read on a Derek Anderson pass and picked off a pass around the Patriots four yard line and returned it 61 yards to the Panthers 35. It set up a 21 yard Gostowski field goal to make the score 23-0.

Ja’Gared Davis, James Morris and Darius Fleming all got extended reps and each had plays to help with their roster status as backup linebackers. The linebackers still struggled on some of the deep seam routes and especially in the short crossing routes run by Carolina’s tight ends and bigger WRs.

Josh Boyce again disappointed, he didn’t play on offense until late in the third quarter and didn’t get on the stat sheet. Will Smith likewise looks like he’s laboring out there and the veteran may find himself on the outside looking in on Tuesday.

On the plus side, Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly look ready and completely healed now and the middle of the Pats defense now looks again to be stout. Edelman, Amendola and Brady seem to on the same page. Kenbrell Thompkins and LaFell are getting in sync with Brady and this is with Aaron Dobson as well as Rob Gronkowski yet to take the field. So the offense is pretty good shape. The protection was better as the team again mixed and matched along the offensive line.

The Patriots must cut at least 12 players by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, August 26 to get to the league mandated 75 player limit.