FINAL: Patriots defeat Panthers, 20-10, at Gillette Stadium.

CHARLOTTE — Mac Jones completed a 45-yard pass to set up a touchdown in his first game action of the preseason, Tristian Vizcaino hit a 51-yard go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter and the New England Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers 20-10 in a preseason game on Friday night.

On a night when the Panthers paused their quarterback competition between Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, New England played Jones for three series. He finished 4 of 8 passing for 61 yards, had a 7-yard scramble and was sacked once.

Patriots backup Brian Hoyer played one series in the second quarter before handing it off to rookie Bailey Zappe for the remainder of the game.

Zappe was 16 of 25 for 173 yards and threw an interception to Tae Hayes that was returned 50 yards for a touchdown.

Lil’Jordan Humphrey had five catches for 71 yards. Nelson Agholor had two catches for 52 yards and Sam Roberts added a late fumble recovery for a touchdown.

After suggesting that he could decide his starting quarterback as soon as this week, Panthers coach Matt Rhule sat both Mayfield and Darnold. Third stringer P.J. Walker started and alternated quarters with rookie Matt Corral.

Walker was 8 of 15 for 107 yards and two interceptions. Corral finished 9 of 15 for 58 yards.

Rhule also gave a night off to most of Carolina’s projected starters. There were some exceptions, including first-round pick Ikem Ekwonu. He started at left tackle after Rhule declared him the starter earlier in the week.

The man Ekwonu unseated for that spot, 2021 third-round pick Brady Christensen, got the nod at left guard where he is now competing with Michael Jordan.

The Patriots initially struggled to find traction offensively with most of their starters on the field for the first time after resting during last week’s exhibition opener. They went three-and-out on their first two series, with Jones misfiring twice on third down.

Jones finally got things going on their third possession, picking up a couple of first downs before connecting with Agholor on a 45-yard pass along the sideline to get into the red zone.

New England scored the first touchdown of the game three plays later on a 2-yard run by Ty Montgomery that made it 7-3.

Patriots assistant Matt Patricia remained the play-caller for all three quarterbacks throughout the first half, unlike last week when he shared the duties with Joe Judge.

New England’s first-team defense was mostly solid in limited action, forcing a three-and-out to open the game and then thwarting Carolina’s second drive with a pair of sacks by Deatrich Wise Jr. and Josh Uche.

Safety Joshua Bledsoe got into the mix in the second quarter when forced and recovered a fumble. The play was originally ruled an incomplete pass from Corral to Stephen Sullivan before coach Bill Belichick challenged and it was overturned upon review.

Shaun Wade added an interception in the third quarter, picking off a pass from Walker.

Panthers’ Rhule remains in no hurry to announce starting QB

Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule has been adamant for weeks that he wouldn’t rush to announce a winner in the ongoing quarterback competition between Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield.

That hasn’t changed, even with his team just days from taking the field for their second exhibition game, a point Rhule had previously indicated he wanted to have the situation settled.

Rhule said Wednesday that the when, isn’t as important as being satisfied that he’s gathered all the information he needs.

“I think the thing I’ve said all along is that we wanted to at least get to this point where when we know, we know,” Rhule said after the Panthers second joint practice with New England.

“So, it could be at any point. It could be two more weeks from now. It could be now. ... I’m not saying it will be two weeks from now. I’m just saying we’re just making sure we’re thorough.”

Mayfield and Darnold have shared the reps with the first team over the past two days, with Mayfield seeming to have a better overall command of the offense and success in the 11-on-11 periods against New England’s defense.

But Darnold has shown flashes of what made the New York Jets select him third overall in the 2018 draft, including him working to turn a busted play into a TD pass to DJ Moore in the back of the end zone during two-minute drill work Wednesday.

“We’re both doing everything we can to win the job,” Darnold said. “I thought I improved a ton. I thought our whole team improved a ton, with their defense and the way that they fly around.”

Neither quarterback has had a full complement of playmakers this week, with running back Christian McCaffrey on a play limit and receivers Robbie Anderson and Terrace Marshall Jr. limited as well.

Still, Rhule has been impressed by what he’s seen.

“I think both guys have executed a ton,” he said. “Not a ton of interceptions but have protected the ball well. The key situations — the low (red zone) and the two-minute — we’ve gotten done what we need to get done to a degree. So, I think a lot of good things.”

Rhule said he plans to mostly play his second- and third-team players in Friday’s exhibition matchup with New England, though he didn’t say who would get the start at quarterback.

Mayfield said he feels as comfortable with the playbook as he’s had since arriving from Cleveland via trade in July 6.

“To be honest with you, I haven’t been worried about when the decision’s going to be made or any of that timeline wise,” Mayfield said. “Just trying to put my head down and just handle it one day at a time. And that’s been the mindset for both Sam and I. Just how can we be playing the best ball by the end of camp and just handle it correctly.

“Organizations go as their QB rooms go, and as long as we’re leading correctly and we’re supporting each other, good things are gonna happen.”

For now, Rhule said they plan to stick to the plan they laid out prior to training camp.

“We’re not winging it,” he said. “We have a really good plan and I just don’t feel at liberty to share it out of respect for the guys.”

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