Ten years ago the Patriots and Panthers met in the pre-season and fans in Charlotte were treating it as something of a Super Bowl. At the time Carolina fans were still quite bitter that their Panthers had lost in the real “big game” just six months earlier and celebrated wildly when then back-up quarterback Rodney Peete found Walter Young in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown in the final minutes of that August "showdown."
It’s unlikely that Patriots fans will react with the same joy if the Patriots come out on top this Friday (7:30 p.m., CBS-4) at Gillette, but there will be some level of pride displayed if the home team plays well -as the Panthers did deal the Pats a loss on Monday Night Football last year. Remember that one? Cam Newton found Ted Ginn Jr. for a go-ahead touchdown with 59 seconds left in that memorable clash and moments later the referees picked up a pass interference flag in the back of end zone that would have set up the Patriots nicely for a potential game-winner of their own.
A look at what to expect in the Patriots all-important third game of the pre-season:
For real … kinda
While Bill Belichick is known for going against the grain, he has traditionally held the third pre-season game of each August in the same high regard as most coaches around the league. The third exhibition game is widely regarded as a dress rehearsal for the regular season. The fourth pre-season game is just too close to the regular season opener, so this will be our best look at the Patriots’ first units on offense and defense to date. Tom Brady is expected to play the full first half and perhaps even more.
Third time brings harm
While the Patriots do play most of their regulars in the third preseason game each year it hasn't really been a good barometer as to how the team will play that particular season. The Patriots are always good for at least 12 wins a year in the regular season, but the third pre-season game is usually one in which they suffer growing pains.
The Pats haven't won their third pre-season game since 2009, a 27-24 win over the Redskins. Patriots fans will remember that game as one in which Tom Brady injured his throwing shoulder, when Albert Haynesworth landed on his right limb. Brady was never seemingly 100 percent the rest of that season.
Since 2009 the Pats have been blownout by the Lions twice and have lost to the Buccaneers and Rams in their third pre-season contest.
Make the roster
The second half of this game will be mighty important for the second and third units. Next Tuesday, the Patriots and the other 31 teams in the league must trim their rosters to 75 players. Most teams are currently carrying 90 players. Eyes will be on players like cornerback Malcolm Butler, running back Roy Finch, wide receiver Josh Boyce and wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins.
Follow Metro Boston sports editor Matt Burke on Twitter: @BurkeMetroBOS