FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots might have had their strongest practice yet in training camp on Tuesday. That wasn't the biggest story from the first of two joint practices with the Panthers, though.
Three fights broke out during Tuesday's practice, with one of them escalating to the point that three players were ejected. Patriots receiver Kristian Wilkerson took exception to the Panthers continuing to try to punch the ball out of his hands after a catch, leading to pushing and shoving before Kendrick Bourne ran over and appeared to throw at least a punch, if not more.
A second fight between Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown and Panthers edge rusher Brian Burns broke out but was de-escalated before either player did anything to get tossed out. Patriots backup center James Ferentz got kicked out after body slamming Panthers linebacker Frankie Luvu on a block well after the whistle.
Panthers coach Matt Rhule is hopeful that the ejections on Tuesday can make things a bit calmer for Wednesday's joint practice with the Patriots.
“What me and Coach [Bill] Belichick talked about was just if a fight happens, we’ll just throw those guys off and hopefully eliminate future fights,” Rhule said.
“We came here not to fight,” Rhule added. “We came here to practice, and it just shows a maturity of a lot of other guys that that didn’t escalate into a big thing.”
Patriots players weren't exactly filled with details on what Belichick told them in that moment.
“We talked about it, we talk about it and move on,” Patriots safety Adrian Phillips said. “That’s a conversation for another day, and I’m pretty sure Bill will talk to you guys about that, but we talked about it and moved on.”
“I'll let you ask him what his message was,” Patriots running back Damien Harris added with a laughter when asked about Belichick's message to the team.
Tuesday was the third time in 13 practices that the Patriots have had a fight. Harris knows that the fighting has to stop.
“It's all competing. But we can’t fight in a game, so we can’t do it in practice as competitive as it is,” Harris said. “We've got to play within the rules. We've got to be disciplined. We've got to do our jobs, and fighting is not a part of our jobs.”
Patriots wideout DeVante Parker had some fun when first asked about the fight.
“There was a fight? I didn’t even see it,” Parker said in a deadpan before being serious. “We've just got to control our tempo, you know. If one of our players is over there, there are 30 guys over there, we’re gonna go over there and see what’s going on.”
“You can't be doing that. That's really it, really,” Parker added.
"There was a fight? I didn't even see it."
DeVante Parker jokes about missing the massive fight between Patriots and Panthers players at #PatsCamp today before adding that his team "can't be doing that" pic.twitter.com/myX1dhVBNz
— NBC Sports Boston's Patriots Coverage (@NBCSPatriots) August 16, 2022
Patriots defensive end Deatrich Wise believes that the fights can be a learning moment for the rest of the team.
“The best part about this whole day is the young fellas,” Wise said. “There were a lot of young guys watching how everybody operates. It was really good to see the leaders of our team, the [Matthew] Judon's, the Devin McCourty's, speak, and what they said to keep everybody focused on the task at hand – that’s getting better and playing football.”
The Panthers' insistence on punching the ball out of Patriots' ball-carriers hands after the whistle appeared to be part of the reason why tempers began to flare on Thursday. Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn said doing that's “in our DNA” and that “there's no disrespect about it.”
However, he also noted that the Panthers' goal isn't to start fights, either.
“We don’t want to do that,” Chinn said. “It wastes a lot of time. I mean, it’s not a good thing just to be fine over and over again. We want to get the reps in, we want to be able to practice and play ball at the end of the day. So, that’s not something we are trying to do at all.”
The Patriots and Panthers will hold another joint practice on Wednesday ahead of Friday's preseason game at Gillette Stadium.