Patriots, Panthers spark unexpected rivalry after coming to blows

For Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist

The NFL’s most random and unexpected rivalry is now officially, categorically and…pleasantly, a thing.

Take a bow, New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers, and accept the plaudits for coming up with one of the most peculiar developments of the preseason.

Two days of brawls during this week’s joint practices were enough to take two teams with extremely limited shared history and turn them into mortal enemies.

The Patriots were angered when Panthers safety Kenny Robinson delivered a loud hit to New England returner Kristian Wilkerson, then stood on top of him as he lay on the turf.

The Panthers were angered when their star running back Christian McCaffrey found himself on the wrong end of a big hit by Deatrich Wise Jr., then threw a ball at Wise, leading to the latest in a series of fumbles. fist and flames

Head coaches Bill Belichick and Matt Rhule were angered by the unprofessional nature of it all and expressed frustration at the lost preparation time caused by having to cut sessions short.

“I know a lot about it [the talk] it’s going to be about what happened,” Rhule told reporters. “That’s not how we want to practice, is it?”

Everyone has treated it with a bit of glee, partly because of the absurdity and the surprise factor and partly because it might be the best sign yet that football is finally just around the corner.

No fake outrage: If you’re deeply offended by some training camp aggression, football probably isn’t for you. If anything, it prompts some intrigue as to what other rivalries could come out of nowhere and end with Tyson Fury helmet and pad knockoffs.

What’s next? Will the Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears start scrapping who has the most downtrodden fan base in the league?

The NFL has some great rivalries, but this is one we really didn’t see coming because there was never a reason for the animosity to erupt. Over the past 27 years, the respective positioning of the Patriots in the AFC East and the Panthers in the NFC South meant that the teams have met just seven times in the regular season.

Sure, there was a very competitive Super Bowl matchup between the pair 18 years ago, capped by Adam Vinatieri’s game-winner, but even that didn’t get particularly difficult.

The worst part of this week’s incidents was that the McCaffrey-Wise fight spilled into a viewing area, with Wise falling on a female fan and leaving her with a swollen foot. It could also spell doom for Robinson, who is at risk of being cut for his involvement.

Joint practices lead to divided opinions across the league. What has transpired between the Patriots and Panthers is actually a good summary of the good and bad of these setups.

“I’m not surprised,” Patriots veteran Matthew Slater said, when asked about the fights. “These joint practices, you’ve been seeing them throughout the league for years. I don’t know what to expect.

“We were trying to come out and compete, but since I’ve been in the league, you see joint practices and there are fights. Our union and the league think it’s a good idea to continue, so we’re going to continue to do them, but no I’m surprised when things like this happen.”

The reason coaches are generally in favor of joint sessions, and why 22 teams will participate in them this pre-season, is because of the added intensity and competition that inevitably occurs when an opposing set of players are brought in – and egos- in the mix.

On Friday, the two teams will get to play it out for real in a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. Don’t be surprised if, with all that’s gone on, it turns out to be a bit spicier than most mid-August football affairs.

This is the way of things. We’re not in the business of promoting fights, but professional football is a fierce sport populated by intense competitors. Handshakes, hugs, and nice to meet you may be unrealistic expectations.

If more rivalries arise as a result of joint practices, no one will complain. The more random they are, let’s face it, the more interesting it gets.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Yyou can subscribe to the daily newsletter here.


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