On Sunday, the New England Patriots fell victim to the Carolina Panthers in a 33–30 loss at home. The Patriots last lost to the Panthers in November 2013, but have been undefeated against NFC South opponents since. The loss is a second early blow to the Patriots record and league standings. The Patriots now stand at 2-2 on the season. Here are some Patriots takeaways from week four.
Week Four New England Patriots Takeaways
The offense can fire on all cylinders when it needs to
Tom Brady‘s performance was off early in the game. Through the first two drives, he missed short on several throws to James White and Chris Hogan and under threw on a deep ball to Brandin Cooks. A first half play that would have been a first down was nullified by offensive pass interference, and maintained the onus on Ryan Allen to keep the game rolling. Brady also missed on two red zone throws in the second quarter to Hogan and Rob Gronkowski, forcing the Patriots to settle for a field goal.
Last week, Brady was sacked five times by the Houston Texans. The offensive line showed little improvement from last week. Brady was sacked twice in the first half against Carolina for losses of three and nine yards. He was sacked again in the third quarter for a loss of five after Elandon Roberts recovered a fumble deep in Patriots territory. This sack forced Allen into action again, negating a rare positive showing by the defense.
Despite three forced punts and several missed opportunities, the Patriots offense showed that they are still a top-tier unit. Stephen Gostkowski‘s 58-yard field goal at the end of the first half stands as a franchise record. Brady led several near-flawless drives in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 30-30. In these two drives, totaling 124 yards of offense, Brady missed on only three passes. He ended the game with 307 yards through the air, his third consecutive game topping 300. Hogan has corralled six touchdowns in his last six games. And Gronkowski notched 80 yards on four receptions, including a long of 43 yards.
This defense will lose more games than the offense can win
There were very few bright spots for the New England defense during this game. Malcolm Butler snagged an interception early in the game that the Patriots turned into a touchdown. And the Patriots got lucky when Roberts recovered the fumble at the beginning of the third quarter. But the fumble came at the end of a march from the Carolina 25 yard line during which the Panthers looked poised to score on a third consecutive drive.
Despite Butler’s interception early in the game, the secondary gave up chunk after chunk of yardage resulting in a 28 yard screen pass touchdown to Fozzy Whittaker. The defense repeated the weak coverage just before the half, giving up 43 yards on a third down before allowing a second touchdown on two drives by the Panthers. Terrible play by Butler and Stephon Gilmore plagued the game as the secondary gave up one first down after another. Through four quarters, the Patriots defense forced only one punt from Michael Palardy.
With Greg Olsen out and Kelvin Benjamin coming off a knee injury, the Patriots knew that Devin Funchess would be a key offensive weapon for Carolina. Funchess averaged 11.5 yards per reception in the first half. Funchess scored a first half touchdown on busted coverage. Even Benjamin, despite the recent injury, racked up 104 yards on only four targets. The defense also seriously underestimated tight end Ed Dickson, who nearly doubled his season production in only three quarters against New England. Dickson ended the game with 62 yards.
A lack of discipline proved costly
Penalties were far too costly in Sunday’s loss at home. Danny Amendola‘s offensive pass interference on third down nullified a 14 yard catch by Gronkowski. Had the catch stood, the Patriots would have had a first down at the Carolina 45 yard line.
In the third quarter, Carolina came up against third down and eight. A stop would have allowed the Patriots an opportunity to get the ball back and regain the lead. Instead, Stephon Gilmore‘s illegal use of hands allowed the Panthers to continue a drive after Cam Newton missed on a pass to Funchess. The drive ended in yet another touchdown to Funchess to put the Panthers up 23-16.
On the very next Panthers drive, Trey Flowers was called offside to bring a second down and five to go. The Panthers maintained their momentum to score on that drive on a seven yard touchdown run by Newton.
Finally, after the Patriots had tied the game 30-30, the Panthers faced third down and seven with 2:23 left in the game. Newton was sacked on the play by Deatrich Wise Jr. for a loss of seven. The sack was negated by another illegal use of hands call on Gilmore. Gilmore’s costly mistake allowed the Panthers to continue their drive and kick a 48 yard field goal to upset the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
In total, the Patriots were called for seven penalties, resulting in 55 lost yards.
The Patriots take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football in week five.