By Traci McCartney // @Traciamc
There was a time when a victory at Gillette Stadium for quarterback Tom Brady was almost guaranteed. That time has passed. Brady’s record at home before this season for regular season games was 101-16. So far this season, the Patriots have played at home 3 times – and lost twice. They lost their second home game of the season to quarterback Cam Newton and his Carolina Panthers doing what Brady normally does: running out the clock and putting his time in a position to win the game in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.
At the risk of repeating myself, there are some serious issues with this team’s defense, not to mention the offensive line. If it wasn’t obvious before, it’s glaringly obvious now. It’s gotten to the point where Brady gets the snap, and I’m afraid he’s going to be out for the season due to a sack or one of the many hard hits he’s gotten this season.
Last season, Brady was sacked 15 times for an average of less than 1 sack per game. This year, he’s already been sacked 13 times…and he’s taken some brutal hits, once having to be helped up. And defensive end Julius Peppers was going right around tackle Marcus Cannon – he sacked Brady twice. Because the protection was breaking down, Brady was forced to get the ball out of his hands quickly. Although he had no interceptions, he uncharacteristically missed 2 throws to wide receiver Brandin Cooks, a screen pass to running back James White, one to tight end Rob Gronkowski in the end zone (almost intercepted) and one to a wide open tight end Dwayne Allen. In fact, the Panthers had turned the ball over when defensive end Trey Flowers forced running back Jonathan Stewart to fumble, but after the miss to Allen and Brady’s sack, the Patriots had to punt the ball away.
Even though the Panthers had 2 turnovers, only one resulted in points by the Patriots’ offense. Other than that, the Panthers punted only once in the fourth quarter. The Patriots defense looked as bad as it did last week, and gave up 3 touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown to Cam Newton. Cam passed for 316 yards, and the Panthers rushed for 140 yards. The Patriots defense has given up over 400 yards in each of it’s first 4 games, averaging 335 yds in the air and 142 yds on the ground. The numbers tell the story, but watching the game gives the visual. Again this week, there was confusion in the secondary on assignments.
In the third quarter on a 3rd and 9, Newton completed a pass to a wide open wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin for 43 yards, with cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe covering the same guy. Two plays later, wide receiver Devin Funchess was catching a touchdown pass from Newton, putting the Panthers up 17-13. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski kicked a career long (and franchise record) 58 yard field goal on the Patriots’ last possession of the first half to make the score 17-16. Surely, there would be some adjustments on defense at halftime. Unfortunately, the second half looked much like the first defensively, including a couple of costly 3rd down hands to the face penalties on Gilmore, one which could have changed the outcome of the game. Both penalties allowed the Panthers to continue their drives and score.
The first came in the 3rd quarter. On a 3rd and 8, Newton threw an incomplete pass to Funchess. The penalty came with an automatic first down for the Panthers, who continued on to score a touchdown with a pass to, you guessed it, Devin Funchess. The kicker missed the extra point, but this put the Panthers up by seven. Brady threw a ball too high for Brandin Cooks on the Patriots’ next possession under pressure in the pocket, and the ball was almost intercepted. Brady ended up on the turf and the Patriots had to punt it back to Carolina, who didn’t waste their next possession. Newton walked into the end zone himself after a 39 yard connection with Kelvin Benjamin, who was again wide open. The Panthers were now up 30-16 in the 4th quarter.
The Patriots were able to tie it up with a rushing touchdown by running back Dion Lewis, which made the game 30-23, and then a beautiful pass to wide receiver Danny Amendola in the back of the end zone to tie the game at 30-30 with just over 3 minutes to go in the game. It looked like the Panthers were going to go 3 and out when defensive end Deatrich Wise sacked Cam Newton on a 3rd and 7, but Stephon Gilmore’s second illegal hands to the face penalty again gave the Panthers a first down and allowed them to continue the drive. They were able to run the clock out and with 4 seconds left, gave their field goal kicker a chance to win the game with a 48 yarder…and it was good. And just like that, the Patriots had lost their second home game of the season.
The hope is that as the season goes on, some of these communication and coverage issues can be worked out on defense. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia has a rough road ahead of him getting these guys in a position to win this week. The Patriots have a short week, playing the 2-1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa on Thursday Night Football.
Talk Patriots with Traci on Twitter // @Traciamc