The Rear View Mirror – Game Four
The Patriots lost to the Carolina Panthers 33-30 in Foxboro on Sunday afternoon. The visitors hit a 48 yard field goal as time expired after New England had rallied from a 16-30 deficient in the 4th quarter to tie the game. Deatrich Wise, Jr’s third down sack with 2:11 remaining appeared destined to return the ball to the offense, but a “hands to the face” penalty against cornerback Stephon Gilmore (his second of the day) kept the Panthers’ game winning drive alive.
Silver lining in a loss: Left tackle Nate Solder had his first strong game of the season
Photograph by David Silverman, published by Patriots.com
Nine Observations from Game Four...
1. Left tackle Nate Solder performed well in pass protection, mostly playing against defensive ends Mario Addison and Charles Johnson. On a third-and-goal opportunity in the 2nd quarter, Julius Peppers flipped to the left side and got a step on Solder with a speed rush baring down on the quarterback. To Solder’s credit, he reacted quickly enough to shove Peppers off his rush lane to give Brady an extra half second to complete a touchdown pass to Chris Hogan.
2. Running backs Mike Gillislee and Dion Lewis came into the game averaging 3.3 yards per carry, but against the Panthers they gained 4.2 yards per on 16 carries. In the 2nd quarter, New England ran the duo behind Nate Soldier on back-to-back plays, picking eight red zone yards, down to the two yard line. Again in the 4th quarter the Patriots’ ran Lewis behind Solder for five tough yards down to the one yard line.
3. On the home team’s two touchdown drives in the final 13 minutes of regulation, Tom Brady completed 11 of 14 for 106 yards and one touchdown for a quarterback rating of 122.0 – 25% better than his quarterback rating for the previous 47 minutes.
4. In the first three quarters, New England’s passing offense had notable misfires that short circuited drives and kept points off the board. In the 1st, Brady missed on an attempt to Brandin Cooks, who had gotten open deep up the left seam between the corner and safety around the five yard line. In the 2nd, Brady bypassed an open Chris Hogan to force an incompletion into a double covered Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots reran the same routes on the very next play and Brady underthrew Hogan, ending a scoring drive with a field goal. In the 3rd quarter, Brady underthrew a 36-yard pass on deep out to tight end Dwayne Allen, and later Brady overthrew a wide open Brandin Cook at the Carolina 35 yard line on third-and-ten to stall another drive.
Stephen Gostowski nailed a career-long, 58-yard field goal.
Photograph by Eric J. Adler, Published by Patriots.com
5. After four games, place kicker Stephen Gostowski is eight for eight on field goals and 13 of 14 on extra points (95% overall). In 2016, Gostowski converted on 90% of his scoring kick attempts (73 of 81).
6. One Carolina drive near half time demonstrated how New England’s secondary is struggling with assignments coming out of multi-receiver “bunch” formations. Cam Newton found David Funchess on a short pass into the right flat, cornerback Eric Rowe hit the receiver four yards short of the first down marker, but failed to wrap up and Funchess spun free for the first down. Later on the same drive, Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore both chased the underneath crossing pattern, leaving Kelvin Benjamin open up the left side line for a 43-yard catch-and-run on another third down. The drive ended with Gilmore giving up a touchdown by sitting on tight end Ed Dickson’s underneath route, instead of switching to Funchess on the wide-open outside release to the left.
7. Midway through the third quarter, New England appeared to end Carolina’s drive with an incompletion until Stephon Gilmore was flagged for a “hands to the face” penalty on Kelvin Benjamin’s route on the opposite side of the field. Three plays later, on third-and-eight, New England rushed five and Cam Newton smartly ran up the middle of the field for a first down in the red zone. Overall, the Panthers converted six of nine third down opportunities. When Newton dropped back to pass, he was four of five, for 100 yards, with one interception, and one sack. Three times Newton ran on third down, picking up 25 yards.
8. The Panthers’ first round draft pick, running back Christian McCaffrey, totaled 15 “touches” for 132 yards between carries, catches, and returns in the kicking game. In the 2nd quarter, McCaffrey caught a short pass in the right flat and Patrick Chung engaged the runner too high, allowing McCaffrey to bull over the tackle attempt for a ten yard gain. Later in the same quarter, Stephon Gilmore and Devin McCourty were mesmerized by McCaffrey’s pre-snap motion right, allowing an open path for Fozzie Whittaker’s 28-yard screen pass, touchdown run up the left sideline.
9. There were a few individual highlights from the defense in the second half. Defensive end Trey Flowers forced a Johnathan Stewart fumble after fighting off right tackle Daryl Williams’ block. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy (in on eight tackles) did his best Luke Kuechly (in on 14 tackles) imitation midway through the 3rd quarter when he ran through the line, side stepping guard Andrew Norwell, to single-handedly arm tackle Johnathan Stewart. Donta Hightower’s spin move against Daryl Williams on third-and-five resulted in a sack of Cam Newton and kept the comeback potential alive.
…And one comment about Game Five.
New England has a short week to prepare for Thursday Night Football in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers have been middle of the road so far this season – 12th best in points scored per game (23.7) and 16th in points allowed (21.3) – in playing to 2-1 record. The 2-2 Patriots enter the game second best in NFL offense (32.3 points per game) and second worst in defense (32.0 points).