Carolina Panthers 33 New England Patriots 30
Despite a Danny Amendola touchdown reception with 3:09 left in the game to tie it, the New England Patriots were yet again failed by their defence as sometimes, even Tom Brady can’t do everything.
Looking at analysing the Patriots in the 2017 season is starting to become a familiar process. It’s a simple tale of yin and yang, the dark and the light, the good and the bad.
The offence and the defence.
Completing 32 out of 45 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns (to Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola), Tom Brady was efficient enough in his outing against Carolina. The offence as a whole was able to put up 30 points against a strong Carolina defence who were ranked as the sixth best team defence after Week 3 by Football Outsiders. Even when the Patriots were down by 14 points, the New England offence is a calming presence for the team’s fans because there is always the belief that the team can get back into the game, and they did.
After a big fourth down conversion to Rob Gronkowski, the offence was able to finish off the drive with a Dion Lewis rushing touchdown. With this, it finally looks like Josh McDaniels has figured out how to use this running game in the best way, by not using it as much. Compared to Brady’s 45 passing attempts, the running back group as a whole were offered 19 carries (with 12 going to Mike Gillislee) and were able to produce 80 yards and a touchdown. The group as a whole were able to average 4.2 yards per carry, much improved from last week’s outing against the Texans which brought them an average of only 3 yards per carry.
The aerial attack was yet again, the star of the show for the offence. Five Patriots receivers were able to get themselves at least 38 receiving yards (Gronkowski, Hogan, Amendola, White and Cooks). This sort of spreading of the ball is typical of Brady but much more reminiscent of the 2015 Patriots, where that team also had its major struggles running the ball. Even if the running game is non-existent, there is always faith in Brady and McDaniels to come up with ways to run a dink-and-dunk style of play with short passes to tight ends and running backs, as well as screens to cover up a flawed running game, such is the strength of the offence.
Whilst Josh McDaniels has the offence clicking for thirty points a game, that’s not exactly what you want from Matt Patricia’s defence. But so far, the Patriots have got the worse defence in the NFL. The same NFL that features the Saints, the 49ers, the Browns and the Jets. The exact same one.
I’m going to say it. I miss Logan Ryan. Ryan, who signed a three year deal with the Titans in free agency this offseason wasn’t even the number one corner in New England in 2016 but he could tackle. Now, in 2017, nobody on this defence seems to want to make a tackle. Tackles can stop chunk plays, tackles can stop yards after the catch, tackles can prevent third down conversions (I’m looking at you Eric Rowe). Tackles win football games. Too many times, the Patriots were blowing their coverage, which means they weren’t tight on their receivers, which means they didn’t have the chance to tackle them before the Panthers receivers could rack up those yards after the catch. On the same drive, two chunk plays were allowed to Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess respectively, with the latter resulting in a touchdown which would give the Panthers their first lead of the game.
Stephon Gilmore lost this game. Despite all the flaws on the defence, they were about to come through in the clutch. With just over two minutes to go, pass rusher and rookie sensation Deatrich Wise Jr had sacked Cam Newton for his third sack of the year on a crucial third down that would give Brady the ball back with enough time to get Stephen Gostkowski into field goal range to win the game (congrats to Gostkowski for making a career long 58 yard field goal in this game). But Stephon Gilmore lost this game for the Patriots. The big free agent signing from Buffalo, who signed for five years and $65 million showed that sometimes, you can take a man out of Buffalo, but you can’t take Buffalo out of the man. It was at this moment that Stephon Gilmore decided to commit his SECOND illegal hands to the face penalty of the game, on a play where not only had Cam Newton not thrown the ball in Gilmore’s direction, but he hadn’t even thrown the ball at all. These are fundamentals here people! This isn’t something Matt Patricia can teach Gilmore. It shouldn’t need to be taught. It’s simple, keep your hands low, on the chest of your opponent within the first five yards from scrimmage. In Week 4 against the Panthers, finally – despite all its flaws – the defence as a whole did not choke.
But Stephon Gilmore did.
Week 5 will be on a short week schedule for the Patriots as they travel to Tampa to face the Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football. This game will be available on both Game Pass and Sky Sports, with a start time of around 1:30am on Friday morning.