In a mid season Monday night clash the surprising Panthers had a chance to prove that they were for real against one of the AFCs best teams featuring all time great QB Tom Brady. Let’s see how it played out.
Pats Offense vs Panthers Defense
The Panthers had one of the NFLs stingiest defenses anchored by a strong D line and MLB Luke Kuechly, a tackling machine. The Patriots offense specializes in the quick passing game and a power running game from their 3 running backs. The Pats had moderate success trying to run Ridley and Blount between the tackles but ended up leaning in Brady and the passing game. The Pats have become the ultimate dunk and dunk team as the Panthers were able to play a physical cover 2 man and get pressure on Brady with their front 4. Brady showed toughness in the pocket, taking hits but still getting the ball to RB Vereen, slot WR Edelman, and TE Gronkowski. You can never overstate the importance of Gronkowski to the Pats O especially with the teams lack of a deep threat on the outside. He is tough to handle running down the middle of the field. The Pats found ways to move the ball. What ended up being their undoing besides a terrible missed pass interference call on the last play of the game was a couple of red zone trips that turned into field goals an int and a fumble.
Brady 29/40 296yds 1td 1int
Vereen 8rec 65yds
Gronkowski 5rec 59yds
3rd down 5/10. Red Zone 2-5
T. Davis 10tak 7ast
Kuechly 8tak 4ast
Hardy 3tak 3ast 1sack
Panthers O vs Patriots D
The Patriots were dealing with some injuries in their front 7 mainly NT Wilfork and MLB Mayo but they did a good job stopping the Panthers usually strong running game besides a few good runs by QB Cam Newton. The secondary had its issues in the passing game especially on 3rd downs. The Patriots tried to take away Newtons #1 option WR Steve Smith with their top CB Aqib Talib. Smith was able to beat Talib a few times early which was big for the offense cause it forced the Pats to have to play more balanced in their coverages. Those two were pushing and shoving all night, Smith is an agitator, he definitely got under Talib’s skin, drawing a few penalties against him. I came away really impressed with Cam Newton in this game. His ability to work the short passing game, spreading the ball around, and his touch on the deep ball were surprising. At times he throws off his back foot which I don’t like, but he gets away with it because of his arm strength. It does hurt his accuracy though. Cam did a good job keeping his eyes downfield while buying time which is something most young QBs struggle with. He also used his legs to generate some big plays in the run game. What won this game was their ability to convert on 3rd downs and to score Tds in the red zone.
Newton 19/28 209yds 3tds 7car 62yds
Smith 4rec 62yds
LaFell 7rec 59yds 1td
3rd downs 8/11. Red Zone 2/2
Ninkovich 6tak 3ast 2sacks
Spikes 6tak 1ast
Ch. Jones 4tak 1ast 1sack
What I learned
The Panthers, despite winning this game will not be able to consistently beat good teams if they don’t improve at the skill positions, mainly WR and DB. Their front 7 can play with anybody. Cam is still improving and they put a lot on his plate but he needs help. Cam is separating himself from the other young QBs in his class. He probably falls only behind Luck in that regard.
The Patriots will always be one of the leagues best as long as they have that coach and that QB but in order for them to win another Super Bowl they need to give him a playmaking receiver. Brady finds a way to make it work but as teams get more aggressive and physical with the receivers and sit on the short routes because of no fear of getting beat deep the Pats could be in trouble. The weaknesses really showed in the red zone.
The key sequence of the game was late in the 4th qtr when the Pats drove down and ended up settling for a 26 yd field goal to take a 20-17 lead. Cam drove the Panthers back down taking the lead 24-20 with a 25 yd td pass to Ted Ginn. The great Tom Brady drove his team back down converting a key 4th and long with a pass to Gronkowski. With 3 seconds left from the Panthers 18 yard line Brady tossed the ball into the middle of the endzone to Gronk who was being forced out of the back of the endzone. A flag was thrown and then picked up by the refs. I am still not sure how it was a no call with the way the game has been tilted toward the offense. Anyway Carolina won 24-20. Both QBs played well and showed how dangerous they could be especially if their teams could get them another weapon or 2.