Patriots Take Down Panthers, Remain Perfect at Home
The Patriots remain perfect at home and overcame an early deficit to defeat the Panthers by a final of 20-10. The win improves the Patriots to 7-0 at Gillette Stadium and 8-5 on the year. I’m happy and all, but the team looked flat. Tom Brady threw for a paltry 192 yards, a touchdown and an interception. It was his first sub-200 yard performance since Week 14 of 2007, when Brady turned in his worst performance of his otherwise immaculate year in a 20-10 edging of the Jets. Randy Moss was a non-entity in this one, ending the game with one catch for 16 yards and a lost fumble.
However, the game turned on the performance of one Wes Welker. The diminutive receiver made it look easy, catching 10 passes for 105 yards on a very good Carolina pass defense. With that game, he became only the fifth player in league history to catch over 100 passes in three straight seasons. Laurence Maroney looked decent, getting 94 yards on 22 touches. On the other side, Panthers RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were held in check, combining for only 111 yards. Against the deadliest running tandem in the NFL, it was an ugly performance, but a solid one nonetheless.
Now the Patriots must venture to Buffalo and play the 5-8 Bills, who would like nothing more than to take revenge on a Patriots team that narrowly snatched a 25-24 victory from them in Week 1. The pressure will be on Brady and Friends to perform well enough to win a road game against a division rival with the fourth-best pass defense. I would expect Belichick to craft a gameplan based around the running game; the Bills are the third-worst rushing defense, allowing huge games by the Saints, Dolphins, and twice by the Jets. Three of those games were Buffalo losses.
A win and a Dolphins and Jets loss (to the Titans and Falcons respectively) would all but clinch the AFC East, putting the Patriots up two games with two to play. The #2 seed in the AFC playoffs is the 10-3 Chargers’ to lose, as they will play the 9-4 Bengals in San Diego with a chance to nail down the spot with a win. As of this moment, both teams own division and conference tiebreakers over New England, making the #4 spot and a Wild Card date with the 8-5 Broncos all the more likely.