Three thoughts from the Panthers’ 33–30 victory over the Patriots.
1. A huge win for Cam Newton and the Panthers. Newton started the season slow following his offseason shoulder surgery. He averaged just 189 passing yards over the Panthers first three games and was coming off a three-interception game against the Saints. On Sunday, in Foxborough, against the defending champs, he completed 76% of his passes, threw for 316 yards and scored four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing). To top it off, he out Brady-ed Tom Brady, leading a fourth-quarter drive to set up the game-winning field goal. After his rushing touchdown, he also raised a fist, in the spirit of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the ’68 Olympics.
2. The Patriots defense is a serious issue, if we didn’t already know that. The secondary in particular had a day to forget. Near the end of the first half, the Pats had two coverage breakdowns: the first led to a 43-yard pass to Kelvin Benjamin, the second a 10-yard touchdown to Devin Funchess. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia lit into the secondary on the sideline after that sequence.
In the fourth quarter, after the Patriots rallied to tie the game 30–30, the secondary made two penalties that helped extend the Panthers drive. First, Stephon Gilmore was called for a hands-to-the-face penalty, on third down, after the Patriots had sacked Newton and had forced a punt. The second was a holding penalty on Patrick Chung that gave the Panthers better field position for the game-winning field goal. Gilmore and Chung are two of the Patriots’ better defenders. It’s not just the new guys who’re making mistakes.
The Patriots’ defense is allowing 32 points a game now.
3. Everything we thought we knew is wrong—the Patriots are beatable. A quarter of the way through the season, the Patriots are 2–2 and they could easily have been 1–3, if not for Tom Brady’s heroics last week against the Texans. The offense is clearly fine, even after losing Julian Edelman. But Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia need to fix the defense. It’s unlikely that they’ll be able to add anyone of true value via a trade, so they’re going to have to figure out a way to patchwork it together on the fly.
Another surprising development: Julius Peppers (age: 37) with two sacks on Tom Brady (age: 40). When Peppers re-signed with the Panthers this offseason, people wondered how much he had left in the tank. He’s got 4.5 sacks in four games so far.