It's always hard for me to do a report card after a loss...particularly one as gut wrenching as this 24-20 defeat in Carolina. Sure, there was that ridiculous "call" at the end of the game, and the all too familiar theme of the inability of the Pats' "D" to stop the opposing team late in the 4th quarter, of yet another big game. Still, there was a lot to like from this latest Patriots' performance, on the road against one of the best teams in the NFL. Here are my grades:
I. OFFENSE: Though the Patriots offense, particularly in the 4th quarter, was able to move the ball against one of the NFL's best defensive units, it left too many points on the field. This prevented the Pats from gaining enough of a point cushion to withstand a late Carolina 4th quarter drive, spear-headed by the athleticism of their QB, Cam Newton.
1.) QB: Great to see Tom Brady playing like Tom Terrific again. Sure he had his struggles in the first half. But, any QB needs adequate pass protection in order to work his magic...and...when Tom got protected, he performed. Brady spread the ball around well to his receivers, completing 29 of 40 passes for 296 yards with a TD, and one pick in the Carolina end zone...which should have been nullified due to an obvious pass interference penalty, on the games' final play. Though Brady correctly admitted that he "should have thrown a better pass" on that final play, he was clearly under duress when he made that pass. It should be noted that Tom marched his team over 60 yards in 55 seconds before that controversial final play. It's a shame that he, we, and a nation of fellow football fans were denied an opportunity to see whether he could pull off a miracle finish...marching his team 80 yards in less than a minute, for the game winning TD. Though Brady and his Boys came up a tad short in this one, Tom conclusively demonstated once again why he is considered to be a top 5 NFL QB, and a first ballot Hall of Fame caliber performer: GRADE: B+;
2.) RB: I've said this time and again...no matter how many yards a RB rushes for, if he fumbles, he's worthless. In the early stages of the second quarter, with the Pats' driving for what appeared to be a game TD, Stevan Ridley let his team down again with a costly fumble at the Carolina 13 yard line. This unforgivable red zone turnover not only cost his team points, but valuable momentum. For the game, Ridley rushed for 48 yards on 13 carries and a TD. But, his otherwise excellent 4.7 yards per run average was all but ruined by that fumble. LeGarrette Blount added 10 rushes for 49 yards more...as the Patriots' RBs out-performed their talented Carolina counterparts, but for that horrendous Ridley fumble. Though returning RB Shane Vereen had only one carry for seven yards, he contributed mightily in the passing attack. Targeted 11 times by Brady, he had eight (8) receptions for 65 yards. GRADE: C (due to the Ridley fumble);
3.) OL: Though this group did okay at times, they are still not pass protecting well enough. They permitted six more QB hits on Tom Brady, and too much pressure. The allowance of defensive pressure up the middle of the OL has been a reoccurring theme throughout the season, and continued on Monday night. In particular, this unit had great difficulty containing Carolina's massive rookie DT, Star Lotulelei. Lotulelui clogged the middle of the line of scrimmage, and freed up the Carolina LBs, most notably Thomas Davis (17 tackles, 10 solos) and "Crazy Luke" Kueckly (12 tackles, 8 solos), to make plays. Lotulelui finished with five (5) tackles, including four (4) solos, and a sack. Panthers' DE Greg Hardy was a going concern on the outside, finishing with six (6) tackles, including three (3) solos, and a sack. That said, the "Big Uglies" had their moments...and were able to at times provide some good running lanes for RBs Ridley and Blount: GRADE: C;
4.) TEs and WRs: Credit fleet Carolina MLB "Crazy Luke" Kueckly for finding "ways" to contain Gronk...as he "held" the huge TE to just five (5) catches for 59 yards, and a TD. As usual, Gronk and the Hoo-man did good jobs when called upon to run block. As for the WRs, Danny Amendola had six (6) catches for 45 yards, Aaron Dobson had four (4) catches for 38 yards, Julian Edelman added three (3) catches for 37 yards, and Kenbrell Tompkins re-appeared, catching two (2) passes for 60 yards. All in all, this was a solid, though unspectacular effort by this group...particularly late in the game. Credit the Panthers' "D" for forcing Brady away from Gronk and Danny Amendola for most of the game: GRADE: B-;
II. DEFENSE: This group shut down the Panthers' ground game. But, Aqib Talib's early troubles dealing with WR Steve Smith, the front four's inability to contain QB Cam Newton in the pass pocket, and poor red zone defense did the Patriots in...along with the inability of the "D" to force a turnover or two.
1.) DL: Credit this unit for limiting the Carolina three-headed RB tandem of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert to a mere 41 yards on 16 carries. But, containing QB Cam Newton was a horse of a different color. Newton constantly kept passing plays and drives alive with his athleticism. Cam rushed for a team high 62 yards on seven (7) attempts, including a key 15 yard scramble on a 3rd and 6 at the Carolina 21, on the first series of what would turn out to be the Panthers' game winning TD drive, late in the 4th quarter. There was also his painfully memorable, weaving 24 yard jaunt in the second quarter, setting up a Carolina FG. That aside, Rob Ninkovich had his usual good game, registering a team high nine (9) tackles, six (6) of which were solos, and two QB sacks. DE Chandler Jones chipped in with five (5) tackles, four (4) of which were solos, and a sack: GRADE: B-;
2.) LBs: Great job by Brandon Spikes in particular (seven (7) tackles, six (6) solos), in containing the run. This group had some trouble containing Carolina TE Greg Olson, who hurt the Pats with five (5) catches for 52 yards, and a TE. The Panthers' RBs did no damage catching swing passes out of the backfield or on screens...as they netted a paultry 11 yards on two receptions. One has to wonder if LB Dont'a Hightower or someone else was given the assignment of "shadowing" Cam Newton on pass plays...particularly after that 24 yard scramble in the second quarter: GRADE: C+;
3.) SECONDARY: This was not this group's finest hour. Aqib Talib's first game back after missing a month was not a memorable one for him, as he was badly beaten by Carolina veteran WR Steve Smith on a 42 yard pass play in the first quarter. That, along with a subsequent 15 yard penalty for unnecessary roughness, gift-wrapped the Panthers' first TD of the game. CB Kyle Arrington looked foolish trying to corral the Panthers' Ted Ginn Jr., after Ginn caught a six yard pass in space. Ginn raced past Arrington for the eventual game winning, 25 yard TD play. A holding penalty on Devin McCourty kept an earlier Carolina scoring drive alive, after the Pats had appeared to make a rare 3rd down stop. For the game, the Panthers converted on an exceedingly frustrating 8 of 11 third down situations. Injured CB Alfonzo Dennard was sorely missed...as his absence forced BB to have Arrington to assume additional coverage responsibility. In fairness to this group, QB Newton's ability to extend plays with his mobility made it much more difficult to keep up with the Carolina WRs: GRADE: D-;
III. SPECIAL TEAMS: Danny Amendola's 13 yard mid-way in the 4th quarter punt return gave Brady and his Boys a the ball at the Carolina 39 yard line, with the score tied at 17. Though the offense could only muster a go-ahead FG, the return put the Pats in prime position to grab the Panthers by the throat, with a go-ahead TD. Usual good job of kicking by "The Ghost" (2/2 in FGs) and rookie Ryan Allen (pinned the Carolina offense at their own 10 yard line with a well placed 34 yard punt early in the first quarter): GRADE: B+;
IV. COACHING: The Patriots' "D" shut down the Panthers' running game. The Pats' offense was also able to consistently move the ball against the vaunted Carolina defense, between the 20s. But, it was the inability of the Pats' offense to move the ball in the red zone, along with the inability of the Pats' "D" to play good red zone "D", and get off the field on 3rd down, which cost them this game. Settling for FGs and fumbling in the red zone is not going to get it done against the better teams. On defense, it's obvious that the Patriots are thin at CB. Whenever either Talib and/or Alonzo is out, there's a noticable drop off at the position. One has to wonder if BB made adjustments at halftime to contain QB Cam Newton...at the expense of his pass coverage. But, if this were the case, can you really blame Bill? Sometimes you have to give up something on defense, to contain another teams' strength. In closing, more work needs to be done on red zone offense and defense. Regardless of the bad call at the end of the game, the Panthers clearly outplayed the Patriots in these areas: GRADE: B-;
V. PLAY OF THE GAME: The well designed and executed short pass and run to Ted Ginn, Jr....which Ginn took in for the game winning, 25 yard TD play...with just 0:59 remaining to be played.
VI. PLAYER OF THE GAME: Cam Newton may have played his finest game as a pro Monday night. He finished with 19 completions in 28 attempts for 209 yards, including three (3) TD passes...and rushed for 62 yards on seven (7) carries.
Here are the game stats: http://espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=331118029.
As always, your comments and opinions are welcome. Have a great day, my friends!