1) Hand it to Laurence: Laurence Maroney ran hard, decisively, and with a purpose again, and that led to 94 yards on 22 carries, a pretty productive day against a defense that — I was told — geared up to stop the run in the second half. It was hard not to write Maroney off earlier in the season. Now? It looks like Fred Taylor will be fighting for carries when he comes back.
2) Lining ’em up: The Patriots started the game with Matt Light at left tackle and Nick Kaczur at right tackle, and worked rookie Sebastian Vollmer in at both spots. I’ll have to get a second look at it, but my initial thought is the Light-Vollmer, left-right combo was best. Kaczur struggled mightily with Panthers star Julius Peppers.
3) Communication breakdown: Seeing James Sanders — the longest tenured Patriot defensive back — playing extensively today made me wonder whether the reason was to try and ratchet up the level of communication back there. With all the shuffling, both in the game-day roster and the starting lineup, it may have been difficult to establish continuity back there. Sanders, with his knowledge of the defense, would help in that regard. And aside from the Steve Smith touchdown, which seemed to be the result of Brandon Meriweather biting on play-action, there weren’t too many breakdowns.
4) Pass rush still a problem: Jarvis Green looks healthy and ready now, after taking care of a lingering knee problem with midseason surgery, so he can help get an inside push. And Derrick Burgess had a late sack, and got pressure a couple times on top of that. But the fact is Matt Moore had a lot of time to operate back there, and simply missed open receivers in a lot of those spots.
5) A gutsy effort by Brady: Tom Brady clearly had health issues — ribs, finger, maybe even more than that — going into this one. And he missed a couple throws he might have otherwise made. But he stood in the pocket like nothing was wrong, even as the Panthers got heat. A remarkable effort that probably won’t get the credit it merits.