FOXBORUGH — Tom Brady sees the numbers on the Carolina Panthers.
It’s almost dizzying what the Panthers have been able to do on defense. They’re the second-best unit in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing only 12.8 points per game. They’re also second-best in yards allowed per game (283.3) and rushing defense (82.0). Carolina (6-3) is on a five-game winning streak, taking a 10-9 win over the San Francisco 49ers last week in what can be considered its marquee victory of the season.
Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, who played at Boston College, is widely recognized as one of the preeminent players at his position in the NFL. He has 75 tackles to lead the team. And defensive ends Charles Johnson (8.5 sacks) and Greg Hardy (6.0) are one of the best tandems in the league at rushing the quarterback.
Considering all of this, Brady hailed his upcoming opponent as one of the best in the league. The Patriots visit the Panthers on “Monday Night Football” after coming off their bye.
“We have to play really well,” Brady said. “I think our execution has to be at its best. It’ll be fun. It’s Monday night. It’s getting later in the year. These games are more and more important. We’ll see what we can do.”
While Brady is known to offer his praise of opponents, he points out that the Panthers are different because of their entire front seven, and not just a few select players.
“They have different strengths than the other teams that we’ve faced,” he said. “They have a very good team. They rush the quarterback. That tandem that they had last year is the same group they have this year that led the league in sacks from those two positions: Hardy and Johnson, and then [Mario] Addison is a great rusher.
“They have a great front. They rotate all these guys in. They can all rush the quarterback and they’ve got linebackers that can tackle. Kuechly is a great young player and makes tackles everywhere. If you miss a throw, it’s usually an interception.
“You just have to know the challenge, know what it takes, 60 minutes of great football. You’re not just going to go in there and put together 30 good minutes and think you’re going to win. We have to play well all night.”
The game will be the Patriots’ only Monday night contest of the season, giving Brady another reason to be excited. But it will also likely mean the return of running back Shane Vereen, who broke his wrist in Week 1 of the season against the Buffalo Bills. He could bring another element to the Patriots offense.
“He’s a very dependable, consistent player,” Brady said. “The more of those guys you have on your team, the better you are. He’s really been that and played a really important role for us the last few years.
“Whenever he’s back out there, whether it’s this week, next week, the following week, we’ll be excited to have him, but those things are kind of out of my control. But he’s a really good player for us.”Zuri Berry can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter @zuriberry.