FOXBOROUGH — Five straight wins have pushed the Carolina Panthers into the NFL playoff mix and added an extra layer of hype to Monday’s visit by the Patriots. But to hear Bill Belichick tell it, the Panthers are even better than their 6-3 record.
“They lost the Buffalo game on the last play and could have easily won that one, and they’re ahead of Seattle 7-6 until midway in the fourth quarter — that’s a pretty good football team — they get beat on a long pass play, then they drive the ball all the way down the field and they fumble the ball at the 5-yard-line going in to win. Those two games they could have very easily won,” Belichick said on Friday, before the Patriots took the practice field. “They could easily have eight wins, nine wins here.”
Carolina opened 0-2, losing the opener to Seattle at home, 12-7, then falling at Buffalo, 24-23. Against the Seahawks, Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams fumbled at the Seattle 8-yard-line with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. Buffalo scored the game-winning touchdown with 2 seconds left.
Since then, the Panthers have won six of seven games, a 22-6 loss at Arizona the exception. During their five-game win streak, they’ve done much of it with defense. Carolina has held their last five opponents to 10, 15, 13, 10, and 9 points.
The offense has been pretty strong during the streak, too, with Sunday’s 10-9 win at San Francisco snapping four straight games in which the Panthers scored at least 30 points. Quarterback Cam Newton is the face of the Carolina offense, and simulating him in practice this week is proving to be difficult.
“I don’t know if there’s any other team in the league that can simulate Cam Newton,” Belichick said. “He’s big, he’s fast, very athletic guy. I think our quarterbacks can throw, but they can’t run like Cam can.”