Five takeaways: Defensive breakdowns lead to Patriots downfall vs. Panthers


FOXBORO -- Here are five quick-hitting takeaways from what transpired between the Patriots and Panthers at Gillette Stadium on Sunday . . . 

1. The defensive breakdowns continue for the Patriots. Allowing big plays had been their Achilles heel through three weeks of the regular season, and the trend continued against Carolina. Bunch formations caused confusion, as did motion. There were discussions among Patriots pre-snap that apparently did little to resolve their problems. There didn't seem to be one player at fault, but many. Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, linebackers . . . all were involved. Matt Patricia was particularly livid at the end of the first half after three bad busts, but the issues weren't solved at the break. The last mental lapse may have been the most critical, and it didn't necessarily lead to a big gain yardage-wise, but it was a killer. Gilmore was called for his second hands-to-the-face penalty of the game on third down, wiping out a Deatrich Wise sack that would've given the Patriots possession and an opportunity at a game-winning drive.


2. Danny Amendola was Mr. Reliable on the game-tying drive for the Patriots. He was open in the back of the end zone for the toe-tapping score, but before that play, he caught a 10-yard pass for a first down to get the Patriots into a goal-to-go spot. Before that he caught a five-yard pass and held on despite getting lit up by James Bradberry. When the game gets tight and late, Tom Brady trusts few more than Amendola.

3. Dont'a Hightower looked healthy with 7:49 remaining in the game when he rushed around the left edge and chased down Cam Newton from behind for a 12-yard sack -- his first of the year. The play forced a punt and gave the Patriots the ball at midfield down a touchdown. Hightower played on the edge when on the field, leaving most middle linebacker duties to Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts. He didn't play on pass downs early on, but in a gotta-have-it situation in the fourth quarter, the captain responded.

4. Rob Gronkowski was flagged for an offensive pass-interference penalty in the first quarter that seemed a little questionable. Against the Saints, he was able to play physically, attacking defenders in and out of breaks. On a similar-looking play early on, he was whistled for being too rough. It's a fine line he'll have to toe all season, it seems, as different crews call the same play different ways. Soon thereafter, the Panthers interfered with Gronkowski, a 33-yard penalty, and he celebrated with rapid-fire fist-pumps. From his perspective, after being played phyiscally by defenders all season, he finally got one.

5. At the risk of sounding like Bill Belichick lauding Rams punter Jonny Hekker, Stephen Gostkowski was a weapon on Sunday. He made all three of his field-goal attempts -- including a 58-yarder banked off the right upright at the end of the first half -- and all three of his extra points to help keep the Patriots in the game. He was once again effective with his kickoff placement as well. 


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