The losing streak is finally over! The Panthers snapped their four game skid last week with a win over the Falcons. Can they build on that win this week? The Patriots come to town on Sunday for a 1:00 kickoff at Bank of America stadium. While the Pats are no longer the juggernaut they once were under Tom Brady, they seem to have turned things around lately. They’ve won two in a row after last week’s impressive road win over the Chargers and are 4-4 on the year. The Panthers are also 4-4, but they’re facing a challenge against this New England team that is starting to look like Pats teams of old. “They’re a team that, kinda we want to be,” said Panthers coach Matt Rhule. “They run the football, they play action it, they protect the football, they don’t beat themselves. They win the field position battle with elite special teams, and then defensively, they give you nothing. It’s going to be a real challenge.”
The Patriots offense is starting to heat up under rookie quarterback Mac Jones, the former Alabama star and first round draft pick. They’re averaging nearly 26 points a game, that’s 10th in the league, and Jones is completing 68 percent of his passes. Most of those are going to Jakobi Meyers – the former NC State standout has 45 catches for 427 yards. Veteran Nelson Agholor is averaging over 15 yards per catch, and tight end Hunter Henry has four touchdowns. And keep an eye out for receiver and punt returner Gunner Olzewski, he’s a game changer who had three returns of over 20 yards last week.
The Patriots aren’t as good at running the ball, they’re averaging 101 yards per game, that’s 22nd in the league. But they’ve got a dynamic group of running backs including Damien Harris, who’s racked up 517 yards and six touchdowns. They’ll face a Panthers defense that remains one of the best in the league, allowing just 296 yards and 20 points per game. “They’ve got really good players at all three levels,” said Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. “They’re fast, they’re disruptive, they challenge you in a lot of different ways.”
The Patriots defense presents its own set of challenges – they rank 13th in the NFL allowing allowing 353 yards per game, they’re 8th giving up just 20 points a contest, and 7th in takeaways with 13 on the year. They boast a veteran secondary led by All-Pro safety Devin McCourty. Adrian Phillips and J.J. Jackson each have three interceptions, former Lenoir Rhyne standout Kyle Dugger leads the team in tackles. The front seven gets after the quarterback – Pro Bowl linebacker Matt Judon has eight sacks, he teams with Dont’a Hightower and All-Pro Jamie Collins. Deatrich Wise, Jr. anchors the defensive line. So can the Panthers move the ball against this group? That’s been a problem for weeks now, especially without Christian McCaffrey on the field. “They have a great sound defense, they aren’t going to let you beat them defensively,” said Panther backup quarterback P.J. Walker. “We’ve just got to take what’s there, take what’s in front of us and get the ball in our playmakers’ hands and let them make plays.”
by Sharon Thorsland