The New England Patriots lost their second game of the 2017 regular season earlier today. The defending world champions were defeated by the Carolina Panthers 33-30 thanks to a last-second field goal that sealed the deal for the visitors. Let's take a close look at some of the things today's matchup taught us:
1. Tom Brady continues to be magnificent: When the Patriots found themselves down 14 points in the fourth quarter, Brady was again asked to carry his team. And carry it he did. New England scored touchdowns on two consecutive possession to tie the game at 30 late in the final period. And while it ultimately was not enough, the future Hall of Fame passer led another spectacular comeback.
2. Stephen Gostkowski appears to be back to his automatic self: Last year, Stephen Gostkowski struggled with inconsistency and did not quite live up to the lofty standards he himself had set over years of extended excellence. At least early on, 2017 appears to be different – and today's game is a good example for that. Gostkowski was perfect on his kicks, among them a career-high 58-yarder, and brought his season total to eight field goals on eight attempts. He also has made 13 of 14 extra points on the year.
3. The defense failed to contain Cam Newton: While Newton has looked more like a traditional pocket passer so far this season, he is still a dangerous playmaker with his legs that needs to be accounted. The Patriots defense found that out today. The unit failed to contain the NFL's 2015 MVP and he took advantage of the running lanes that presented themselves at times. Newton therefore rushed for 44 yards and a touchdown on eight attempts.
4. Dwayne Allen is virtually not a part of the offense: When Allen joined the Patriots, he was seen as the logical successor of Martellus Bennett. So far, however, the 27-year old has had almost no impact on the team's offense. Against the Panthers, Allen played only nine offensive snaps and was thrown the football just once. He did not make the catch.
5. Communication is a major defensive issue: Last year, the Patriots were very good at avoiding big plays and coverage breakdowns. This year, the team struggles in both areas as was on display against Carolina. Two of those breakdowns – seemingly caused by communication errors – directly led to touchdowns, while a third led to the Panthers' longest offensive gain of the day. If the secondary wants to improve its play, it needs to start getting on the same page.
6. Dont'a Hightower's return did not fix the defense: Before Dont'a Hightower left the Patriots' season opener due to injury, the team's defense played solid. Ever since, it struggled. However, the team captain's long-awaited return did obviously not fix New England's defensive issues – even though Hightower was responsible for one of the unit's best plays of the game. Nevertheless, seeing him out there was a positive.
7. The third down defense had another tough day: One of the biggest issues for the Patriots' defense right now is the inability to stop the opponent from extending drives. Against Carolina, Matt Patricia's squad made only three third down stops on nine attempts (of those three stops, only one led to a punt). The unit nearly made two more but a pair of separate hands to the face penalties against Stephon Gilmore negated potential possession changes.
8. The offensive line looked marginally better than last week: Against the Houston Texans, the Patriots allowed five sacks and eight quarterback hits while being unable to create a consistent push in the running game. Things looked a bit better today but the offensive line still had its problems against a talented Panthers front line. Overall, Brady was hit seven times and taken down thrice while the line was able to create slightly bigger holes for the team's running backs.
9. Eric Rowe's groin continues to bother him: After being limited in practice all week long, Rowe was ready to go today. However, it was a forgettable performance. Not only was he in the middle of some of the Patriots' communication breakdowns in the secondary, he also was forced to leave the game with yet another groin injury early in the third quarter.
10. Come hell or high water, Danny Amendola will make the spectacular play: Ever since joining the Patriots in 2013, Amendola has proven himself a player with a knack for the big catch. Against the Panthers, he did it again. Not only did he catch a touchdown on fourth down, the 31-year old also had an impressive third down reception earlier in the game-tying drive: Immediately after catching the football, Amendola was tackled. Somehow, he was able to hold onto the ball and move the chains.