A November afternoon that was supposed to be Cam Newton’s homecoming instead turned into Stephon Gilmore looking for revenge versus his former team. The New England Patriots came into Sunday oozing with confidence and were able to continue building on it by beating the Carolina Panthers 24-6.
The defense balled out again, led by two interceptions from JC Jackson — one of them going the other way for six. The Patriots offense stalled a bit but produced when it needed to and rode the defense to a third straight win.
New England is now over .500 for the first time since Week 3 of last season, and will host a huge matchup with the Cleveland Browns next Sunday that could have some major postseason implications.
Before getting ahead of ourselves, however, let’s get into the winners and losers from Sunday’s win.
Winner: CB J.C. Jackson
Is there any question who the best player on the field was on Sunday? On a day that started off with a Stephon Gilmore interception that stung Patriots fans, J.C. Jackson made it easy to forget with his two interceptions. Jackson, who missed most of the week due to an illness, picked off Carolina QB Sam Darnold for a timely pick-six early in the second half.
With the Patriots clinging to a 14-6 lead and the Panthers driving, Jackson intercepted Darnold in the red zone and returned it 88 yards to the house to put the Patriots up 21-6. It was a back-breaker for the Panthers, who seemed lost offensively after the turnover. Jackson later picked off Darnold again, this time in the end zone.
With the Patriots squaring off with their former number one cornerback, Jackson reminded fans that he is indeed worthy of taking on that role. His contract this upcoming offseason should show it.
Winner: RB Rhamondre Stevenson
Despite leaving the game in the second half with a head injury, Rhamondre Stevenson led the Patriots in both rushing (62) and receiving yards (44). The rookie carried the Patriots down the field on their first touchdown drive, making back-to-back big plays that set up a Damien Harris touchdown to put New England on the board.
It was the best game of Stevenson’s young career, and he carried the Patriots offense on Sunday versus a tough defensive front. The severity of his injury is unknown, but if he were to be healthy, the rookie may have earned himself a much bigger role heading into the second half of the season.
Loser: LT Isaiah Wynn
Isaiah Wynn’s rough 2021 season continued on Sunday as he struggled in both the run game and pass protection. Going up against a tough front as well as being matched up with prodctuive edge defender, Brian Burns, Wynn was toasted early in the first half on a play that led to a strip sack against Mac Jones. He also was flagged for a false start earlier in the game.
The Patriots’ offensive line has been much better since the first few weeks of the season but the inconsistency at left tackle serves as one of its biggest question marks going forward.
Winner: TE Hunter Henry
Hunter Henry continues to show that he was the missing piece to the Patriots’ red zone offense the last few seasons.
Henry hauled in his fifth touchdown catch of the season on Sunday, to put the Patriots ahead 14-6 just before the half. He caught just two passes for 19 yards, but continues to be a mismatch in the red area and to show why he is Mac Jones’ favorite target down there.
Loser: TE Jonnu Smith
I have taken it easy on Jonnu Smith in the past because I still think the Patriots are finding ways to utilize him, but the big-money tight end was a non-factor again on Sunday. Smith caught just one pass for four yards and had one rush for another five. The Patriots are nine games in and Jonnu Smith’s production has seemingly dropped as the weeks add up.
In the last five games, Smith has just eight catches for 95 yards and zero touchdowns. The target share has gone down each week for Smith, with the Patriots seemingly getting guys like Hunter Henry and Kendrick Bourne going on a weekly basis. Heading into the second half and looking to make a playoff push, New England will need to get Smith going to fully maximize what it is trying to do offensively.
Winner: LB Jamie Collins Sr.
It was only a matter of time before Jamie Collins got on the field and flashed his elite athleticism that we’ve seen throughout his first two stints in New England. In the third quarter, Collins made an acrobatic play picking off Sam Darnold by timing the throw perfectly and plugging the ball out of mid-air before it reached the second level.
Collins also picked up a tackle for loss on Sunday as he continues to carve out a role for himself on the Patriots defense.
Winner: LB Kyle Van Noy
It’s been a bit of an up-and-down 2021 season for Kyle Van Noy, but on Sunday he may have had his best game of the season. The Patriots linebacker was flying all over the field and did a nice job helping containing Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey.
Van Noy had three tackles and two pass breakups at the line of scrimmage. His role as a versatile off-ball linebacker capable of playing on the edge as well is immensely important for the New England defense, especially when facing a dynamic running back like McCaffrey. On Sunday, Van Noy was a big piece in limiting him to just 106 scrimmage yards in the win.