The Patriots overcame a slow, mistake-filled start on offense with help from a lights-out defense that came ready to play, leading to a 24-6 win over the Carolina Panthers that gives New England their first winning record of the season at 5-4.
Rhamondre Stevenson provided an early spark for the offense that snapped them out of their penalty and turnover funk, while J.C. Jackson gave the Pats their second-straight game with a pick-six while snagging two more interceptions. Carolina's offense was confounded for much of the day, with another rookie, Christian Barmore, having an active day as well.
It was another nice road win for New England as they continue to surge in the AFC with three-straight wins. Here are the key takeaways from the solid victory.
Sloppy start, Stevenson sparks
The Patriots offense took four penalties on their first two possessions, including two false starts, a hold and a delay of game, as they undercut their early efforts to continue their streak of getting off to good starts during their two-game win streak. Lucky for them, the Panthers also brought the sloppy play to start the game and it helped the Patriots defense get off to a great start that they would ride for the rest of the game.
But for the offense, the sloppy play would continue on the Patriots' third possession as Brian Burns came off the offensive left edge and laid a hit on Mac Jones that forced a fumble, recovered by Carolina at the New England 33-yard-line. Once again the defense stepped up though, holding the Panthers to a field goal that opened the scoring.
It was rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson that sparked a turnaround, taking a dump-off pass for 41-yards and shortly after converting a third-and-1 inside the red zone that led to Damien Harris' three-yard touchdown run. Stevenson's big play got the offense on track as he turned in the best game of his young career.
Gilmore strikes, Mac Rebounds
With the Patriots taking a 7-3 lead, then forcing another Panthers punt, Stephon Gilmore made his presence felt and gave his new team a much-needed boost, picking off Mac Jones for his second giveaway of the first half. Patriots fans saw plenty of that kind of smooth coverage and excellent anticipation over the last four seasons from Gilmore. Luckily, the defense was able to get the stop, doing their part in the complementary football game to not let Gilmore's big play have an impact on the game.
Despite the fumble and the interceptions, Jones continued to display the kind of mental toughness and short memory that he's had all season. He'd help produce a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in response after the interception to end the first half. Jones made two third-down conversion throws on the drive, including the touchdown throw, as the rookie continue to impress with his bounce-back ability.
From there the defense would take over, getting three takeaways that put the game out of reach.
Defense brings the heat
With the offense hitting some early speed bumps, both self-inflicted and caused by the Panthers' defense, the Patriots defense showed up and had one of their best games of the season on Sunday. Despite two first-half turnovers by their offense, the Pats D stepped up each time their number was called, holding Carolina to field goals coming off of both turnovers. Those stands just set the stage for a takeaway-filled second half that allowed the Pats to pull away.
The defense would force another three-and-out to start the third quarter and even when the Panthers got their first big play of the game, a 33-yard dump-off and run by Chuba Hubbard, they quickly rebounded with J.C. Jackson's 88-yard pick-six that extended the lead to 21-6.
They'd follow that up with another interception by Jamie Collins and then another by Jackson that came in the end zone.
It was the defense's best effort of the season, and while Carolina was dealing with plenty of injury issues and their own mistakes, New England's aggressiveness was a huge part of the win. It bodes extremely well to have the defense rounding into form as Thanksgiving approaches.
Despite the impressive win, there were some injuries that could pose issues for the team, starting with Rhamondre Stevenson, who exited in the fourth quarter with a head injury, and Damien Harris (head), who also left after taking a hard hit late in the game.
It was especially disappointing for Stevenson, who put together his best effort of the year, living up to some of the potential he showed in preseason. His performance helped the team ease up a bit on Damien Harris' usual heavy load. To see both backs go down after already losing James White for the season was disconcerting and could be a big factor moving forward if either or both are lost for any significant period of time.
Gunner Olszewski (head) and Jonnu Smith (shoulder) were also among those who were hurt in the game as injuries are starting to pile up.
Patriots are 5-4
The Patriots have a winning record for the first time since Week 3 of the 2020 season and with three-straight wins, they're starting to surge in an AFC that remains muddled with inconsistent results. After a 2-4 start, New England is right back in the thick of it, and with a defense that should be gaining confidence along with increasing contributions from their rookies, they're surging for good reason.
As has been the case for much of this season, the early mistakes were a problem, but as has been the case of late, they were able to overcome them thanks to good complementary football and some key defensive playmaking.
But for New England to find out how good they can truly be, they'll need to clean up those mistakes. Slow starts like that will catch up to them against the better teams. That they're 5-4 without playing their best football is a good sign though.