For the third straight home game the Patriots (2-2) played poorly on defense allowing an opponent to put up big plays and big points.
While Tom Brady was able to overcome that scenario a week earlier to come back against the Texans, the G.O.A.T. couldn't pull off the trick again, falling 33-30 to the Panthers (3-1) on Graham Gano's 48-yard field goal as time expired.
New England has now allowed 33 or more points in each of its three home games this season, and exactly 33 in each of the last two weeks against offenses that entered the matchup struggling to score.
Even though Brady wasn't able to pull it out in the end, he did fight back from a 30-16 deficit in the fourth quarter to tie the game.
Opposing passers and offenses are simply putting up big plays, big passing numbers and big points with alarming regularity.
Right now, it's just not good enough. Carolina had three touchdowns in three games this season, but scored TDs on four of five possessions in the middle of the action and actually fumbled inside the Patriots 10 on the fifth drive. Cam Newton looked more like his 2015 MVP self than the guy who'd been struggling early this season.
"It was obviously a close, hard-fought game," Bill Belichick said in his usual post-loss fashion. "We just didn't make enough plays to win. It just wasn't enough."
"We just have to play better. Coach better. Do a better job."
Making things even worse, New England now has a short week to prepare for a Thursday night trip to Tampa Bay to take on the dangerous, upstart Bucs.
Before turning the page to the postmortem of another ugly home loss, here are the few personnel highs and lows from the action against the Panthers.
Rob Gronkowski –* *It will certainly get lost in the loss, but Gronkowski continues to look like his big, physical self. Gronkowski caught four passes for 80 yards. The production included a 43-yard long as well as a key fourth-and-3 grab for 13 yards to keep comeback hopes alive on the first scoring drive of the fourth quarter. Gronkowski looks healthy and ready to contribute to improvement that's needed in the coming weeks.
Danny Amendola –When the game is on the line and the comeback is on, it always seems that Amendola is ready to contribute. A week after helping set up the game-winning touchdown in the comeback against Houston, Amendola had the game-tying touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1. It was his third catch of the drive. Amendola's numbers – six catches for 42 yards and a score – don't look overly impressive. But the Patriots have few players more clutch, and he proved that again even in the losing effort.
Stephen Gostkowski –* *Carolina may not have needed the field goal at the gun to win if it weren't for New England's kicker coming up very big to end the first half. Gostkowski hit a Patriots franchise-record 58-yard field goal to go to the half trailing just 17-16. Gostkowski also hit field goals of 35 and 41 yards. He seemed to execute well on situational kickoffs, putting four in the end zone with three touchbacks while popping up a couple others right at the goal line. Gostkowski certainly did his job (as they say) in the loss.
Stephon Gilmore –* *Four weeks into his Patriots career things couldn't be going much worse for the $65 million free agent addition. He continues to be involved with allowing big plays half after half, week after week. Gilmore seemed to run toward the center of the field, chasing a front-side fake to Christian McCaffrey while Fozzy Whittaker went backside for the 28-yard TD. And even when he got close to Whittaker, he didn't appear to sell out to try to stop the score. He similarly ran from right to left across the defense, almost inexplicably, while Kelvin Benjamin ran behind him for a 43-yard gain. Gilmore also had a couple illegal hands to the face calls, the latter that gave the Panthers a first down with the game on the line, wiping out a Deatrich Wise sack that would have forced a punt to keep hopes alive. The soft-spoken Gilmore is really struggling.
Pass defense – Gilmore may have been the biggest problem in the back end against Carolina, but he was far from the only one. Devin McCourty had his issues in coverage yet again, including with Ed Dixon. Eric Rowe had a key missed tackle on third down on Devin Funchess before leaving when he re-injured his groin. Patrick Chung had a holding call to give Carolina a first down on the way to its field goal, the safety throwing McCaffrey to the turf in the slot. The pass rush also isn't off the hook. New England just isn't getting enough consistent pressure, even though Dont'a Hightower had a key sack late and Wise's big play was for naught due to the flag. The Patriots pass defense is allowing a combined 116.5 passer rating this season. They allowed Newton, who had a 69 rating coming in, to notch a 130.8 rating. Not good.
Tom Brady –It almost feels like Brady has to be perfect at this point for the Patriots to win. And Brady was not nearly perfect on Sunday. He missed a wide-open, would-be touchdown to Cooks in the first quarter. He had other passes, including an early completion to Gronkowski, in which he was off-target and made catches tougher than they needed to be. He missed a long throw to Dwayne Allen that hung up, even if the ball could have been caught. He missed Cooks high later crossing the field. Brady also seemed to be spooked by the pressure at times. He ran into a sack early, one of his three times sacked and seven times he was hit. Brady had a passer rating of 104.6 and led the frantic comeback to tie the game. Ten of his completions were dump-offs to James White. But it wasn't his best day and right now with all the issues on defense his team needs his best day.
What do you think of our lists? Alterations or additions? Let us know with a comment below!