Patriots Week 9 Notebook: Ugly Start, Clean Finish, and Defense Picking Up Momentum

The New England Patriots have now won three straight games, outscoring their opponents 105-40 in those wins. New England improves to 5-4, a half-game behind the Buffalo Bills, who just lost to one of the worst teams in football. The Patriots are currently seventh in the AFC, a game and a half away from firstst place. It’s safe to say the AFC is wide open.

10 AFC teams have five wins or more, the Patriots being one of them. Most AFC teams either have a Quarterback on their rookie deal or a new veteran starter. Every week will grow tighter with more tension for a playoff spot. While the Carolina Panthers are not a great team, they are not a team the Patriots should be in a close game with. Here’s what avoided a classic trap game on the road.

What Went Right?

The Defense

The Patriots’ defense is starting to look like the unit Bill Belichick paid for. The secondary has recorded 9 interceptions in the last three games. The Patriots now have two defensive backs inside the top-10 in interceptions (J.C. Jackson – 2nd, Adrian Phillips – 9th).

The run defense has yet to allow a running back rush for over 80 yards in their last five games. Matt Judon is T-2nd in the NFL in sacks (9) and Christian Barmore continues to disrupt the trenches. The only points New England gave up this week were field-goals off of two Patriots turnovers.

The Running Game

Damien Harris ranks 9th in the league in rushing yards (547) while T-3rd in touchdowns (7). He has scored in five straight games, taking on the RB1 role by the horns. Hopefully, Harris won’t miss additional time as he left the game with a head injury.

Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson is starting to carve out a nice role in New England’s backfield. Recording 100-yards from scrimmage this week, Stevenson put his potential on display. His light feet keep him running smooth while bringing a bouncing physicality towards defenders. Stevenson also left the game with a head injury.

What Went Wrong?

The First Quarter

Offensively at least, it’s harder to open up more flat than the Patriots did. Two Punts, two sacks allowed, a fumble, zero points, and four offensive penalties in the first two drives. Thanks to the Patriots defense, the Panthers could not capitalize on New England’s mistakes. The Patriots played a much cleaner and well-balanced game as time went on, but they cannot afford to start many games like this.

The Passing Attack

Mac Jones has gone back-to-back weeks with a completion percentage under 70%. Jones only completed one pass in the 2nd half. While the Patriots didn’t need Jones to do much with his arm this week, the offense underwhelmed greatly. The Patriots relied on their defense and running game for a safe win, but Jones still gave the ball away twice. Only one Patriots wide receiver had more than 20 yards and the unit was mostly a nonfactor. Credit to Carolina’s secondary, but the Patriots need more out of their receiver group, wonder who could help that…

The Patriots are 5-4, the Browns are 5-4. A great opportunity to separate themselves from other AFC hopefuls. It is also a great opportunity to make next Sunday’s bout a revenge game for someone…New England returns to Foxboro to take on the Cleveland Browns next Sunday at 1:00 p.m. EST.

(AP Photo by John Bazemore)

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