PHOTO: New England Patriots' Daniel Graham gestures to the crowd after catching a one-yard touchdown pass against the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2005, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Rick Havner)
PATRIOTS-PANTHERS: Report Cards
By Scout.com Staff
PATRIOTS REPORT CARD VS. PANTHERS
PASSING OFFENSE: D -- The Panthers got physical. They beat up the Patriots receivers and hounded quarterback Tom Brady, who was off the mark most of the day in what was an erratic performance to say the least. Brady was sacked twice but hit throughout against a Carolina defense that blitzed 40 times. He threw one interception well into Panthers territory, and lost a fumble deep in his own end when Mike Rucker embarrassed two blockers to jar the ball free. The Pats' third turnover came when tight end Benjamin Watson caught a pass and lost a fumble while fighting for yards. Brady missed some wide open receivers, and his receivers also dropped some easy catches. While many of the mistakes were unforced, the Panthers' physical nature took its toll. Brady completed 9 of his first 14 passes for 156 yards and as TD, but finished just 23-for-44 for 270 yards with a TD and pick -- 71 of those yards came on one play when the Panthers had a coverage breakdown and let Troy Brown run untouched down the field.
RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- Embarrassing. Carolina decided it had to stop the Patriots' running game with seven men to nullify play action and play two deep safeties and it did just that. Corey Dillon has been made to look old the last two weeks, but in all fairness, his offensive line has been horrible in making any room for him to run. He ran 14 times for 36 yards and never really got started heading north and south. This is two weeks in a row that the running game has generated nothing. It didn't help that the Pats put themselves in long-yardage situations with penalties all day, including six false starts.
PASS DEFENSE: B-minus -- The Patriots generated decent pressure on Jake Delhomme and limited him to a 46.0 passer rating by holding him to 11 completions in 26 attempts for only 154 yards, no touchdowns and an interception, which Mike Vrabel returned 24 yards for a touchdown. But a Duane Starks interception was nullified by a hands-to-the-face penalty away from the play against Rosevelt Colvin. They allowed a 41-yard completion to the 2-yard line when they had some coverage confusion, allowing Ricky Proehl to run free. They had a pass interference penalty in the end zone on a third-down play and failed to stop the Panthers on any of their three trips inside the red zone. There were plenty of positives here, but the negatives outweighed them.
RUN DEFENSE: B-minus -- Again, the numbers came out OK. The Pats limited Carolina's potent rushing attack to 2.9 yards per carry and held Stephen Davis to 77 yards on 25 runs, but he also scored three touchdowns as the Pats failed to make any semblance of a goal-line stand. Rodney Harrison also picked up a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on a run play when he ripped Davis' helmet off. That penalty helped set up a Panthers field goal.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F -- The Patriots play in the kicking game, according to captain Larry Izzo, was embarrassing. They allowed a 76-yard punt return just before the half that set up a Panthers touchdown that put the Pats down 10 at the half. They failed to bottle up Rod Smart after he dropped a kickoff inside his 5-yard line and recovered to break a couple tackles and race out to the 25 when he should have been stopped inside his 10. Josh Miller shanked one punt and if it weren't for a couple of Panther penalties, this would have been much worse. Steve Smith had a 77-yard return called back by a holding penalty. Overall, Carolina averaged 21.3 yards per punt return and 26.3 yards per kickoff return. Izzo hit it on the head -- embarrassing.
COACHING: D -- The Patriots can be excused for showing a human side, but grading the game in and of itself, one has to conclude that the Patriots weren't ready to play, which ultimately falls on the coaching staff. Error after error after error doomed New England, which couldn't execute in virtually any phase of the game. The concentration and focus were not there in a game where the Patriots knew that Carolina would be a motivated opponent and would be sky high for the game. The Pats failed to come close to matching the intensity and then gave in to the Panthers physical play. Bill Belichick should have challenged a play at the goal line that he said was too close and didn't show conclusive evidence. But while a replay would not have given the Patriots the ball on what might have been a fumble, it would have set up a second-and-goal situation from the 1 since the player was clearly down before the goal line where he eventually lost the ball. It's not like there were all kinds of in-game coaching blunders, but nothing the coaching staff did from an adjustment standpoint, particularly offensively, seemed to work. The so-called "explosive" offense stubbed its toe without a running game to speak of and special teams coach Brad Seely will be putting in some overtime with his units.
PANTHERS REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS
PASSING OFFENSE: D-minus -- The Panthers won despite a miserable day from quarterback Jake Delhomme, who completed just 11-of-26 passes for 154 yards, despite the fact the Panthers were facing a New England team that was without three of its top four cornerbacks for most of the game. Delhomme also had the game's worst mistake, throwing an awful pass in the flat that was returned 24 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Mike Vrabel. At the time, the Panthers were up 20-10, but the interception got the Pats right back in the game and could have been very costly if the defense hadn't bailed him out. Delhomme took full credit for the pick after the game. New England was determined Steve Smith would not beat them and he was held to 34 yards on four receptions. Ricky Proehl was Carolina's leading receiver with three catches for 63 yards, while Keary Colbert was disappointing again with no receptions on Sunday.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus -- The Panthers got some encouraging news as veteran Stephen Davis ran 25 times for 77 yards on Sunday and scored three times. He became the first running back to run for three scores against the Patriots since Curtis Martin did in 2000. Although he averaged just 3.1 yards per carry and his longest run went for 11 yards, Davis fought for some tough yards and gave the Panthers a physical presence on offense. DeShaun Foster actually started the game for Carolina and ran seven times for 37 yards. As a team, the Panthers ran for 104 yards on 36 carries.
PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- The Panthers were able to get pressure on quarterback Tom Brady, something they didn't do in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Carolina forced three turnovers - all of those coming on pass plays. The big play came when Mike Rucker stripped Brady of the football and Julius Peppers recovered it to set up a Stephen Davis touchdown that put Carolina up by 10. Ken Lucas played a terrific game out at corner; registering a team-high 10 tackles, and strong safety Marlon McCree did a solid job filling in for Thomas Davis. With McCree in the game, the Panthers held New England's tight ends to two catches for a combined eight yards and one touchdown. Brady finished with 270 yards and threw one touchdown and had one interception.
RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus -- To hold Corey Dillon to 36 yards on 14 carries (2.6 yards per carry) is phenomenal, especially considering the Panthers are now without their top run-stopper in Kris Jenkins. Give credit to defensive tackles Jordan Carstens and Kindal Moorehead for clogging the middle. The Panthers also get help from their secondary in run support and held the Patriots to just 39 yards rushing for the game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus -- Carolina was outstanding in all phases of special teams. John Kasay nailed field goals of 51 and 52 yards, while Chris Gamble had a 76-yard punt return to set up Stephen Davis' second touchdown run of the game just before halftime. Steve Smith had five punt returns for 52 yards, and a 10.4-yard average, including a long of 21. Smith also had a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown called back because of a pair of holding penalties. Jason Baker averaged 42.1 yards per punt and had pinned four punts inside the 20-yard line, including one at the Patriots 4-yard line. Carolina's coverage teams didn't give up anything in the way of big plays.
COACHING: A -- The Panthers insist they weren't more aggressive on defense this week, but it sure looked like they were. Credit should go to defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac for devising a great game plan and holding New England's offense to 10 points and 288 total yards. Offensively, the Panthers stuck with the game plan of running the football, and Stephen Davis turned in a workmanlike effort with 77 yards on 25 carries. Carolina was outstanding on special teams. An 0-2 start could have been devastating for the Panthers, but 1-1 gives them plenty of momentum heading into Miami.