With about four minutes to go in last week’s game, I “overheard” a particularly obnoxious “fan” screaming about how the team was letting him down, and how he wasn’t getting his money’s worth for his season tickets. As if in unison, several thousand fans within earshot shot the man a look to say, “what’s the matter with you?” We were then treated to another thrilling Brady comeback. It was a thrilling, yet sloppy Patriots win. So, what should we expect from Patriots-Panthers this afternoon?
Will the Patriots struggle to get past the 2-1 Carolina Panthers? What will be different this week?
The Heat is Off
Every NFL team sets up their stadium to give them some sort of home-field advantage. For the Patriots, it’s to give them the advantage in cold weather games. Their bench is in the sunlight, and their opponents in the shade. Last week, this setup worked against the Patriots, especially on the Patriots defense, who clearly got tired chasing around Deshaun Watson all day. This was in no small part due to a hot and humid 84° temperatures.
According to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, Rob Gronkowski was having trouble breathing during the game, and the team’s practices during camp were relatively humidity-free. It was a “perfect storm.”
Today’s forecast is for 61° and sunny.
The Texans Pass Rush Has Left Town
Tom Brady threw for 378 yards and five touchdowns last week. That’s a pretty good day by any standard – but he was under pressure all day long from the Texans trio of JJ Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and Jadaveon Clowney. Clowney returned a Mercilus-induced fumble for a touchdown.
He was under pressure from the stellar Texans front seven all day – and still had a historic day.
The Panthers have eight sacks in their first three games. But their leader, the ageless Julius Peppers is questionable with a shoulder injury.
One More Week
Probably the most important thing is that the Patriots transitioning defense is time. Time to acclimate to the complex Bill Belichick / Matt Patricia defense. Time to get used to playing as a group under Patricia’s tutelage. And time for the coaching staff to accumulate more game-tape on their opponents.
And the biggest reason this week will look different is…
The Return of Dont’a Hightower
Dont’a Hightower’s knee injury changed the Pats defense. Hightower is unquestionably the leader of this defense. He’s the speed pass rusher. He’s the play-maker and the play-caller. It’s Hightower who makes the pre-snap adjustments.
And he’s expected to be back in the Patriots lineup this week.