Patriots-Panthers takeaways: Dominant defense extends Pats' win streak originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The New England Patriots keep finding ways to win.
The Patriots extended their win streak to a season-high three games with a 24-6 victory over the Carolina Panthers in Sunday afternoon's Week 9 matchup at Bank of America Stadium.
New England's defense was the pivotal factor in the outcome. In addition to allowing fewer than 10 points, this group also forced three turnovers and gave up only 4.2 yards per play. Carolina also tallied just 240 total yards of offense.
The Patriots are above .500 for the first time all season with a 5-4 record. They're also the only AFC team undefeated on the road at 4-0. Next up is a Week 10 matchup with the Cleveland Browns at Gillette Stadium.
Before we begin focusing on the Browns, let's look at four takeaways from Patriots-Panthers.
1) Run game excels, but injuries are a concern
The Patriots didn't get a good performance from rookie quarterback Mac Jones, but it didn't matter because the run game provided the bulk of the offense.
New England ran for 151 yards on 39 carries and a touchdown with zero fumbles. Damien Harris scored at the goal line for the Patriots' first touchdown in the first quarter, extending his scoring streak:
Veteran running back Brandon Bolden (54 yards on eight carries) and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson (62 yards on 10 carries) were responsible for most of the production on the ground. Their power-running style was too much for the Panthers, especially in short-yardage situations.
While the rushing attack was excellent Sunday, a few late-game injuries are reason for concern heading into Week 10.
Stevenson was slow to get up after being tackled in the fourth quarter, and the team announced he was questionable to return with a hand injury. Harris also took a hard hit in the fourth quarter and remained down on the field for an extended amount of time before being helped to the sideline. The Patriots announced Harris had a head injury and was questionable to return.
The statuses of both Harris and Stevenson will be a huge storyline for the Patriots entering Week 10. Not having either player for next Sunday's game against a good Browns team would be far from ideal.
2) Darnold seeing ghosts again?
The Patriots are Sam Darnold's kryptonite.
The Panthers quarterback left last week's win over the Atlanta Falcons with a concussion but was healthy enough to start against the Patriots. It might have been a better decision to start backup P.J. Walker instead.
Darnold completed eight of 19 pass attempts for just 75 yards with zero touchdowns and three interceptions. His second interception was returned 88 yards for a touchdown by Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson, which put New England up 21-6 in the third quarter:
Darnold's career stats versus the Patriots are putrid. He's winless with a 53.19 completion percentage, one touchdown and eight interceptions in four games. Darnold's teams have been outscored by 100 points in those four matchups.
The Panthers' decision to trade Teddy Bridgewater to the Denver Broncos and then acquire Darnold from the Jets via trade continues to look worse each week. Carolina would have a legit chance at being an NFC Wild Card team with Bridgewater at quarterback. The postseason is not a realistic target for the Panthers with Darnold at the helm.
3) Henry becoming reliable red zone threat
The Patriots spent huge money to sign the top two tight ends in free agency -- Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith -- over the offseason, and so far Henry has been the more prolific receiver.
Henry hauled in a touchdown late in the second quarter to put the Patriots up 13-6.
He's now tallied one receiving touchdown in five of the last six games, and his five scores through nine games also lead the team.
Three of his five touchdowns have come in the red zone, where he has become one of quarterback Mac Jones' most reliable targets. Henry's physicality and excellent route running make him a tough cover for a lot of different defenders near the goal line.
Jones has thrown six TDs to tight ends this season, tied for the most of any quarterback. We should expect this trend to continue as Jones and Henry continue to improve their already impressive chemistry.
4) Ball security remains a weakness
Turnovers continue to be an issue for the Patriots.
Both of New England's giveaways Sunday came from Jones. He held on to the ball in the pocket a little too long during a first quarter drive, got hit hard and lost the football. The rookie quarterback was intercepted by ex-teammate and Panthers cornerback Stephon Gilmore in the second quarter.
The Patriots have 14 turnovers through nine games, which is the third-most in the league. New England has lost seven fumbles, second only to the Kansas City Chiefs with nine. The Pats had only 15 turnovers over 16 games during Tom Brady's final season with the team in 2019.
Luckily for the Patriots, their two turnovers Sunday only resulted in the Panthers scoring six points (two field goals). Ball security has arguably been the Patriots' most glaring issue all season, and it's pretty concerning that little to no improvement has been shown in this area and we're in November.
Bill Belichick and his coaching staff need to get these mistakes cleaned up ASAP.