Look who's back in the thick of the AFC playoff picture.
The Patriots made it look easy, particularly on the defensive side of the ball in a 24-6 road win over the Carolina Panthers, to improve to 5-4 on the season and move into a tie for a wild-card spot in the crowded AFC standings, as well as just a half game behind the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East.
J.C. Jackson (twice, once for a touchdown) and Jamie Collins combined to pick off Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold three times, as the former New York Jets passer continued to struggle mightily against New England. Over four career starts against the Patriots now, Darnold remains winless, having thrown for a touchdown and nine interceptions.
Carolina looked so disjointed on the offensive side of the ball that you can almost forget that former Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore picked off Mac Jones in his first game against his former employer.
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The pick was part of a relatively pedestrian day for Jones, who also threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Henry for their fifth connection of the season. Jones completed 12 of 18 passes -- a season low in both completions and attempts -- for 139 yards, also the lowest output of 2021.
It mattered not, with New England bottling up Carolina backs and receivers not named Christian McCaffrey to just 144 yards from scrimmage.
The Patriots are now 4-0 away from Foxboro in 2021, but still just 1-4 on their home turf.
With the win to get back above .500, the Patriots snapped a stretch of starting 20 straight games without a winning record dating back to Week 3 of the 2020 season -- the longest such streak for the franchise since playing 28 straight games without a winning record from Week 15 of the 1999 season to Week 10 in 2001.
New England returns home next Sunday to face the Cleveland Browns, who share an identical 5-4 record with the Patriots, at 1 p.m. at Gillette Stadium. New England is 8-2 against Cleveland since it reentered the NFL in 1999, the most recent Browns win coming in 2010.