Patriots-Panthers preview: 3 things to watch for Monday night

Rob Gronkowski Patriots
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski looks to be fully healthy heading into Monday’s matchup with the Panthers. Credit: Getty Images

For the second straight Sunday, Patriots fans had to make due without their team.

But they’ll all be rewarded Monday, as the Patriots (7-2) take on the Panthers (6-3) in North Carolina (8:40 p.m., ESPN).

New England comes into this game off its most impressive offensive performance of the season – a 55-31 win over the Steelers in Week 9. But perhaps even more impressive is Carolina’s 10-9 win over the 49ers in San Francisco in Week 10.

With that win, the Panthers officially became the hottest team in the NFC, having won five games in a row. Cam Newton, while not putting up the crazy fantasy football numbers he has in the past, has his team on a path to the postseason despite having started the year 1-3.

Can the Patriots halt the streak? Here are three things to look for:

1. Managing Newton
After throwing three interceptions against the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 6, Newton has thrown a total of three interceptions in the five games leading into Monday night’s game. The Panthers have scored 30-plus points in four of those five games, and have also won those same four games by more than 14 points. But even with all those points, Newton hasn’t amassed 250 passing yards in any of them. The Patriots should have Aqib Talib back and that should make things tough on Newton. Still, the Patriots’ defensive line and linebackers have to also respect the former Heisman Trophy winner’s ability to run. Newton has 266 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns this season. Keeping him in the pocket and forcing him to throw under pressure is important.


2. Panthers D – really that good?
It’s a good thing the Patriots have Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola back healthy. They may even have Shane Vereen back too. They’re going to need them all. The Panthers rank second in the NFL in rushing defense and fifth in the NFL in pass defense. Carolina has benefitted from getting ahead early in the game and owning time of possession. If the Patriots offense jumps out to an early lead, that will put Carolina in an unfamiliar situation both offensively and defensively. Bill Belichick knows Gronkowski’s blocking is key against a tough defense.
“I think Rob gives good balance to his position. He can block, he can run, he can catch,” Belichick said. “He creates, gives us balance in whatever we ask him to do: pass protection, run blocking, possession passing, downfield passing, red area.”

3. Bye week return
Under Belichick, the Pats are 10-3 after the bye week, and 9-1 over the last 10 seasons. They’re also 5-1 on the road after the bye week. Since 2010, they’re 24-1 in the second half of the season, too. Not to say that what happened in 2004 has any bearing on this season, but the point is Belichick and the Patriots will be more than prepared.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Oval oasis: Summer of fun kicks off this…

A bold partnership between the Fairmount Park Conservancy and the city's Parks and Recreation Department is kicking off this weekend with family activities re-activating this unused public space.

Local

African couple claiming misidentification in robbery case to…

At a bail hearing today for Vickson and Lorfu Korlewala, charged in the robbery of an 80-year-old woman, bail was reduced from $1 million total to $500,000.

International

Jews in eastern Ukraine ordered to register, Kerry…

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned reports that Jews in eastern Ukraine had been ordered to register with the authorities "or suffer the consequences."

National

Chelsea Clinton pregnant with first child

Chelsea Clinton is pregnant with her first child.

Television

Dick Wolf to bring fictionalized world of 'Law…

A&E has ordered a pilot called "D.O.A." from "Law and Order" mastermind Dick Wolf that will focus on real detectives reexamining cold cases. A trio…

Movies

Review: 'Transcendence' is not stupid but sometimes lacks…

The cyberthriller "Transcendence" explores artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and other ethical quandaries, but has too much ambition, if anything.

Television

Shane West talks WGN America's 'Salem'

The actor on history lessons, a new network and showing his butt.

Music

Both feet on the ground with Aimee Mann…

What began with a cool double-bill of Ted Leo opening for Aimee Mann morphed into a full-fledged collaborative project that they're calling The Both. “There…

MLB

Jimmy Rollins is key to Phillies success

When John Kruk was asked about what the Phillies need to contend for a playoff berth, the ESPN analyst said Jimmy Rollins needs to play like a MVP again.

MLB

Ben Revere lifts Phillies to avoid sweep

Ben Revere came through with a two-out RBI single against Atlanta’s tough lefthander Alex Wood.

NBA

Season wrap: 76ers make the grade

The 76ers opened the 2013-14 season with a victory over the Miami Heat. The Sixers closed the season with a win at Miami.

NBA

Fantasy basketball: Finding next year's NBA studs

Before we put the 2013-14 fantasy basketball season to bed, it’s worth thinking about next year’s breakouts while they’re fresh in our mind.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.

Travel

Earth Day travel in the Florida Keys

See why this eco-friendly destination deserves your attention.

Tech

Sorry, Facebook — FarmVille goes mobile with 'Country…

Zynga has released a version of the hit "FarmVille" tailored for smartphones and tablets in the hope of reaping a bumper crop of players.