Here are three things we saw in the Patriots’ 24-20 loss to the Panthers Monday night in North Carolina:
Pats unable to close
On third-and-7 from the Patriots’ 36-yard line, Devin McCourty was flagged for holding on tight end Greg Olsen, which set up a first down for Cam Newton and crew with under two minutes to play. Newton took advantage, hitting Ted Ginn for a 25-yard TD that left the Patriots with just 59 seconds to overcome a four-point deficit.
Tom Brady would drive the Patriots all the way down to the Carolina 18-yard line, but with no time remaining he was picked off in the end zone. It looked as though Rob Gronkowski was going to pick up a pass interference call on the final play in the back of the end zone, as Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly draped Gronkowski with both of his arms, but the referees picked up their thrown flag, ending the game.
Mixed bag in the third
When the Patriots struggled during the first half of the season, it was often due to their lackluster play in third quarters.
Coming out of halftime Monday, there was no such lull for the New England offense as the Pats orchestrated a beautiful, 82-yard touchdown drive in four minutes and 29 seconds. Short passes to Aaron Dobson, Shane Vereen and Julian Edelman set up Tom Brady’s nine-yard TD pass to Gronkowski that tied the game, 10-10.
The Pats’ defense did not fare as well as Brady and the offense in the third, as they allowed Newton to scramble freely and lead the Panthers to an impressive drive of their own that climaxed with Newton finding Olsen in the end zone to put the Panthers up, 17-10 heading into the fourth.
Early mistakes prove costly
The Patriots found themselves down, 10-3, at halftime thanks to mistakes on both sides of the ball.
Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith clearly got under the skin of Aqib Talib early on. Talib, who broke up a third down passes intended for Smith on the Panthers’ first drive, was beaten on Carolina’s second drive when Smith hauled in a 42-yard pass from Newton. Three plays later, Newton found Smith for five yards. Talib held onto Smith’s ankle a tad too long after the whistle and after a scuffle in which Talib’s helmet came off, the Pats cornerback was flagged for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness call. The Panthers would finish off the drive by scoring the game’s first touchdown, a nine-yard touchdown catch by Brandon LaFell.
Talib was also called for a holding call on Smith, which eventually led to a Graham Gano 43-yard field goal.
The Pats looked ready to tie the game, 7-7, to start the second quarter but Stevan Ridley continued with his ball-control issues as he was stripped by Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short at the Carolina 13-yard line, turning it over to the Panthers.
Follow Metro Boston sports editor Matt Burke on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS