By: Bob George/BosSports.net
September 18, 2005

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's a good bet that the charter plane which will take the Patriots back home will have problems getting out of the gate.

Why? It likely will be because of a false start.

It would be a perfect finishing element of what can only be called an exasperating visit to the Carolinas for the two-time Super Bowl champions. Despite the Panthers doing a terrific job on defense and giving the Patriots an incredibly physical battle, the bottom line is that the Patriots had a winnable game evaporate into thin air thanks to penalties, turnovers and offensive misfires.

The Panthers wound up the winners in the end, 27-17, thereby staving off an 0-2 start for a team still reeling over a 23-20 home loss last week to the New Orleans Saints. The Panthers took it to the Patriots, to be sure, but the Patriots took it to themselves a lot worse. It was an uncharacteristic Patriot game on all counts, and not even Tom Brady's championship swagger could bail the team out on Sunday at Bank Of America Stadium.

It's almost like a "where do you begin" deal. You might as well start at the beginning of the game and whip out the laundry list.

First offensive possession. On the first play, Matt Light is called for a false start. Offense goes three and out.

Second offensive possession. On the first play, Logan Mankins duplicates Light's brain cramp. On third and six at the Patriot 36, Brady has Benjamin Watson wide open 20 yards downfield in the left flat. Brady completely misses him, leading him too far. Drive stalls.

Third offensive possession for Carolina. Heavy blitz on Jake Delhomme. Delhomme somehow lets a deep soft toss fly downfield. Eugene Wilson does not account for Ricky Proehl. He recovers and downs Proehl at the one after a 42-yard completion which never should have happened. You can count on one hand the number of times you see a bang-bang 42-yard pass play on a hot read off of a blitz.

Next play. Davis runs off left tackle. Replays show that he has fumbled the ball before getting into the end zone. Official signals touchdown too early. Play thus cannot be reviewed. Official brain cramp, not Patriots. But it's still a mistake which goes against the champs.

First offensive possession, second quarter. Second and one at Panther 23. Fullback Dan Klecko is called for holding. On second and eleven, Brady tries to hit Troy Brown in the left flat, but Will Witherspoon makes a diving pick. Carolina turns that into a field goal and a 10-7 lead.

Second offensive possession. Second and ten at the Patriot 40. Brady finds Deion Branch on a hit read, a quick slant in going left to right. Branch simply drops the ball. Drive stalls two plays later. Chris Gamble returns ensuing punt 76 yards, only a miracle play by Watson saves a touchdown as he ran down Gamble at the 13.

Watson's great play goes for naught. Facing third and seven at the Patriot 10, Wilson is called for interference in the end zone on Proehl. Davis runs it in from the one on the next play. 17-7 Panthers at the intermission.

First offensive possession, third quarter. Patriots overcome false start of Russ Hochstein (replacing the injured Stephen Neal) but have to settle for an Adam Vinatieri field goal.

Second offensive possession. After a Mike Vrabel interception return for a touchdown cuts the deficit to 20-17, the Patriots get a great defensive stop and the ball back at their own 27. But after gaining a first down, Hochstein is called for another false start, Branch suffers another drop over the middle, and then on third down Mike Rucker beats both Light and Mankins on an end rush and clobbers Brady while throwing. The resulting fumble is picked up by Julius Peppers and returned to the Patriot 12.

Four plays later, Davis scores his third rushing touchdown of the day, and it's 27-17 Panthers.

The Patriots had four possessions in the fourth quarter but failed to do anything. The first drive was killed by a holding call on Corey Dillon and a false start by Daniel Graham on successive plays. The second was killed thanks to another false start on Graham. The third was killed on a play where Watson was called for pass interference on a play where he didn't even make the catch. And the fourth was squelched when Watson tried to make something out of nothing on a right flat pass, was stripped of the ball by Gamble and the fumble recovered by Dan Morgan. Ballgame.

Again, trying to analyze any team's schemes in this game is pointless. Any analysis can be summed up succinctly as follows: Patriots penalized 12 times for 86 yards. Patriots suffer three turnovers which lead to 10 points for Carolina. Brady completes only 23 of 44 passes, suffering numerous misfires and missed targets.

Carolina does deserve credit for playing the Patriots tough (free agent pickup Ken Lucas led the team with ten tackles, a lot for a cornerback). But Jake Delhomme was never able to get much separation from the Patriots, hitting on only 11 of 26 passes for 154 yards. The Patriot defense played well also, for the most part, which helped keep the game close. The Panther defense was gassed late in the fourth quarter, but the Patriots were not able to take full advantage.

The Patriots are fully used to other teams throwing their "A" game at them every week. This was a game where they simply did not have enough to withstand it. Too many mistakes, most all of them in the uncharacteristic category, doomed the champs all game long. The Patriots are good, but they aren't perfect. Games like this simply happen to the best of teams now and then.

It won't get any better next week. The Patriots will travel to Pittsburgh and another team who will be hell bent on revenge, and who also beat the Patriots in the regular season last year. Ben Roethlisberger seems back in 15-1 form, and it will be another tough game for the Patriots.

If nothing else, games like this often serve to fire up the Patriots and make them hungrier. They will need to be starving against the Steelers next week.

And you can rest assured that Bill Belichick will have his troops starving all week long.


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