By: Ian Logue/PatsFans.com
December 14, 2009

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Coming off of two tough losses to New Orleans and Miami, fans expected the Patriots to come out this Sunday against the Carolina Panthers with the fire and intensity that would have lead to a blowout - much like we saw against Tennessee back in Week 6 when they annihilated them 59-0.

Instead, for much of the first half all they did was take the field.

It was the most lifeless team we've seen all season. Players were walking around in between plays, guys were giving up the football, and each time heads were hanging as they headed to the sideline.

It was just ridiculous. We saw dropped passes, players not finishing routes, and a lack of intensity that was so baffling that it defied logic.

I mean here was a hapless Panthers team that was without their starting quarterback, and was primed for a team of the Patriots stature to be completely humiliated in front of the home crowd. Good teams are supposed to really take it to 5-7 football teams. All New England ended up doing was escaping with a win, and looking like a football team that has far more questions heading down the stretch than they do solutions.

Considering how banged up Tom Brady is, all things considered he played pretty well. According to published reports Brady fought through a cracked rib, along with a shoulder and finger injury. To be as accurate as he was with all he was dealing with was one of the few bright spots on Sunday.

"I'm proud of the way we fought today," said Brady, who finished 19-of-32 for 192 yards on the afternoon. "It was a hard-fought win."

They had a lot of things to fight through on Sunday, and the trouble started on their opening drive on just their fifth play from scrimmage. Facing a 4th-and-1 at the Carolina 40, Brady handed off to Sammy Morris, who lost a yard and the team turned it over on downs.

The Panthers may not have taken advantage on their ensuing possession, but that's where the momentum began to swing in the wrong direction.

The next drive stalled for New England's offense, but after stopping the Panthers yet again, they had the football at their own 22-yard line. After getting a first down Brady attempted a deep pass to Moss down the middle of the field that went off his fingertips, and on the next play a simple out-route went wrong. Moss didn't come out of his route and break hard enough toward the sideline, and instead allowed Chris Gamble to get there before he did and picked it off.

Then Carolina did what we were used to seeing from the Patriots. They went right at the New England defense on just their second play from scrimmage. Quarterback Matt Moore went deep to Steve Smith for a 41-yard touchdown, who appeared to beat Shawn Springs on the play to take a 7-0 lead.

Without naming names, after the game Springs told the 5th Quarter that they were in a "Cover 3" which means someone else (it appeared to be Meriweather) was supposed to have the deep middle of the field.

The Patriots went back out on offense and disaster seemed to hit almost immediately. On their third play from scrimmage, Wes Welker seemed to catch a pass and then lose it as he turned upfield and was hit and was recovered by Carolina. The replay overturned the call, and New England found themselves in good shape. Morris carried for 4 yards, and then Brady hit Welker for a 9-yard gain. But on the next play Brady hit Moss for a 16-yard completion and Moss lost it, and Carolina recovered the fumble.

It got worse. They went through two series of three and out, and as the rain poured down at Gillette Stadium, the Foxboro faithful could clearly see what was going on. The silence that had been eerily noticeable for much of the early part of Sunday's game turned into loud boos which began to hit the players harder than the rain.

Some players reacted, others didn't. But on their final possession before the half it was Kevin Faulk who got it started, with two spirited carries down inside the 20, the last of which was a 3-yard touchdown run to tie things up at 7-7.

That touchdown woke up the fans who were battling the rain and up to that point hadn't had much to cheer about. Heading into halftime it looked like maybe they had finally grabbed the momentum - which considering their second half struggles was the one positive thing fans could have hoped for.

It didn't start out that way. Their first offensive series of the second half got off to a promising start, with New England driving down the Carolina 25 yard line. Unfortunately it ended with a fumble by Morris following a 10-yard run, which caused the collective groans to again rain down from the stands.

The Panthers ensuing drive stalled, and after a punt by Carolina pinned the Patriots at their own 4, something happened.

On the second play from scrimmage Welker caught his 100th pass of the season on a 6 yard reception and got completely drilled by Charles Godfrey. However he immediately popped back up and unphased went back to the huddle, which was surprising considering how hard he was hit.

"Either you're going to stay down or get up," said Welker after the game when asked how he was able to respond after taking such a big hit. "So, you might as well get on up."

That he did, and from there it was he and Faulk who took over. Welker caught four more passes, and Faulk carried three times which set up runs by Maroney and an eventual touchdown reception by Ben Watson. That touchdown put them up 14-7 with 1:06 left to go in the third quarter, but more importantly there seemed to be a new life and energy on the field at Gillette Stadium.

Carolina answered with a field goal to cut the lead to 14-10 early in the 4th Quarter, but the Patriots had control of the game. They later got two more field goals from Gostkowski, with the final one coming after Carolina had stopped them on 4th down but were flagged for roughing the kicker penalty on the punt.

In the end fans have to be happy with the victory, but probably aren't too thrilled with how it happened. Much of the discussion after the game surrounded Moss' lack of enthusiasm and his demeanor on the field. Moss finished the afternoon with just one catch for 16-yards, with a couple of drops. Despite his best effort to try and keep his head in the game Brady couldn't seem to get him back in the game.

"You get physical with him, and I don't want to say he quits, but he kind of doesn't run the routes the way they're supposed to be run," safety Chris Harris told Albert Breer after the game. "If you get a jam on him, he'll just ease up. He had the one catch, and he fumbled. ... We stayed on top of him. We were not gonna let him catch a deep pass. That's his game. If he can't get it going, he gets out of sync."

Now the Patriots will get set for what Brady told reporters is their "most important game of the year," as next Sunday's game against Buffalo will more or less decide the AFC East. Since it's being played in Buffalo, New England will be looking for their first road win of the season after dropping all the others.

"Not perfect, but a good solid effort," said Belichick after the game on Sunday. "It's one we can build on. Now we have to turn this around and get ready to take it on the road next week. Hopefully we can be a little more successful there than we've been in some of these other games."

Good teams win on the road and play well down the stretch. The coming weeks will tell us exactly what type of team we'll be watching. Hopefully it will be better than the one who started the game on Sunday.


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