Monday night’s loss to the Panthers will likely be remembered for how it ended, but the Patriots will look back at this one and realize it was simply a game that they let get away from them long before that play even occurred.

Their 24-20 defeat to Carolina was a complete slugfest, with New England doing an impressive job of hanging with a football team that hit hard all night.  They obviously knew coming in that they were going to have to show a lot of patience and persistence, with Tom Brady showing a methodical side to how he approached this one.  They ran the ball quite a bit during the game, and when it came to throwing the football it was all about the short passing game.  Brady took exactly what the defense gave him, and didn’t attempt a pass of over 15 yards until the fourth quarter, and that wasn’t until their final drive.


Monday night’s loss was a tough one for Belichick’s Patriots. (USA TODAY Images)

This was actually one of his best performances in terms of his accuracy, with Brady having missed just four passes on the night before New England was given less than a minute to try and move the football down the field.   Prior to that possession he was 25-of-29, and seemed to be on top of his game.

Unfortunately this was a night where the Patriots overall needed to be perfect, because the Panthers put up a fairly flawless performance.  They didn’t turn the football over, ending the Patriots turnover streak at 36 games, and they were 8-of-11 (73%) on third down.  The Patriots, on the other hand, were just 5-of-10 (50%) on third down, and one of the key plays of the night was the fumble by Stevan Ridley after New England had battled their way down to the Carolina 13 yard line in the second quarter on their second possession.  They were moving the ball well to that point and appeared poised to potentially punch one in, but Ridley got caught by Kawann Short, who punched the ball out from behind and killed the drive.   The play caused the fans who were on hand to erupt in what was a playoff-like atmosphere, and it sent Ridley to the bench for the rest of the first half.

Their next possession saw them cross midfield again, working their way down to the 26-yard line.  But an unnecessary roughness penalty on Logan Mankins moved them back 15 yards and put them in 2nd-and-25, which stopped them from being able to move the chains and potentially score a touchdown.  They eventually managed to kick a 42-yard field goal to get on the board, but it was miscues like that which ultimately ended up being the difference because the Panthers didn’t make them.

Each team had just seven possessions all night, and despite five trips in the red zone New England managed just two touchdowns.

“We knew they were pretty good statistically in a lot of the categories,” said Brady after the game.  “We had opportunities to get down there, we moved the ball pretty well.  We just couldn’t punch it in and get enough points.  We had plenty of chances, we just didn’t get it done.”

When Ridley went out the Patriots went to LeGarrette Blount, who methodically pounded the football against a tough Panthers defense, giving Brady the opportunity to run play-action and keep them off balance.  We saw more of it during the second half, and he did a good job of recognizing what Carolina was trying to do and adjusting after they had some early success in putting pressure on him.

Nevertheless, the Panthers’ defense came exactly as advertised.  They were tough, they hit hard, and they made New England work for every single yard.

But in the end it came down to a lot of the same issues they’ve faced this season, which included injuries.  By the Panthers final possession New England was without Aqib Talib, who had a rough night against receiver Steve Smith.  Also ailing was Kyle Arrington, who was battling a knee injury that kept him from being able to make a critical play on Ted Ginn, who slipped past him for what ended up being a 25-yard game-winning touchdown with 1:09 to go in the game.

That lead to the controversial finish, but the opportunities before then will be the ones that should frustrate this team as they come home now to face another tough opponent in the Denver Broncos.

“We just didn’t make enough plays,” said Belichick after the game.  “They made a couple more than we did.  Game came down right to the wire on both ends of the field and we just couldn’t make enough plays.”

ROB NINKOVICH “ANGRY” AFTER THE GAME:

Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich had a busy night trying to keep Panthers QB Cam Newton contained, and he had his fair share of frustration against him.  Newton overall finished as the leading rusher for Carolina, carrying the ball seven times for 62 yards and had four of their six rushing first downs.  But it was a 3rd-and-7 play in which Newton eluded Ninkovich that likely frustrated the veteran linebacker.

The way it ended probably didn’t help, and after the game Tom Curran of CSNNE was told by Ninkovich he was so mad he could go play another entire contest.

“I could go play another game right now,” Ninkovich told him. “Go play 80 plays. That’s how angry I feel.”

AQIB TALIB vs STEVE SMITH ENDS BADLY:

Talib made his return last night, but it was Steve Smith who got the better of that match-up.  It started on Carolina’s opening drive when Smith beat Talib for a 42-yard gain and escalated from there, with Talib getting involved in a skirmish that caused Belichick to take him out of the game until he calmed down.  Down the stretch it appeared that Talib re-aggravated his injury after ending up on the sideline at the end of the game, and Smith took a shot at him after it was over in the post game interview telling him to “ice up son”.  USA Today has some GIFs and the video of the interview if you haven’t seen it.

THIRD DOWN DEFENSIVE ISSUES FRUSTRATING

Carolina’s third down success last night is frustrating, especially considering New England’s defense did a lot of good things to put themselves in position to prevent it.  The Panthers were in 3rd-and-6 or more on 7 their 11 attempts last night, with four conversions.  That’s obviously a problem when they worked so hard to keep them from being in short yardage situations to give themselves a chance to end the drive.  Carolina converted all of their short yardage attempts, converting a 3rd-and-1, a 3rd-and-2, a 3rd-and-3, and a 3rd-and-4 on the night.

ON TO THIS MORNING’S LINKS:

BOSTON GLOBE:

Patriots on wrong end of late non-call - Shalise Manza Young – Manza Young writes that for the second time this season, the officials became the story line at the end of a Patriots loss.

Ailing Patriots defense is showing its holes – Ben Volin – Volin has his “On Football” column this morning, and writes that injuries have finally caught up with the Patriots’ defense.

Patriots’ loss was very unexpected - Dan Shaughnessy – Shaughnessy gives his thoughts on last night, and writes that veteran referee Walt Coleman never would have let what happened last night occur under his watch.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Panthers game – Zuri Berry - Berry has some thoughts on last night’s game, and highlights broken containment and coverage as one of the bigger problems.

Panthers’ win was a coming-out party – Tom Sorensen – Sorensen writes that if the Panthers had been a secret, quietly beating bottom-feeders before upsetting the 49ers in San Francisco, the Patriots were their coming-out party.

Cam Newton was Panthers’ driving force – Seth Lakso – Lakso writes that  for 18 seconds in the third quarter, Cam Newton was back on the playground.

Shane Vereen catches on quickly in return to action – Michael Whitmer – Whitmer files his notebook, which leads off with Vereen’s return to action last night.

BOSTON HERALD:

Examining what might have happened if pass interference stood - Jeff Howe – Howe ponders what might have happened had the penalty stood and New England got their final shot to win the game.

Best & Worst: Patriots vs. Panthers – Mark Daniels – Daniels has his “best & worst” from last night, including the fact last night was the worst way for Aqib Talib to increase his market value.

Temper tandem: Talib, Smith take their battle personally – Charles Chandler – Chandler looks at the battle between the two players last night and some of the comments from after the game..

ESPN BOSTON:

Refs: Underthrow wiped out penalty - Field Yates – Yates has an article on last night’s ending, with the referees determining that the underthrow by Brady negated the penalty.

Gronk: ‘I can’t do anything about’ non-call – Field Yates -Yates has comments from Gronkowski and what happened on the final play of the game.

Breakdown of the final play of game – ESPN has a breakdown of the last play in the video on the page of this article.

CSNNE:

Monday’s loss shows Pats need to get offensive – Tom Curran – Curran gives his thoughts on last night’s debacle, and writes for the Patriots to beat good teams they need to stop beating themselves.

NESN:

Officials Defend Call at End of Patriots-Panthers Game to Pick Up – Doug Kyed – Kyed has notes from the pool reporter with quotes from the officials following the game.

Shane Vereen Had Tom Brady Playing Back to Old Form, Third-Down Back Was Missed More Than Rob Gronkowski - Doug Kyed – Kyed writes that Vereen’s absence seems to have been a bigger one than Gronkowski being out.

Tom Brady, Receivers’ Limited Mistakes Among Five Takeaways From Patriots-Panthers – Doug Kyed – Kyed charts out the plays from last night, and has some additional stats from the game.

WEEI:

What we learned: Patriots victimized by Cam Newton, non-call in dramatic defeat – Christopher Price – Price has his thoughts from last night’s game, including the fact Gronkowski proved he can contribute without putting up huge numbers.

USA TODAY:

Panthers WR Steve Smith coins the perfect postgame diss - Mike Foss – Foss has an entry with several .GIF’s from last night’s battle between Smith and Talib, with Smith telling Talib to “Ice up” after he failed to finish the game.

PROVIDENCE JOURNAL:

Jim Donaldson: A miracle finish, put on hold – Donaldson has his column for this morning, writing it was “oh-so-close” from being a miraculous Monday.