Sunday, March 9, 2014
In the Bill Belichick era, the New England Patriots have always done well in the game immediately after their bye week.
Under Belichick, New England is 10-3 after the bye. But Monday night's game at the Carolina Panthers might provide the biggest post-bye test for New England yet.
The 6-3 Panthers have won five in a row and have one of the NFL's best defenses. They are second in points allowed (12.8), trailing only unbeaten Kansas City; second in total defense (283.3 yards allowed per game); second in rushing defense (82.0) and tied for fourth in passing defense (201.3). Carolina is also a plus-8 in the turnover ratio, tied for fourth, one behind New England, which is a plus-9. Each team has 29 sacks.
Carolina is coming off a 10-9 win at San Francisco in which the Panthers held the 49ers to 151 net yards. The 49ers had averaged 34.8 points and 357.6 total yards in their previous five games.
Clearly the 7-2 Patriots, even though they are coming off a 55-point outburst against Pittsburgh before the bye, will have their hands full.
"They have every stat, every category: third down, red area, sacks, they turn it over,'' said Tom Brady on Tuesday. "They have it all. They’re one of the best defenses in the league. We have to play really well. I think our execution has to be at its best. It’ll be fun. It’s Monday night. It’s getting later in the year. These games are more and more important. We’ll see what we can do.''
These teams don't play each other often. They have met only four times in the regular season, going 2-2, each 1-1 at home. They did, of course, meet in Super Bowl XXXVIII, with the Patriots winning 32-29 on a last-second Adam Vinatieri field goal.
Some things to consider entering the game:
- Of New England's 10 post-bye week wins, five have come against Buffalo. One of the Patriots post-bye wins came at Carolina in 2001, 38-6, that being in the final week of the regular season. Their last loss: 2011 at Pittsburgh, 25-17.
- New England is one of the best teams in the NFL this time of season. The Patriots are an NFL-best 36-13 in November since 2001. In that time, they have had four undefeated Novembers, including 2012, when they won all three of their November games. Their last November loss? That would be Nov. 6, 2011, at home to the New York Giants, 24-20.
- The Patriots are 22-22 all-time on Monday Night Football, but the numbers are much better with Belichick and Brady. Brady is 13-4 playing on Monday nights (and he's thrown three or more touchdown passes nine times on Monday nights). Under Belichick, the Patriots are 15-5.
- The Patriots are finally healthy offensively. The game against Pittsburgh showed just how much tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Danny Amendola mean to Tom Brady. And they could get running back Shane Vereen back for the first time since the opening game.
Before I let you go, I wanted to share something I came across late last night, a story by Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com on Belichick and the subject of hazing. It's a good read. Hope you enjoy it.
Finally, a bit of scheduling news:
The NFL has adjusted the schedule for Dec. 1, moving the Patriots game at Houston to 1 p.m. and the Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs to 4:25 p.m. Both games are on CBS. Should be a great day to sit on the couch and simply watch.
Mike Lowe has covered the New England Patriots since 1999 for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and has had a nice view of their emergence as one of the NFL’s premier franchises.
He’s been at the paper since 1982 and has covered everything from a Little League World Series to the Summer Olympics. He is married to Tracie and they have three children and two grandchildren.
Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeLowePPH.