FOXBOROUGH, Mass.

Nearly everyone on the New England Patriots knew the statistics of their next opponent.

It’s hard not to be aware. The Carolina Panthers rank near the top of the league in virtually every defensive category.

“They’ve got every stat, every category — third down, red area, sacks, and they turn it over. They’ve got it all,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said Tuesday of their Monday Night Football foe. “They’re one of the best defenses in the league. So we have to play really well.”

More like perfect.

The Panthers (6-3) are second in the league in fewest points (12.8) and yards (283.3) allowed per game, and are fresh off their most impressive showing of the season Sunday when they held San Francisco to 151 yards of total offense and just nine points in winning their fifth straight game.

That’s hardly all.

The vaunted unit has allowed a league-low 144 first downs, boasts the thirdmost takeaways (21) and ranks sixth on third down, allowing opponents to covert on just 33.9 percent of their attempts.

Carolina’s last five opponents — Minnesota, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and San Francisco — scored a combined four touchdowns.

“Teams aren’t really scoring on them. They’re not doing much against them. Nine points last week from the Niners. That’s not what we want. We hopefully can do a little better than that,” said five-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Logan Mankins. “They haven’t been giving up much of anything — the run, pass, points, they’re good in the red zone, good on third down. They’re good at everything right now.”

Despite a 7-2 mark entering their bye last week, the Patriots have experienced a rollercoaster season, with Brady adapting to a new set of young receivers and just recently benefiting from the addition of his favorite target, tight end Rob Gronkowski.

The two-time league MVP has thrown for just 2,256 yards and 13 touchdowns, and uncharacteristically ranks 27th in the league with a completion percentage of 57.1.

After nine up-and-down games, though, New England’s offense finally made some strides two weeks ago against Pittsburgh. Brady threw for a season-high 432 yards and four touchdowns in leading the Patriots to a 55-31 rout.

New England traditionally is successful coming off a bye week, too, going 10-3 under coach Bill Belichick and 9-1 in its last 10.

But the Patriots likely haven’t faced a more swarming and suffocating defense than they will on Monday.

“We struggle at different times for different reasons and different things — third down, red area and things like that,” Brady said. “We’re trying to make improvements in all those areas. This isn’t a game where you can really not be good in those areas.

Patriots-Panthers

NEW ENGLAND (7-2) at CAROLINA (6-3) Monday, 8:40 p.m. ET, ESPN OPENING LINE — Panthers by 2 1-2 RECORD VS. SPREAD — New England 5-4, Carolina 6-3 SERIES RECORD — Series tied 2- 2 LAST MEETING — Patriots beat Panthers 20-10, Dec. 13, 2009 LAST WEEK — Patriots had bye; Panthers beat 49ers 10-9 AP PRO32 RANKING — Patriots No. 4, Panthers No. 6 PATRIOTS OFFENSE — OVERALL (12), RUSH (8), PASS (18) PATRIOTS DEFENSE — OVERALL (21), RUSH (30), PASS (12) PANTHERS OFFENSE — OVERALL (20), RUSH (10), PASS (28) PANTHERS DEFENSE — OVERALL (2), RUSH (2), PASS (T-4) STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — New England is 84-21 in second half of regular season since Bill Belichick became coach in 2000. Patriots have gone 8-0 in second half of season four times and 7-1 three times under Belichick. .. Patriots are 42-9 (.824) in regular season against NFC since 2001. … QB Tom Brady is 13-4 on Monday night with 41 TD passes and 14 INTs. …Brady had seasonbest 432 yards passing and four TDs in Week 9 win over Pittsburgh before bye. … Since 2011, TE Rob Gronkowski has 29 TD receptions, tied for third most in NFL. … Patriots’ defense has takeaway in 36 straight games, longest active streak in NFL.



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