FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A lifeless effort from the Patriots.
Little more needs to be said. For a team that talked all week about being in a position that others would envy -- in first place of their division with four games to play -- they have played like a last-place team.
No spark. No passion.
It looks to me like quarterback Tom Brady is really hurting. He doesn't appear to be following through in his normal motion, almost as if he's snapping off some throws. He seems to be paying more attention to the rush than he normally would be, perhaps a result of his injured ribs and not wanting to take a hit.
Along those lines, right tackle Nick Kaczur has had a few noticeable breakdowns. The Patriots might be wise to leave rookie Sebastian Vollmer, who has rotated in at both tackles, at that spot for the rest of the game. Vollmer was on the field on the team's touchdown drive.
Defensively, the Patriots are doing enough against a vanilla offense. They were victimized by the big play again, with cornerback Shawn Springs the closest player in coverage on Steve Smith's 41-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter.
Carolina's decision to go for a 53-yard field goal late in the second quarter -- especially to the open end of the stadium -- was questionable. That opened the door for the Patriots to get back in the game, as they scored their lone touchdown on the ensuing drive. What appeared to be a generous pass interference penalty -- on a long throw to tight end Benjamin Watson -- gave the Patriots a spark.
The Patriots get the ball to start the second half.