BLOG: A huge test for the Panthers

Sharon Thorsland
September 29, 2017 - 7:54 am

USA Today Images


The Panthers are in for a challenge on Sunday when they take on the defending Super Bowl champs in Foxborough.

The New England Patriots might have the NF L's worst defense, but they've also got Tom Brady and the league's top ranked offense.

The Patriots are averaging over 440 yards and 33 points per game, and are sitting at 2-1 on the season after last week's last minute win over Houston. They'll meet a Panthers defense that is still the league's stingiest in spite of losing to the Saints last week.

For the second straight week, the Panthers are facing a future Hall of Fame quarterback. The 40-year Brady old looks to be as good as ever – he leads the league with 1092 passing yards and eight touchdowns, and has yet to throw an interception.

The 4-time Super Bowl MVP is often called the greatest of all time, and for good reason. “Man, he can make every throw, he's very smart, he knows how to get rid of the ball,” says Panther cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. “And he's still got one of the strongest arms in the NFL.”

Brady might be down one of his top weapons in Julian Edelman, who's out with a torn ACL, but he's still got “the Gronk.” Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski is “a match-up nightmare,” according to Luke Kuechly, and leads the team with 16 catches and has two touchdowns.

And Brady seems to have found a new number one receiver in former Saint Brandin Cooks, who hauled in the game winner last week. Cooks has game breaking speed and is averaging over 25 yards a catch.

Last season's NFL touchdown leader LaGarette Blount is now in Philadelphia, replaced by former Bills running back Mike Gillislee. He teams with Rex Burkhead and James White to form a solid running attack. 

The Patriots defense has made an about face from last season, falling from first to last in total yards, passing yards and points allowed.

They lost several key players to retirement and free agency, including both starting defensive ends. But they've still got plenty of talent, starting with Pro Bowl linebacker Dont'a Hightower.

The front line is anchored by veteran defensive tackles Alan Branch and Malcolm Brown, while defensive end Trey Flowers leads the team with three sacks.

The secondary features speedy cornerback Stephon Gilmore and 2014 Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler, wiith Pro Bowler Devin McCourty at safety. So those low defensive stats aren't fooling the Panthers. “This is a dominant defense,” says tight end Ed Dickson. “They feed off their home crowd and they play together as one unit.”

This is the second straight week the Panthers have faced one of the best quarterbacks in the game, and this time around they're also facing one of the best teams in the NFL, one that has won two of the last three Super Bowls.

The Panthers know this will be a huge test, but they're ready. “This is the best of the best,” says receiver Russell Shepard. “Anytime you can go against an opponent like that, it's a pump-up game, and we're excited for the challenge.” 



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