Five takeaways: Defensive breakdowns lead to Patriots downfall vs. Panthers


Five takeaways: Defensive breakdowns lead to Patriots downfall vs. Panthers

FOXBORO -- Here are five quick-hitting takeaways from what transpired between the Patriots and Panthers at Gillette Stadium on Sunday . . . 

1. The defensive breakdowns continue for the Patriots. Allowing big plays had been their Achilles heel through three weeks of the regular season, and the trend continued against Carolina. Bunch formations caused confusion, as did motion. There were discussions among Patriots pre-snap that apparently did little to resolve their problems. There didn't seem to be one player at fault, but many. Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, linebackers . . . all were involved. Matt Patricia was particularly livid at the end of the first half after three bad busts, but the issues weren't solved at the break. The last mental lapse may have been the most critical, and it didn't necessarily lead to a big gain yardage-wise, but it was a killer. Gilmore was called for his second hands-to-the-face penalty of the game on third down, wiping out a Deatrich Wise sack that would've given the Patriots possession and an opportunity at a game-winning drive.


2. Danny Amendola was Mr. Reliable on the game-tying drive for the Patriots. He was open in the back of the end zone for the toe-tapping score, but before that play, he caught a 10-yard pass for a first down to get the Patriots into a goal-to-go spot. Before that he caught a five-yard pass and held on despite getting lit up by James Bradberry. When the game gets tight and late, Tom Brady trusts few more than Amendola.

3. Dont'a Hightower looked healthy with 7:49 remaining in the game when he rushed around the left edge and chased down Cam Newton from behind for a 12-yard sack -- his first of the year. The play forced a punt and gave the Patriots the ball at midfield down a touchdown. Hightower played on the edge when on the field, leaving most middle linebacker duties to Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts. He didn't play on pass downs early on, but in a gotta-have-it situation in the fourth quarter, the captain responded.

4. Rob Gronkowski was flagged for an offensive pass-interference penalty in the first quarter that seemed a little questionable. Against the Saints, he was able to play physically, attacking defenders in and out of breaks. On a similar-looking play early on, he was whistled for being too rough. It's a fine line he'll have to toe all season, it seems, as different crews call the same play different ways. Soon thereafter, the Panthers interfered with Gronkowski, a 33-yard penalty, and he celebrated with rapid-fire fist-pumps. From his perspective, after being played phyiscally by defenders all season, he finally got one.

5. At the risk of sounding like Bill Belichick lauding Rams punter Jonny Hekker, Stephen Gostkowski was a weapon on Sunday. He made all three of his field-goal attempts -- including a 58-yarder banked off the right upright at the end of the first half -- and all three of his extra points to help keep the Patriots in the game. He was once again effective with his kickoff placement as well. 


Former Patriots defensive end Chris Long is donating his salary


Former Patriots defensive end Chris Long is donating his salary

PHILADELPHIA - Chris Long is donating the rest of his year's salary to increase educational equality.

The Philadelphia Eagles' defensive end already gave up his first six game checks to provide two scholarships for students in Charlottesville, Virginia. Now, he's using the next 10 to launch the Pledge 10 for Tomorrow campaign.

"My wife and I have been passionate about education being a gateway for upward mobility and equality," Long told The Associated Press. "I think we can all agree that equity in education can help affect change that we all want to see in this country."

Long signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Eagles, including a $500,000 signing bonus and $1.5 million guaranteed. His base salary in 2017 is $1 million.

The charitable initiative encourages people to make donations to improve equal education opportunities. Long began his career in St. Louis in 2008 and played for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots last season. Long's foundation has selected four organizations whose missions focus on making education easily accessible to underserved youth while also providing students the support they need to develop strong social and emotional character.

The four organizations are based in the three communities in which Long has played during his NFL career. The city that raises the most money during the season will receive an additional $50,000 donation.

"There's a lot of opportunities to help out and they're wonderful organizations," Long said. "We have such a great platform as football players and hopefully fans get behind it."

Long grew up in Charlottesville and starred in high school at St. Anne's-Belfield before going to the University of Virginia. He was moved to start the scholarship program following the violent protests in Charlottesville in August.

"Our hometown is a wonderful place and I feel like people got the wrong idea about what the residents of Charlottesville are all about," he said.


Gronkowski advises Hayward to treat rehab like anything else -- dominate

Gronkowski advises Hayward to treat rehab like anything else -- dominate

FOXBORO -- Rob Gronkowski's never suffered a break like the one Gordon Hayward did on Tuesday night, but he has been through enough to know what lies ahead as the Celtics forward stares at a lengthy recovery period.

"I saw it. I mean, I wish him nothing but wellness," Gronkowski said on Wednesday. "Hopefully he heals ASAP. You never want to see that with a player in any sport. When my friend showed me that last night, you get that feeling in your body, like, your heart drops. I wish him well.

"I can't wait to see him back. I know he's going to bounce back. Being here in Boston, he's going to be a hard worker it feels like. I can't wait to see him back."


Multiple back surgeries, a plate in his arm, a surgically-repaired ACL . . . Gronkowski has put in his share of rehabilitation work. Asked if he'd give Hayward any advice as he embarks on his road back to normalcy, Gronkowski's message was simple.

"Just go into rehab just like you go into anything else. Dominate it," Gronkowski said. "Come back when you feel ready. Come back when you're 100 percent . . . He wouldn't be where he is now if he wasn't a hard worker. I don't know the guy. Never met him. But it's not something you want to see as an athlete happen to anyone else."

Gronkowski acknowledged that in his experience, one of the biggest hurdles following an injury like that is the mental one. You quickly go from being a powerful athlete to a patient in need of help with even the smallest of tasks. 

"There is a big mental challenge, definitely, with that," Gronkowski explained. "It's not just not being able to be with your teammates and all that. It's outside of football, too. Because it takes away your whole life, going out like that . . . You can't do anything. You can't walk. You gotta have people do [things for you]. You get really frustrated. You just want the people around you to help you out and keep you in the best mindset throughout the whole process."