Patriots

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

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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.

PANTHERS 33, PATRIOTS 30

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. 

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Butler: Retweet of Cutler-carving-Patriots-blitz stat 'a big misunderstanding'

Butler: Retweet of Cutler-carving-Patriots-blitz stat 'a big misunderstanding'

FOXBORO -- Malcolm Butler has an unsolved mystery on his hands. 

After Monday night’s loss to the Dolphins, Butler retweeted a Pro Football Focus graphic that detailed how well Jay Cutler did when the Patriots blitzed him.

The retweet was later un-retweeted...or de-tweeted. And Butler said on Wednesday that he wasn't sure how it ended up there in the first place. 

"I don't know," Butler said. "Totally a misunderstanding."

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He was asked if he was hacked. He was asked if he mis-hit the retweet link while scrolling through Twitter. He would not confirm any of those suggestions, insisting he had no idea how it happened and that it was an accident.

Though the retweet, which came relatively quickly after the game, served as an indication of Butler's feelings toward the play-calling in Miami, he did not say much to put to bed any notions that he would've liked to see fewer blitzes. 

When asked if he was disappointed in the gameplan, he replied, "Nah. Next question."

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Injury report: Brady practices, Branch missing

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Injury report: Brady practices, Branch missing

Tom Brady who has missed Wednesday practices the past few weeks and skipped back-to-back practices last week with an Achilles injury, was back at practice today as the Patriots geared up for their showdown with the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Rob Gronkowski was back after missing last week while serving his one-game suspension. Defensive lineman Trey Flowers was back as one of several limited participants after missing the Monday night loss to the Dolphins and newly signed receiver Kenny Britt also practice. Defensive lineman Alan Branch, who injured his knee against the Dolphins, didn't practice.

Here's the full injury report: