The Panthers fell to 2-1 over the weekend in a 34-13 loss to NFC rival, the New Orleans Saints. There was a lot in question leading up to the game.
How would Carolina's secondary fare against a future Hall-of-Famer? Could the offense finally begin to click against the league's worst ranked defense? Ultimately, Carolina didn't respond well to either question. However, they'll have a chance to re-answer those exact questions this week against the reigning Super Bowl champions.
Everything between the white lines begins with Tom Brady. The quarterback is master class and even in his 18th season at 40 years old he's enjoying an early MVP-worthy campaign. New England leads the league in total offense with 440 yards per game – 40 more yards than the second ranked Minnesota Vikings. With that said, it's no surprise that Brady leads the league in passing yards at 1,092. He's the only quarterback through three games to eclipse the millennium mark, with 140 more yards than Aaron Rodgers who trails in second.
Cooks is cookin'
Brandin Cooks hasn't spent much time with his new team, after being traded to the Patriots in March, but he's already becoming a fan favorite. Against the Texans on Sunday, Cooks hauled in the game-winning touchdown pass with 23 seconds left to steal a win at home.
Cooks is a big play receiver with tremendous speed. Last season with the Saints, Cooks went off for 173 yards and a touchdown in Week 5 against the Panthers. Through three games this season, he's averaged 25.6 yards per catch, the most among receivers with at least six receptions.
"Yeah, he's got good speed. I don't think there's any doubt about that," head coach Bill Belichick said. "Yeah, he's good on catch-and-runs and he can run by defenders."
Although New England's offense is ranked first in the league, it's not flawless. On Sunday against Houston, the Patriots failed to take care of the little things. New England struggled in short-yardage situations.
Running back Mike Gillislee, who failed to convert twice on fourth-and-short carries against the Chiefs in the opener, was stopped short on third-and-one in the fourth quarter. On the ensuing drive, Brady couldn't connect with tight end Rob Gronkowski on another third-and-one. Both drives ended in three-and-out, forcing a last minute rescue effort from Brady. The struggles partly stem from the offensive line, which has allowed 10 sacks this season, equiavlent to 8.3 percent of Brady's dropbacks. It's a figure that's worrisome to a 40-year old quarterback.
Disappointment on defense
For the second week running, the Panthers' offense will take on the league's worst ranked defense. Last week the Saints' defense ranked 32nd in the NFL, but after a poor performance from Cam Newton and Co., New Orleans moved up and New England slid down.
The Patriots' defense has allowed 330 yards per game against the pass and eight touchdowns through the air – the highest totals in the NFL. The defense doesn't fair much better against the run. New England has allowed 130 yards per game on average on the ground – seventh most in the NFL – and a whopping 5.1 yards per carry.
"I think Bill [Belichick] said it best after the game. We've got a lot of work to do," safety Devin McCourty said about the defense after Week 3. "It's just a constant work in progress. We've got to keep after it."
View the top photos from Panthers vs. Saints by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez.