CHARLOTTE - After seven games, the New England Patriots seemed like a middle-of-the-road team in the AFC playoff race.
They'd beaten the Jets twice and won at Houston. There were also losses to Miami, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Dallas, some of the better teams in the NFC.
So the jury was still out heading into Week 8 as the Patriots headed west to face the red-hot L.A. Chargers.
New England won, 27-24, behind a defense that harassed Justin Herbert to the tune of two interceptions and three sacks.
Suddenly, the Patriots are shooting up the power rankings and coming into Carolina with the momentum of a two-game win streak.
Quarterback Mac Jones has been solid in his rookie season after being selected 15th overall in last April's draft.
He's completed over 70 percent of his passes in five of his first eight games, the only QB ever to do so.
He leads all rookie quarterbacks in passing yards (1,997), completions (192), completion percentage (68.1), and touchdown passes (9). He is on pace for the best completion percentage by a rookie QB in NFL history (Dak Prescott, 67.7).
Last Sunday was just the second time that Jones hasn't found the end zone in a game this season, as his QB rating came in at 70.9, far below the 92.8 average that he had coming in.
Running back Damien Harris had 23 rushes for 80 yards and a touchdown last week in Los Angeles. He is looking to score a rushing TD in his fifth straight game this week, a mark that would tie for the third-most consecutive games with a rushing TD in NFL history.
Overall, Harris ranks sixth in the NFL with 517 rushing yards this season, averaging 4.4 yards per rush.
After their headline acquisitions this offseason, tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith currently rank 13th (181) and 22nd (120) respectively among tight ends in receiving yards with just one combined receiving touchdown.
Wideout Jakobi Meyers has been the main target for Jones, leading the team with 45 catches for 427 yards.
New England is 3-0 on the road this season with a defense that travels.
In three road games, the Patriots lead the NFL in fewest first downs allowed (49), are tied for fourth with 2.3 takeaways per road game, are fourth in opposing passer rating (75.3), and fifth points allowed per game (17.3).
Linebacker Matthew Judon leads the Patriots with eight sacks, ranking fourth in the NFL. Judon's nine tackles for loss ties for fourth-best in the NFL.
Since 2018, J.C. Jackson has 20 total interceptions, tied with Xavien Howard for the most in the NFL over that span.
Carolina is 4-4 all-time against the Patriots. The teams faced off in Super Bowl XXXVIII at the end of the 2003 season.