5 Critical Takeaways from New England Patriots' Week 11 Loss

Andrew Tornetta@AndrewTornettaCorrespondent IINovember 19, 2013

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 18:  Quarterback Tom Brady
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Like two top prize fighters exchanging body blows, the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots went the distance, and it was the Panthers who delivered the final haymaker on Monday night.

In a game that became an instant classic, the Patriots found themselves trailing with one final play from the 18-yard line. After buying some time in the pocket, Tom Brady fired a pass into the end zone intended for Rob Gronkowski, who got tangled up with Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly.

After initialing throwing a flag, the refs picked it up and ruled there was no interference, giving the Panthers a 24-20 victory

You make the call, take a look at a photo of the final play, via NFL on ESPN.

Here are the five critical takeaways from the Patriots' tough-to-swallow loss on Monday night.

1. It will be a long trip home for the Patriots

The final play will be what everyone is talking about, but the truth is the Patriots should have never left the outcome in the hands of the officials in the first place. 

In a game where the possessions were limited, New England failed to make the most of theirs. In their seven possessions, the Patriots drove into the red zone five times and managed just two touchdowns and one field goal.

The Panthers, meanwhile, got the ball in the end zone in both of their red zone trips. 

So while Patriots fans can, and likely will, blame the loss on the controversial call, it was the Patriots offense that will be kept up at night thinking about its missed opportunities. 

2. Defense had no answer for Newton

The Patriots offense may have missed some opportunities, but their defense will be the ones left holding the bag for the loss. 

Removing the Panthers' kneel-down to end the half, New England's defense allowed points on four of Carolina's six drives, including three touchdowns.

Holding a 20-17 lead with just over six minutes remaining, the Patriots defense was sliced apart by Cam Newton and the Carolina offense.

With minimal resistance, Newton marched his team on a 13-play, 83-yard drive. The drive was capped by a 25-yard touchdown pass from Newton to Ted Ginn Jr., who dodged a Kyle Arrington tackle and scampered in for a score.

Newton did whatever he wanted all game, finishing the game going 19-for-28 passing with 209 yards and three touchdowns. He also flashed his speed and elusiveness, recording seven rushes for 62 yards. 

It was another bad outing for the Patriots defense, which let up 31 points and 479 total yards in a win over the Steelers two weeks ago.

It was also the first time in 36 games this defense failed to force a turnover, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

3. Steve Smith gets best of Aqib Talib

Aqib Talib is in the midst of the most dominant season of his career. The six-year cornerback has turned into one of the game's best, after shutting down some of the league's top weapons.

In consecutive weeks, Talib got the best of matchups with Vincent Jackson, Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Jimmy Graham. However, on Monday night, Steve Smith had his way with Talib.

Smith—a longtime rival of Talib's dating back to his Tampa Bay years—was active from the opening kickoff. He beat Talib for 42 yards on the team's second drive and caught another ball a few plays laterdrawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after Talib held onto Smith's leg after making the tackle.

In total, Smith caught four passes for 62 yards as Talib left the game early after his injured hip started giving him problems again. Smith also got the best of him in the trash talk department after the game.

4. Stevan Ridley's fumbling problems continue

Stevan Ridley has excelled at many things over the course of his young career, but holding onto the ball isn't one of them. That trend continued Monday night as Ridley coughed it up on the Carolina 13-yard line, with the Patriots driving in the second quarter.

It was his third lost fumble of the season, most of all running backs, according to team rankings. Ridley was benched for 18 plays, before coming back and eventually punching in a 1-yard touchdown to tie the game at 17 in the fourth quarter. 

However, the concerns continue to grow about Ridley's ability to hold onto to the football. If the fumbles continue, expect to see less of Ridley, and more of LeGarrette Blount and Shane Vereen.

Speaking of Vereen, it was an impressive return for the third-year running back playing in his first game since breaking his wrist in the season opener. Vereen caught a career-high eight catches for 65 yards and rushed the ball once for seven yards. 

5. It doesn't get any easier for the Patriots

Coming off a tough Monday night loss, New England won't have much time to lick its wounds with Peyton Manning, Wes Welker and the Denver Broncos coming to town.

The Patriots are 7-3 and remain in firm control of the AFC East but are fighting for home field in the AFC and are looking to gauge how far they have come this year. 

A Sunday night showdown with the 9-1 Broncos will do just that, although New England will be in unfamiliar territory. For the first time in more than eight years, the Patriots will be the underdog team in a game played in Foxborough, according to ESPN's RJ Bell. 

It will be a huge litmus test for the Patriots, who are just 1-2 on the season against teams above .500 and will tell a lot about this team going forward.


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