6 takeaways from the Patriots’ dominant blowout of Panthers in Week 9

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The New England Patriots didn’t really need much from their offense against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. And that was a good thing, because the offense didn’t look particularly strong except when Rhamondre Stevenson or Brandon Bolden had the ball in their hands. The Patriots defense was simply too dominant for the Panthers in New England’s 24-6 win.

Every Panthers drive was an exercise in futility. Even when they seemed to be on the verge of getting their offense going, quarterback Sam Darnold and company found a way to mess it up with penalties or turnovers. The best examples were Darnold’s second and third interceptions, which ended the Panthers’ two longest drives of the day. New England embarrassed the quarterback — so badly that it seems the Panthers made a grave mistake trading a package of picks for him last offseason. Bill Belichick again humbled Darnold, who has thrown one touchdown and nine interceptions in his six matchups (all losses) against the Patriots coach.

Here are our takeaways from the game.

The Patriots defense was playing absolutely out of its mind

The defense scored more touchdowns than the Panthers offense. Frankly, the offense didn’t even need to score, with Jackson’s touchdown and the PAT putting up more points (7) than the Panthers offense (6). And yet, Jackson’s interception wasn’t even the most impressive big play from the defense in the game.

Linebacker Jamie Collins made the most impressive interception of the Patriots’ season so far. Get a look at this play.

Typically, that’s just another batted ball. Somehow, Collins managed to hold onto the ball at its peak velocity. This helped essentially end the game, with the offense kicking a field goal on the ensuing drive.

Darnold completed 48% percent of his passes. Christian McCaffrey averaged 3.7 yards per carry. And Robby Anderson, who finished with one catch for two yards, was spotted yelling at Darnold on the sideline. It felt like full-on meltdown mode for Carolina.

CB J.C. Jackson is going to be very, very rich in a few months

The cornerback logged a pair of interceptions, including his pick-six. The Patriots will have a tough decision to make over the next few months, with Jackson set to enter free agency in March. They can sign him to a long-term extension and secure him as their CB1 of the future — something they have avoided with homegrown cornerback prospects like Malcolm Butler. They can franchise tag him. Or they can let him leave in free agency.

No matter what happens, Jackson will be a very wealth man. He’s due for a large payday. He remains one of the best ballhawks in the NFL, even when he’s not in the same defensive backfield as Stephon Gilmore (who had an INT of his own on Sunday in a revenge game).

Mac Jones ended what had been a solid streak of taking care of the football

Jones did not commit a turnover in Week 7 or 8 — but then opened the first half with a fumble and an interception. Both appeared largely his fault.

On the fumble, he held the ball in the pocket a little too long, which allowed defensive end Brian Burns to blast past Isaiah Wynn on the blindside. There’s no doubt that Wynn was partially to blame on that one. Jones sat a bit too long in the pocket, however.

On the interception, Jones just fired the ball to a spot where he assumed his receiver would be. But a rub route took Jakobi Meyers — not the defensive players — out of the play. So the pass looked like it was intended for Gilmore, who nabbed an easy interception. It looked like Jones should’ve seen Meyers get knocked out of the play and, in turn, fired the ball to a different pass-catcher. Or Jones could’ve simply thrown away the ball on a broken play.

Another fourth down conversion opportunity -- another punt

The Patriots were 1 of 1 on fourth down conversions, electing to go on fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter to help close out the game. That seemed like a no-brainer with New England’s rushing attack looking dominant. But it begged the question as to why the Patriots didn’t seize an opportunity earlier in the game. Belichick opted to punt on a fourth-and-1 in the first quarter.

The coach has been erring on the side of caution this season. He remains committed to a more conservative approach. As his defense continues to improve, Belichick must feel more justified in relying upon them.

Brandon Bolden and Rhamondre Stevenson showed up Christian McCaffrey

These two running backs were monsters and actually better than Damien Harris, the team’s lead back. Stevenson had 10 carries for 62 yards and two receptions for 44 yards. Bolden had eight carries for 54 yards and two catches for 27 yards. They were practically the only reason why the offense was able to move the ball downfield.

The problem? Both Stevenson had Harris left the game with injuries.

Mac Jones' performance felt scattered and frantic again

We touched on the turnovers. But it’s worth noting that on Jones’ other 17 passes, he wasn’t that great either. He completed a nice touchdown to Hunter Henry, which required timing and velocity. The rookie QB also put together a few anticipation and timing throws. But he was lucky to have the defensive dominance, which took some of the pressure off the passer, who looked erratic.

He threw four consecutive incompletions on the series that followed Collins’ interception. Jones had an opportunity to shut the door on the Panthers, with a touchdown drive. Instead they had to settle for a field goal. It wasn’t hugely consequential. It just felt like an example of where Jones was lacking. Perhaps the lack of volume left him out of rhythm.

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