Biggest storylines for Panthers vs. Patriots in Week 9

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Even when they’re playing a non-rival such as these Carolina Panthers, the New England Patriots rarely carry in a lack of intrigue on a weekly basis. Sunday will be no exception.

Here are the top storylines for this Week 9 matchup.

What's the identity this week?

AP Photo/Nell Redmond

The Panthers have had a rough go at trying to find themselves on offense over the past month or so. After all, that’s what happens when you lose the star player that unit revolves around.

But what’ll happen if they’re without their starting quarterback as well? Carolina may have to leave both Christian McCaffrey and Sam Darnold in their civilians as they try to leap back over the .500 mark.

McCaffrey, who has missed the last five games due to a hamstring strain, has a shot of playing after being designated to return from the injured reserve. While Darnold, who is also dealing with a right shoulder issue, has yet to be cleared from concussion protocol as we move into the weekend.

Joe Brady’s offense did finally find a bit of traction in last week’s win, grinding out the Atlanta Falcons for 203 rushing yards on 47 carries. But can they really expect that to work two weeks in a row, especially against a New England Patriots defense, without Darnold and/or McCaffrey?

Gilly and Billy

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

That Patriots defense, of course, is masterminded by one Bill Belichick. And a man who was apart of that machine for the better part of the last five seasons is now suddenly on the opposing sideline.

And that would be one Stephon Gilmore, who achieved his greatest NFL successes under the six-time Super Bowl champion coach. The now 31-year-old cornerback reeled in two First-team All-Pro distinctions, four Pro Bowl selections, the 2019 AP Defensive Player of the Year honors and, oh, a Super Bowl ring over his four seasons in New England.

Belichick the coach may have loved him some Gilly, but Belichick the general manager would move on from his lockdown defender back on Oct. 6. When both sides were unable to come to an agreement on a new, or at least amended, deal—the Patriots shipped Gilmore back home to Carolina for a 2023 sixth-round pick.

His contract status wasn’t the only sour note that he left on either, as he wasn’t particularly fond of how the organization dealt with his quad injury leading up to the 2021 campaign. So in what was supposed to be the “Cam Newton revenge game” before he was released, Gilmore could stage some revenge of his own in Week 9.

Hold the Mac and Cheese

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Some collateral damage of Gilmore’s potential wrath could hit rookie quarterback Mac Jones, who actually has a tiny bit of history with the Panthers.

The Alabama product played under Carolina head coach Matt Rhule’s American squad in the 2021 Senior Bowl this past January. Jones, apparently, made quite an impression on Rhule—who said this past week he knew McCorkle would be a success at the pro level.

That confidence, however, didn’t inspire the Panthers enough to take Jones in the first round of this year’s draft. Despite being in need of a quarterback, Rhule and company opted for University of South Carolina corner Jaycee Horn at the eighth overall spot. In fact, Jones likely wasn’t even the team’s top remaining quarterback prospect on the board at that point.

While that’s now pretty irrelevant, Jones has started to make himself comfortable with the franchise who did take him. Can he continue his solid play and make the Panthers pay?

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