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If I told you that the Patriots wouldn’t score their first points until there was just over a minute left in the first half, you’d probably say they were in trouble. Fortunately, Kevin Faulk’s rushing touchdown before the half tied the game at 7-7, and the Patriots entered the half tied despite two first-half turnovers directly related to wide receiver Randy Moss (more on that later).
For the first time in a while, the Patriots played better than their opponent in the second half on Sunday. They took a 14-7 lead on a five-yard touchdown to Benjamin Watson (that completed a 96-yard drive), and eventually used two Stephen Gostkowski field goals to beat the Panthers 20-10.
Tom Brady, who was battling shoulder, rib, and finger injures, finished 19-32 for 192 yards and one touchdown with one interception. His pick, which killed a Patriots drive in the first quarter, could be directly attributed to Randy Moss, who finished with a pathetic one-catch, 16-yard performance. Moss and Brady were a bit off on the route, and Moss did little to prevent the Chris Gamble interception.
Later in the half, Moss caught his only pass of the game (the 16-yarder), and was subsequently stripped of the ball and forked over possession, killing another drive. Moss, who didn’t speak to the media after the game and hasn’t since he was sent home before practice on Wednesday, didn’t catch another ball. After the game, Panthers players said Moss “shut it down” after they double-teamed him early in the game.
“We knew he was going to shut it down,” Panthers corner Chris Gamble told the Globe after the game. “That’s what we wanted to do him. That’s what we did. … He’d just give up a lot. Slow down, he’s not going deep, not trying to run a route. You can tell, his body language.”
While Moss was doggin’ it, his teammate Wes Welker was busy turning in another typical performance with a 10-catch, 105-yard effort. Welker became just the fourth player with three consecutive 100-catch seasons, joining Marvin Harrison, Herman Moore, and Jerry Rice. Not bad company.
Laurence Maroney led the way on the ground for the Pats with 22 carries for 94 yards.
The Panthers struck early on with a 41-yard connection between quarterback Matt Moore and wideout Steve Smith. Moore finished 15-30 for 197 yards, and Smith hauled in two catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. John Kasay capped off the scoring for Carolina with a fourth quarter field goal, but it was not enough as the Panthers fell to 5-8 and likely out of playoff competition.
The Patriots, meanwhile, improved to 8-5 and maintained a one-game lead in the AFC East after the Dolphins beat the Jaguars to improve to 7-6, and the Jets beat the Buccaneers to move to 7-6 as well. Even the Bills won on Sunday, but they’re pretty much out of it (at 5-8).
Stay tuned for more analysis this week from the Patriots crew at Sports of Boston.