The Patriots did a good job containing the Carolina running backs trio of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert — holding the trio to 41 yards on 16 carries, an average of 2.6 yards per carry.
But despite acknowledging repeatedly in the days leading up to their Monday night matchup in Carolina that Cam Newton was a running threat, the quarterback had a game-high 62 rushing yards on seven carries, including a 24-yard gain on third down in the second quarter that was part of a field goal drive, and a remarkable 14-yard run on third and 7 in the third quarter, part of a touchdown drive.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said Tuesday there were certainly things the team could have been done differently against Newton.
“We need to do a better job of coaching and we need to do a better job playing it. I don’t think that’s necessarily the challenge that we’ll see this week [against Denver’s Peyton Manning], but we’ll see quarterbacks like that, that are athletic and can run and make yards with their legs and all that,” Belichick said. “We have to do a better job — we were certainly aware of it going into the game and we just didn’t do a good enough job.”
Newton also had a 15-yard run, on another third-and-long, situation, during Carolina’s winning touchdown drive.
“Certainly we go back and we try to evaluate those,” Patricia said. “I obviously have got to do a better job making sure we have everything handled so that the quarterback, no matter what quarterback it is, can’t get out and get that extra yardage on those critical situations.
“It’s certainly something that we’ve got to try to improve on, and that’s obviously — we’re not going to be happy about those plays, and we’ve got to play them better.”
A solid return
Shane Vereen played his first game since Week 1, when the Patriots running back broke his wrist against the Bills. The third-year veteran played 34 snaps, roughly half of the team’s offensive plays. He had a team-high eight catches for 65 yards, three of them successful third-down conversions, plus one 7-yard carry.
“It was good to have him back,” Belichick said. “I think he’ll be better as we go along. He’s worked hard, definitely made some plays that helped us in the game. I think he’ll improve and get better, like any player will with more reps and more opportunities to practice and play.
“There are plenty of things for him to work on but he’s a diligent, hard-working kid that always gives you a solid effort. I’m sure he’ll continue to do that.”
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who said last week he was looking forward to Vereen’s return, said the back helped at key moments.
“I thought Shane really gave us a boost in some critical situations, made a few nice catch-and-runs on some screen plays, and certainly impacted the game on third down as well. Shane is a good player and certainly made some plays that helped us move the ball. It’s great to have him back.”
Back in the mix
After watching the Patriots play the Steelers as a healthy scratch, receiver Kenbrell Thompkins returned to the lineup Monday night, with two catches for 60 yards.
McDaniels said the rookie took everything in stride in recent weeks, as he played more than 85 percent of the snaps over the first seven games, then saw his reps severely cut against the Dolphins, the week before he was benched against Pittsburgh.
“KT comes to work every day and gives us everything he has. He’s great in the meeting room, does a great job at practice working at his craft trying to improve and get better every week,” McDaniels said. “I think his attitude has been fantastic. He played a lot early, played less the last few weeks but never stopped working hard in practice and doing what he needs to do to try to get better and help our team.
“He was really critical to our overall success [against Carolina]. He made some huge plays for us in critical situations that helped us move the ball. I think on two scoring drives [he] made his two catches. He really impacted the game when he had his opportunities. That’s really what this is all about.”