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Stephen Gostkowski nailed a 58-yard field as time ran out in the first half, the longest field goal in Patriots history.
Stephen Gostkowski nailed a 58-yard field as time ran out in the first half, the longest field goal in Patriots history. Jim Davis/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

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FOXBOROUGH — Stephen Gostkowski said his franchise-record 58-yard field goal “felt like a foul ball.’’

The veteran Patriot was not describing the kick itself, which came as the second-quarter clock expired and cut Carolina’s lead to 17-16, but rather the feeling of setting a record in a losing effort.

The kick was the culmination of another example of how the Patriots excel in situational football, as the offense got the ball back at its 25 with just 26 seconds left before intermission. Tom Brady connected on a pair of passes to get to the Carolina 40 with just four seconds left to give Gostkowski the chance.

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“We had a couple of seconds left at the end of the half and you can never count our offense out, so you just have to be ready to go when you get a chance like that,’’ said Gostkowski, whose previous career high was a 57-yarder in Dallas in 2015. “It’s like one of those kicks where there’s nothing to lose. It’s not expected to be made, so you have a different attitude going out there, I guess. But it was set up nice, wind at my back, nice day, and felt like a foul ball though, since we ended up losing. Takes a little bit of the wind out of my sails, I guess. But I’m glad we got to kick it.’’

In addition to his scoring prowess, Gostkowski has become adept at placing his kickoffs at or near the goal line, often forcing teams to return the ball rather than getting the automatic 25 yards with a touchback.

“We have a really good kickoff coverage team and we want to make [the opponent] gain yards, and they work too hard for me to just blast it through the end zone,’’ said the 12-year veteran. “Every kick has different situations. You hear from the coach on the sideline and he tells you kind of what to do sometimes. You try to hit a touchback or sometimes you try to hit a touchback and you don’t. But we work real hard on our coverage team and it’s nice to give them an opportunity to go down there and make some plays inside the 25-yard line and not give them those extra 5 yards.’’

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Watch: Ben Volin and Joe Sullivan break down the Patriots’ loss

Hightower returns

Dont’a Hightower returned to the lineup following a two-week absence as he recovered from a sprained right knee suffered in the opener.

Though he’s made his bones as a middle linebacker, Hightower played on the edge, in more of a pass-rushing role, against the Panthers. Though he finished with modest numbers (two tackles), he made one of the signature plays of the game.

One series after the Patriots pulled within 30-23, the defense forced the first Panther punt of the game when Hightower rocked Cam Newton for a 12-yard sack. The momentum carried over as the offense went right back to work and tied the game.

Hightower didn’t play his normal workload, though he’ll likely continue to build his repetitions week to week.

“It was good to have him back,’’ said coach Bill Belichick.

Luke Kuechly on Tom Brady

Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly talks about facing Tom Brady and the Patriots and about the Panthers’ defensive game plan.
Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly talks about facing Tom Brady and the Patriots and about the Panthers' defensive game plan.

Time management

The Patriots didn’t use their timeouts to stop the clock on Carolina’s winning drive, preferring instead to use just one to try to ice Graham Gano before his successful 48-yarder.

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“I thought it was going to be a long kick,’’ Belichick said when asked about the decision. “It looked like the way [the Panthers] were handling it, it was going to be a long kick, so we tried to force as long of a kick as we could.’’

Rowe exits again

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Cornerback Eric Rowe returned to action after missing one game with a groin injury, but it was short-lived.

Rowe, who had moved into the starting lineup to begin the second half in place of Stephon Gilmore, aggravated his groin on the first play of the half and didn’t return.

“It’s just frustrating because I tried to stay on top of [the injury],’’ said Rowe, who said he felt 100 percent entering the game. “That’s the frustrating part.’’

Linebacker Elandon Roberts was the only other Patriot to leave the game, exiting with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter.

Brady milestones

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

As he seemingly does on a weekly basis, Brady reached a few milestones. His 239th career start tied him with Fran Tarkenton for fourth all time among quarterbacks . . . Brady also completed 32 passes, his 32nd game with at least 30 completions, which puts him third all time (Drew Brees 57; Peyton Manning 39) . . . Rob Gronkowski had four catches for 80 yards and now has 6,338 receiving yards from Brady, the most of any of Brady’s targets. Wes Welker had held the mark with 6,300 . . . Gronkowski has 6,413 receiving yards, moving past Troy Brown (6,366) into third place in team annals. Stanley Morgan (10,352) and Welker (7,459) are Nos. 1 and 2.

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Hogan on a roll

Chris Hogan has 15 catches for 214 yards and four touchdowns through four games.
Chris Hogan has 15 catches for 214 yards and four touchdowns through four games.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Chris Hogan scored a touchdown for the third straight game and now has a career-high four. He had three all of last regular season . . . James White tied his regular-season high with 10 catches for 47 yards. His career high is 14, set in Super Bowl LI . . . In addition to Hightower and Rowe, starting right tackle Marcus Cannon returned to action after missing the Houston game with a concussion and an ankle ailment . . . Special teamers Matthew Slater (hamstring) and Brandon King (hamstring), and running back Rex Burkhead (ribs) were the injured game-day inactives. Linebackers David Harris and Harvey Langi, and offensive tackles LaAdrian Waddle and Cole Croston were healthy scratches.

Bill Belichick: ‘It wasn’t good enough today’
Bill Belichick: 'It wasn't good enough today'

Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.