The Patriots-Panthers game will get ample breakdown going forward. Ten bottom lines to take away from this game looking forward -
1 - The Panthers were known to be a good team; the bottom line is they're better than people want to give them credit for. They can beat New Orleans for the NFC South.
2 - Don't be fooled that the Patriots are 1-3 against teams with .500 or better records, because the Panthers out of that group have by far the most upside; the NY Jets are erratic as usual and the Bengals are good but have not shown they can be great.
3 - Stevonne Smith is much better than people thought he was. He hasn't slowed at all and the chip he always wears on his shoulder makes him better.
4 - Aqib Talib of the Patriots was benched in the fourth, ostensibly because of his hip condition (what helped knock him out against New Orleans earlier this year), but it looked more like disciplinary action after his running fight with Smith.
5 - Logan Mankins is always hyped as the best Patriots guard since John Hannah yet he gets bowled over with disturbing frequency and often commits dumb fouls. At some point he needs to be seen as a liability more than an asset.
6 - Offense is ahead of defense in the league, and after a sluggish first half offense is starting to reestablish its lead. There is a lot of hand-wringing among Patriots fans and those in the media covering the team about how ostensibly bad the defense is, yet it's the Panthers who should be torked off about needing a botched Clete Blakeman overrule of a pass interference penalty (which was one of two blown calls that weekend) getting them the win, their offense only scoring 24 points and getting fewer yards (300) and fewer first downs (20) than the Patriots (28 first downs and 390 yards of offense), and giving up more sacks (Cam Newton was sacked three times to Tom Brady's two). Making it more galling - the Panthers broke 30 points scored five times before their offense struggled the last two games
7 - Tom Brady once again has taken disparate parts and made them a real offense.
8 - Kenbrell Thompkins was benched for a couple of games for New England and his return in this game was welcome, giving more pass-catching weapons for the Patriots.
9 - Tom Curran notes the Patriots offense now needs to carry the defense. There's nothing new there - the myth that the 2001-4 Patriots had a great defense dies hard even though reviewing the actual games showed the Patriots offense was what carried those title teams (see 2001 vs. San Diego, Indianapolis, the NY Jets, New Orleans, Oakland, Pittsburgh - though that was more a special teams triumph - and St. Louis; see also 2003 vs. Tennessee twice - the regular season matchup admittedly more than the playoff game - Miami, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis in the regular season, and - supreme irony - the Carolina Panthers).
10 - Both teams face excellent prospect of 12-4 or better and division titles, and a Superbowl XXXVIII rematch ten years later is suddenly a genuine prospect.