Noel Teter | Sports Writer
After starting their season 1-3, the New England Patriots now have a winning record and a playoff berth in mind. On Sunday, November 7, the Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers on the road, 24-6, and improved their record to 5-4. Both teams played a lot of sloppy football, but at the end of the day, the Patriots didn’t shoot themselves in the foot nearly as many times as the Panthers did. All that the afternoon required of Patriots quarterback Mac Jones was some light work. Jones threw just 18 passes and completed 12 of them, throwing for 139 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. In fact, the interception was made by former Patriots standout cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who was traded to the Panthers earlier this season. Jones also lost a fumble during the first half. While Jones was solid at best, if unspectacular, Panthers QB Sam Darnold was flat-out terrible. Darnold, the third overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft by the New York Jets, was traded to the Panthers in the offseason. The Panthers sat at eighth overall in this year’s draft, and with Jones still waiting to be chosen, the Panthers, who had already acquired Darnold, instead chose cornerback Jaycee Horn. At this point, they are probably wishing they had taken Jones. Darnold, who has been historically poor against the Patriots, only perpetuated his legacy today. In three previous games against the Patriots, then-Jets QB Darnold racked up just one touchdown pass to six interceptions, losing all three games. Today, Darnold added three more interceptions to his total against New England, as he completed a dismal 16 of 33 passes for 172 yards without a touchdown. This season, Darnold has thrown for just 7 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and the Panthers have fallen to 4-5. As Darnold’s interceptions piled up, so did the injuries for both teams. According to Steve Reed of the Associated Press, the Patriots lost running backs Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson, along with wide receiver Gunner Olszewski, to head injuries, and none returned to the game. The Panthers, meanwhile, lost defensive end Brian Burns to an ankle injury, cornerback Rashaan Melvin to a hand injury, and offensive tackle Cameron Erving to a calf injury. The injury to Burns was a controversial topic as it related to the Patriots, as Jones appeared to drag him to the ground by the foot, which likely led to the ankle injury. Panthers linebacker Haason Reddick was incensed, calling Jones’ tackle a “completely dirty play”, according to Reed. Jones was not flagged for the play. All injuries aside, the Patriots’ defense was impressive all day, as Darnold routinely faced heavy pressure, crumbling as he threw an interception to linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. and two to cornerback J.C. Jackson, who returned one of them 88 yards for a pick-six. The Patriots’ rushing attack was also formidable, as rookie running back Stevenson had a breakout performance with 106 scrimmage yards and third-year back Harris scored a touchdown on the ground. Next week, the Patriots will face the 5-4 Cleveland Browns, who are fresh off an impressive beatdown of the Cincinnati Bengals and appear relieved after releasing disgruntled receiver Odell Beckham Jr. This matchup will be crucial for both teams as they cling to their playoff hopes.