Quick Take: Panthers/Patriots

In Brief

» Last meeting: Stephen Davis rushed for three touchdowns as the Panthers knocked off the Patriots, 27-17, in Week 2 of the 2005 season.
» Streaks: The series is tied at two, including the playoffs.
» Last week: Carolina went back to its familiar formula of running and defense to defeat Tampa Bay, 16-6. ... New England could not hold a late lead and fell in Miami, 22-21.

Keep your eye on ...Tom Brady's leadership: New England's star quarterback uncharacteristically called out his teammates after last Sunday's loss to Miami, saying, "If things don't go your way, you've got to fight back. At times we do, and at other times I don't think we fight very hard." How his teammates respond to his public criticism could go a long way toward determining whether the Patriots start a late-season run by beating the Panthers.

The Patriots' young secondary: The inexperienced defensive backfield performed reasonably well early in the year, but that has not been the case over the past few weeks. The Patriots have given up several huge plays through the air while losing three of four. Though Carolina is a power running team first and foremost, it does have one of the league's best deep threats in speedy wideout Steve Smith.

Julius Peppers' motivation: Rumors abounded in the offseason that the Patriots were trying to trade for the Pro Bowl defensive end. The deal was never done, but given their pass rushing woes, the Patriots probably wish they had been able to acquire Peppers. He has 8.5 sacks on the season and will likely be fired up to show New England what it is missing.

Did you know?

These teams met in one of the decade's most-memorable Super Bowls, a 32-29 victory for the Patriots on Feb. 2, 2004. ... The Patriots have the league's top two receivers in terms of yardage (Randy Moss and Wes Welker). ... The Panthers lead the NFC in rushing with 150.1 yards per game. ... If the playoffs started today, the Patriots would be in, but the Panthers would be out. Get an updated look at the postseason picture.

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