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    Saturday, October 01, 2022

    Pats have short window to fix ongoing defensive issues

    Carolina quarterback Cam Newton dives for a touchdown past New England safety Duron Harmon (30) during the second half of the Panthers' 33-30 win over the Patriots on Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

    Foxborough, Mass. — The Patriots knew the first month of their 2017 schedule would feature tough early matchups with Drew Brees and Cam Newton.

    What they couldn't have predicted is how much trouble they would also have with quarterbacks Alex Smith and rookie Deshaun Watson.

    Watson only was able to give the Patriots a close call in Week 3. But Smith torched New England in Week 1, and Newton's Panthers finally found their footing enough to walk out of Gillette Stadium with a 33-30 win on Sunday.

    As the Patriots now try to turn the page on their second home loss of the season, they have a short turnaround before a Thursday night road matchup with Tampa Bay and quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston happens to be coming off his best outing of 2017.

    Safety Patrick Chung said there weren't any magic bullets in Monday's film study to pinpoint what is ailing the defense.

    "Just get better, honestly," he said. "The game's over. ... We didn't play good. So we have to get a bounce-back game here, and get back to how we usually play."

    The Patriots (2-2) have won three straight against the Buccaneers (2-1), but haven't faced them since 2013. That was two years before Winston made his rookie debut.

    The third-year quarterback fell into many of his bad habits in Tampa Bay's Week 3 loss at Minnesota, tossing three interceptions. But he recovered Sunday to pass for three touchdowns with no picks as he twice brought the Buccaneers from behind in the fourth quarter to beat the New York Giants 25-23.

    Now he will get his first shot at a New England defense that has given up at least 400 yards to each of its four opponents and is surrendering an NFL-worst 457 yards per game.

    In the aftermath of Sunday's loss to Carolina, several players pointed to communication as the key component missing for the defense. Linebacker and defensive captain Dont'a Hightower said Monday that while it can certainly improve, he thinks it's even simpler than that.

    "It's just accountability," Hightower said. "Whatever guys are out there, it's on them to do it. It's on all of us. We have to hold each other to a higher standard. And that starts today."

    Hightower returned to the field on Sunday for the first time since suffering a knee injury in the season opener against Kansas City. He finished with two tackles, including a sack.

    Hightower again started the week on the injury report with his sore knee. He was joined by linebacker Elandon Roberts (ankle) and cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore (ankle) and Eric Rowe (groin).

    "Anytime I can play and not come off the field and be healthy, that's a positive," he said. "Everybody's banged-up. Whether I'm sore or somebody else is sore — it's football time now. We got a couple of days to get ready. So we're gonna handle business."

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