Quick-hit thoughts after third quarter

CHARLOTTE -- Entering the final quarter of play, the Patriots trail the Panthers 17-10. Passing along quick-hit notes and observations from the third quarter:

1. Patriots open half with score. The Patriots offense moved the ball well in the first half, but only managed three points to show for it. The second half started on a high note, as the offense faced little resistance in storming down the field and finishing it off with a touchdown for Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots flexed Gronkowski out as a split end and he ran a simple slant route, carrying defenders into the end zone to tie the game at 10.

2. Panthers lose top DE Johnson. On the injury front, the Panthers lost defensive end Charles Johnson to what the team described as a knee injury. Johnson was injured on what appeared to be a leg whip by Patriots right tackle Marcus Cannon, though it did not draw a foul. Johnson leads the Panthers with 8.5 sacks. He has been on the sideline stretching out the knee and a return looks possible.

3. Newton, Panthers respond. The Panthers came back on their first drive of the second half to score a touchdown. The play of the drive was a third-down scramble in which Cam Newton totaled 14 yards, but ran what felt like 100 as he zigged and zagged to elude pressure and get up the field (an ESPN graphic showed that Newton ran 75.8 yards). Newton later connected with tight end Greg Olsen for the touchdown.

4. Ridley returns on second drive. A first-half fumble landed running back Stevan Ridley on the bench, but he did eventually return to action. He was in on the Patriots' second drive of the third quarter and gained 5 yards on his first rush.

5. Penalty box. No Patriots were flagged for penalties in the third quarter.