Third-down defense preps for Peyton: How will the Patriots' defense that couldn't come up with the key stop on third down against the Panthers get the job done against the Denver Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning next week? The Patriots' third-down defense surrendered eight conversions in 11 attempts against Carolina, as Panthers quarterback Cam Newton dazzled with some impressive runs. Manning won't beat many opponents with his feet, but he can carve a team up through the air. That has to be a concern for the Patriots, who played against Carolina without two starters, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (knee) and safety Steve Gregory (broken thumb). Cornerback Kyle Arrington (groin) also is ailing, and No. 1 corner Aqib Talib (hip) didn't finish the game. Going against Manning with a banged-up secondary isn't ideal.
Ridley and holding on to the ball: Running back Stevan Ridley remained on the sideline for 18 snaps after his costly second-quarter fumble against the Panthers, before playing six snaps in the second half (one of which produced a touchdown) for a total of 19 in the game. The ball-security issues could lead the Patriots to adopt more of a rotation going forward with LeGarrette Blount and perhaps Brandon Bolden in the team's big-back role.
Red-zone offense takes a step back: When tight end Rob Gronkowski returned to the lineup Oct. 20, the Patriots' red-zone offense improved immediately. But Monday marked a return to the team's struggling ways as it converted two touchdowns in four trips before the final drive that ended on a controversial non-call. Field goals likely won't be enough to beat Manning and the Broncos, so generating more momentum inside the 20 will be key. A third-and-1 incomplete pass against Carolina after runs of 3 and 6 yards midway through the fourth quarter highlighted the unit's uneven performance against Carolina.
Possibility of help at tight end: With No. 2 tight end Michael Hoomanawanui exiting Monday's game in the second quarter with a knee injury and not returning, it appeared to be a significant issue that could knock him out for an extended period of time. While the Patriots could recalibrate their attack and elevate No. 3 tight end Matthew Mulligan and fullback James Develin into more packages, it also could lead them to explore other options at the position or lead them to more three-receiver groupings once again.