Marcus Cannon -- Returning after missing a game with a concussion, the starting right tackle looked like he was shaking off some rust, as Julius Peppers had two sacks for the Panthers. On one of them, Cannon appeared to have a technique breakdown in his drop, giving Peppers an easier time to gain the edge and beat Cannon over his outside shoulder. The pressure quarterback Tom Brady faced more often seemed to come from that side of the line instead of the back side, where left tackle Nate Solder appeared to play his best game of the season.
Stephon Gilmore, Devin McCourty, Eric Rowe -- On a tough day for the secondary, Gilmore and Rowe represent the cornerbacks and McCourty the safeties, as they looked to be most involved in costly breakdowns and/or penalties. Gilmore had two illegal-hands-to-the-face penalties, the second of which was a crusher because it negated a third-down stop on the Panthers' game-winning drive. He was also involved in a communication breakdown with McCourty on Fozzy Whittaker's 28-yard screen pass for a touchdown, while Rowe looked hesitant because of pre-snap confusion/uncertainty on Devin Funchess' 10-yard touchdown reception. It's hard to remember the last time the secondary had this many communication issues in a game.
Defensive coaches -- It's not all on the players, as head coach Bill Belichick pointed out after the game. "We've got to do a better job of coaching, a better job of playing," he said. "We need to do better in all three phases for 60 minutes. It's just too inconsistent." When there are as many breakdowns as the Patriots had in this game, something is amiss -- and it's up to Belichick, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia & Co. to figure it out.
Danny Amendola -- The wide receiver finished with six catches for 42 yards and one touchdown. Of his six receptions, four produced either a first down or touchdown. He was often Brady's go-to target in got-to-have-it situations, such as a third-and-3 in the fourth quarter (Amendola took a big hit) and the fourth-and-1 touchdown catch in the final quarter to tie the game.
Stephen Gostkowski -- He hit three extra points and also three field goals from 41, 35 and 58 yards, with the final field goal coming at the end of the first half as it clanged off the right upright and through. "You just try to be ready to go when you get a chance like that. It's one of those kicks where it's like you have nothing to lose," Gostkowski said of the 58-yarder, which was a career long and also the longest in Patriots history. "You're not expected to make it, so you kind of have a different attitude going out there. It was set up nice, the wind was behind my back and it was a nice day. But it kind of feels like a foul ball because we wound up losing. It took the wind out of my sails."
Short-yardage running -- A lingering issue after failing to gain a yard on two fourth-and-1 situations in the season opener, and then a third-and-1 run in Week 3, the Patriots were better in short-yardage situations against the Panthers with running back Mike Gillislee following lead-blocking fullback James Develin on a second-and-1 rush in the second quarter. The Patriots also picked up 8 yards on second-and-1 in the first quarter, while Brady successfully executed a sneak on third-and-1 for 2 yards in the second quarter. Outside of a second-and-1 rush that was stopped for no gain in the fourth quarter (Gillislee cut down), this was an overall bright spot for New England.