1. Responding to being sent home. Whenever you are disciplined by the coach, teammates will look to see how you respond. Last week, four players were sent home for being late to Wednesday's 8 a.m. meeting. Three of them showed their teammates they were with them, and one of them showed he wasn't. We know Randy Moss struggled all day Sunday; he caught just one ball and fumbled, and Chris Gamble had an interception in front of him. Gary Guyton had one tackle. Derrick Burgess had three tackles and one sack. But in a situation like this, it's not necessarily the stat line you're looking for if you are a teammate. What you're looking for is whether the player is with you or not. Three players turned it around and got back to work Thursday with the right attitude. Adalius Thomas showed with his comments that he wasn't willing to accept accountability, and that is why he was inactive and probably will be inactive for the rest of the year.
2. Randy Moss follow-up. There is a difference between frustration and someone quitting on a team. I can speak only from the experience of being a teammate of Randy Moss -- he is the type of player I want to be my teammate, and I'm proud to say I was a teammate of Moss. He works hard, and he only wants to win. Yes, he got frustrated Sunday. You've seen frustration on every player's face before, but I think everyone looks a bit closer at Moss because of his history. As his teammate, I saw nothing but hard work and dedication from him.
3. Error repeater in the secondary. One thing you don't want to be labeled as is an error repeater. Coaches always tell players they can make mistakes, just not to be error repeaters. Safety Brandon Meriweather was an error repeater against the Panthers. On Steve Smith's 41-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter, some might have noticed the play looked familiar; it was very similar to what the New Orleans Saints ran against the Patriots when Robert Meachem caught a 38-yard touchdown. It was a post route with an over route from the other side of the field as the bait. Players have a saying for this: "Don't take the cheese." But Meriweather took the cheese and jumped the over route again. The job title is safety, which means last line of defense. In certain coverages, the safety is the only player in the deep middle of the field and has to stay there. This is a copycat league, and teams will keep trying this against the Patriots. It might have looked different, out of a different formation, but it's the same concept and the concepts have to be recognized as the play develops.
4. Small players, big hearts. At the beginning of the game, it seemed like players from both teams -- and fans -- were looking for someone to step up and show fight. It came from two of the smallest guys on the field -- Panthers receiver Steve Smith and Patriots receiver Wes Welker. Smith was his usual self, playing with intensity and effort. He had a holding call when he was blocking Leigh Bodden on one running play, but it was the type of holding call you take because he's driving him to the ground, being aggressive. When he got leveled by James Sanders, he quickly got back up to send a message and say, "I'm still standing here, still fighting; this is who I am." The leadership from Smith gave the Panthers the early 7-0 lead. On the Patriots' side, they were fortunate to have a little guy who was that much tougher in Welker. Nothing defined Welker more than when he was lit up by Charles Godfrey on second down in the third quarter, and he got right back up and caught a 13-yard pass on third-and-2. After the play, Welker went back to the huddle and was spitting up blood. That's the type of guy you want to battle with.
5. In a bottom-line business, it's all about the bottom line. This was an ugly game. The Patriots came out flat, and Matt Moore, the Panthers' quarterback, looked like he didn't know what he was doing at times. Sometimes, the Panthers couldn't even get lined up. It seemed like both teams were sort of searching for whether they wanted to play in the early stages of the game. The Patriots had three turnovers and gave up another big play in the passing game. But, in the end, none of that matters at this time of year. The only thing you want to know is, "Did we win the game? Did we have more points than the other team?" In December, it's going to be sloppy. It's ugly outside, and the weather can turn for the worse. Right now, the only thing that matters for the Patriots is whether they win the AFC East and hold on to their one-game lead. They got the job done.
Tedy Bruschi played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and is a member of the franchise's 50th anniversary team. ESPNBoston.com Patriots reporter Mike Reiss contributed to this report.