The two-time league MVP has thrown for just 2,256 yards and 13 touchdowns, and uncharacteristically ranks 27th in the league with a completion percentage of 57.1.
After nine up-and-down games, though, New England’s offense finally made some strides two weeks ago against Pittsburgh. Brady threw for a season-high 432 yards and four touchdowns in leading the Patriots to a 55-31 rout.
New England traditionally is successful coming off a bye week, too, going 10-3 under coach Bill Belichick and 9-1 in its last 10. They will have had 15 days between games this time.
But the Patriots likely haven’t faced a more swarming and suffocating defense than they will on Monday.
“We struggle at different times for different reasons and different things — third down, red area and things like that,” Brady said. “We’re trying to make improvements in all those areas. This isn’t a game where you can really not be good in those areas.
“You can’t turn it over, you can’t have negative plays, everything that we talk about, keys to winning the game. They lead the league in time of possession, second in scoring defense. There’s no shortcuts.”
It only feels like the Panthers defensive line is taking them when they rush the quarterback.
Led by ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, who have 8 1/2 and six sacks, respectively, Carolina’s front four consistently pressures opposing quarterbacks into broken plays and poor decisions. The Panthers sacked 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick six times last week.
“They are getting there with four,” said five-time Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins. “They’ve got two very good pass rushing defensive ends and then their tackles are very good at collapsing the pocket.
“It seems like a defensive meeting at the quarterback,” he added.
Then there’s Luke Kuechly.
The second-year middle linebacker registered a game-high 11 tackles against San Francisco and has 75 on the season. Mix in three interceptions, and Kuechly forces quarterbacks to think twice about letting it fly when under duress.