Panthers defense readying for test against Patriots offense

FILE - In this Aug. 24, 2017, file photo, Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) leads a huddle during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Jacksonville, Fla. The NFL’s top-ranked offense and top-rated defense are set to square off Sunday when the New England Patriots host the Carolina Panthers. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The Carolina Panthers’ defense made a statement during the first two weeks of the season when it held the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills to a combined six points in back-to-back victories.

It took a step backward in last week’s loss 34-13 to New Orleans, but still is the NFL’s top-ranked defense entering Sunday’s matchup with New England. Through three games, Carolina is allowing just 252 yards per game.

The Panthers (2-1) now are hoping to fix whatever vulnerabilities were exposed against the Saints as they prepare to face Tom Brady and a Patriots offense that is averaging a league-best 441 yards per game.