Columns, Sports

Between the Lines: Thankfully, the Patriots lost Week 1

BIll Belichick will look to rally his team next week against the Saints. PHOTO COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

We have seen this before. The sky is falling. Darkness is spreading across the land. Nothing makes sense anymore. Yes, the untouchable defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots lost a game.

Is the end of the Patriots dynasty closing in on Tom Brady and Bill Belichick? Has it already? Enter Trent Dilfer to proclaim the death of the Patriots ability to play football. Is this all just an overreaction to the 42–27 opening-night loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday? There are many questions to ask, with not many answers.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, the Patriots looked bad, and then it got worse. This game gave everyone across the Northeast flashbacks to the 41-14 blows out on Monday Night Football between these same two teams in Week 4 of the 2014 season.

If you told me New England would win both the turnover and penalty battle and somehow managed to lose the game, I’d probably laugh in your face. But like many fans, Matt Patricia and his defense looked like a deer in headlights watching Alex Smith throw deep balls all over the field.

After allowing a Belichickian high, 537 yards and 42 points, there is no escaping the fact the defense needs help, especially after losing its signal caller Dont’a Hightower to an MCL sprain. Hightower’s replacement Cassius Marsh has been on the team for just over a week, and the absence of recently retired Rob Ninkovich hurt the pass rush and stability that the front seven provided last season.

After another key injury on the other side of the ball to Danny Amendola, the speed and timing of the Patriots offense evaporated in the second half, making 40-year-old Tom Brady look like his age and not some superhuman.

Chemistry and timing will be worked out with more reps, but uncharacteristically, the Patriots lacked the intensity and “do your job” mentality they usually display in this type of game. The first game of the year, prime time and national audience often brings out the best in the Patriots. This time they fell flat.

This is where New England will truly feel the absence of Julian Edelman. Belichick will find a way to put receivers in a position to succeed, but he can’t instill the attitude Edelman brings to the field. Do you see Brandin Cooks or Phillip Dorsett playing with that kind of chip on their shoulder, because I don’t.

Now let’s get things straight, the game wasn’t an absolute disaster. Mike Gillislee showed he could be a reliable red zone workhorse and the special teams units looked good, even without Pro Bowl special teamer Matt Slater. The running back group is more than deep and will be able to help with both catching balls out of the backfield and in the slot.

Next week will be a big test for the team, playing against the New Orleans Saints, which has a high-powered offense and one of the league’s worst defenses. If the Patriots can’t move the ball with ease against the Saints, that will be a sign of significant problems for the rest of the season.

The defense will have its hands full with Drew Brees’ arm and whatever is left of Adrian Peterson’s legs. The major question in the next few weeks is where the pressure on the quarterback will come from. Until Hightower returns, someone on the inexperienced front seven will need to step up. On offense, expect Josh McDaniels to use a lot of two running backs, and two tight end sets to make up for the absence of Edelman, Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell.

Bottom line: the Patriots will be fine. Different outcomes on either of the 0-2, 4th and inches calls could easily have swung the game in the Patriots favor. No other team is prepared to rebound from a disappointing game, injury or media backlash like New England can. This year provides a real test to the offensive creativity of McDaniels and depth of the roster built by Belichick.

Call me a homer, but I’m happy that they lost the season opener (I’m less glad that I started the Patriots defense against my best friend in fantasy who also happened to start Kareem Hunt — but I digress). I know I’m not the only Patriots fan who thinks that losing a regular season game in 2007 could have changed that outcome in February that we don’t discuss. Dilfer even offered to say something stupid again to spark another Super Bowl run — Come on Trent, Do Your Job!

History is even on our side here too, as the last three times the Patriots lost their regular-season opener, they ended the season as Super Bowl champions (2001, 2003, 2014). Everything is OK everyone; take care of the communication and chemistry issues in September rather than January and shut down the undefeated talk right away. This way our 18-1 record will look a lot better than the last one.

Comments are closed.