The New England Patriots lost a 26-10 stunner on Sunday Night Football to former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and the Detriot Lions, and it has everybody talking. Are the Patriots done? Is 41 the magic age where Tom Brady‘s brilliance dies? Are the problems between Brady and Bill Belichick regarding Alex Guerrero bad enough to tear the team apart? I don’t think so. Here’s why.
Don’t Count the New England Patriots out Yet
Believe it or not, the Patriots have had some slow starts before. That’s where my skepticism of the supposed New England collapse really comes from, honestly. On two occasions, the Patriots have started 2-2, struggled mightily, only to go on and make the Super Bowl.
This was the first time that Tom Brady won a Super Bowl as “the guy” in New England, and one that absolutely helps prove my point. The 2014 New England Patriots started 2-2, losing by 13 to the Miami Dolphins in week one and 41-14 to the Kansas City Chiefs in week four. Brady had only thrown for 791 yards, four touchdowns, with two interceptions. That means he was averaging under 200 yards a game. This led to my favorite Bill Belichick soundbite of all time (link here).
What’s funny is that Brady’s numbers are better through three games. He has more touchdowns through three games than he had through four. And back in 2014? He had the likes of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola to help him out, alongside Rob Gronkowski. Don’t worry, we’ll get back to that.
The Patriots ended up going 12-4, and Brady threw for over 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns. The Patriots went on to beat Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks after coming back from a ten point deficit and watching Pete Carroll choose to pass instead of giving Marshawn Lynch the ball in the redzone.
In 2017, it was more of the same. The Patriots lost the Super Bowl, but that’s hardly the point. They still made it there, and guess how they started? That’s right, 2-2, with a blowout loss to the Chiefs, no less.
They lost a 42-27 loss thanks to a breakout debut from Kareem Hunt, and then a monster performance from Cam Newton helped the Carolina Panthers get a win in New England in week four. Through four weeks, the Patriots barely outscored their opponents, 129-128. Outscoring your opponents is a nice thing, but not by one point.
Then, things changed. After giving up at least 30 points in each of the first four games, they didn’t allow 30 points again until the Super Bowl. For the rest of the regular season, the Patriots gave up an average of 14 points a game.
Do I think the Patriots are going to have some kind of miraculous defensive recovery like they did last year? Probably not. But their offense is about to get a lot better, and here’s why.
Here’s the biggest reason to remain optimistic about the Patriots, despite a relatively slow start. Everyone spent all week talking about New England’s offensive struggles, but failed to bring up that the Patriots only had three active wide receivers, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Cordarrelle Patterson. Hogan is solid, but the other two are raw weapons that rely almost completely on their speed to get open.
Over the next two weeks? That’ll change. Josh Gordon will make his Patriots debut, and Edelman will return from injury. Gordon didn’t flash in Cleveland this year, only catching one pass, a 17 yards touchdown, but he was also playing with Tyrod Taylor. Gordon can give Brady a true deep threat, Edelman will open up the slot, and then Hogan will see more one-on-ones. And then the real treat? Teams won’t be able to dedicate as much of their defense to stopping Gronk. It opens up the offense in big ways.
And not just the passing game, the entire offense. With more reliable weapons, the defense will have to give up some space in the front seven, giving life to the run. The run means longer drives, and more time on the field. This wears out the opponent’s defense and keeps New England’s defense on the sideline.
A small note about the defense.
The Gruden Effect
I’m not saying the New England Patriots have a great defense. I’m not even saying they have a good defense. But a bad defense doesn’t get better when you face off against a head coach that knows all of your players better than he knows his own. He knows everything about the Patriots, from the playbook to the player’s tendencies, and he tore them apart, kinda like Jon Gruden did when he was the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in Super Bowl XXXVII. Fortunately, the Patriots won’t have to play Patrica or the Lions again any time soon, and unless Eric Mangini makes a comeback, the only Patriots assistant worth any salt is still on New England’s sideline.
Making a List, Belichicking It Twice
If there’s any coach in the history of the National Football League that can turn a season around, it’s Bill Belichick. That’s to say that the Patriots need to be turned around. It has literally only been three weeks, and it’s ridiculous that we even have to have this conversation. They host an undefeated Miami Dolphins team that beat a Tennessee Titans team in a seven hour game, rookie Sam Darnold and the hapless New York Jets that couldn’t even beat Cleveland, and the third straight fourth quarter [Derek] Carrlapse of the Raiders.
If the Patriots beat the Dolphins this week at home, and they should, they’ll be 2-2 and half a game back in the division. It is only week four. Week. Four. If the Patriots still have a losing record in week fourteen, something that hasn’t happened since the turn of the millenia, in Tom Brady’s rookie season, then we’ll talk.
Until then, it’s onto Miami.