How do you grade the Patriots' first season opening loss in 11 years? A game in which Tom Brady threw 56 passes but only completed 52 percent of them at a ghastly 4.4 yards per attempt and was 2-for-18 on throws that traveled 15-plus yards? A game in which the defense needed less than 30 minutes to turn a 10-point lead into a 13-point deficit and the offense did nothing to stem the tide? A game in which the fourth play of the game is a blocked punt on the heels of a three-and-out?
A game in which Bill Belichick was thoroughly outcoached by... Joe Philbin???
To quote the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman in "Almost Famous," be honest, and unmerciful. So with that, let's get into the decidedly uncool Pats Week 1 report card.
(Each week, Jeremy Gottlieb will provide the Patriots report card, grading the offense, defense, and coaching/special team/intangibles. There will be an overall grade based on the aggregate of the three categories, then he will break down and provide a grade for each category.)
OVERALL TEAM GRADE: D-
The breakdown ...
OFFENSE - Letís get the minuscule amount of positives out of the way quick here. Shane Vereen had a nice early portion of the afternoon, continuing his role as the jackknife of the Pats offense with some strong running and a couple of nice catches out of the backfield. His two-yard TD run to open the scoring for the Pats was a nifty piece of short-yardage running between the tackles and showed that heís capable of handling goal line duties along with Stevan Ridley, who has handled that job for the most part the past couple of years. Vereen also played three times as many snaps as either Ridley or Brandon Bolden which, along with his goal line work, could be another sign that the team is planning to utilize him as much more than a third down back this year.
Unfortunately, Vereen was one of the many elements that went missing after halftime. After playing with a lot of rhythm in the first half, moving the ball up and down the field, involving multiple skill players, substituting frequently and clearly keeping the Dolphins off balance, it all caved in starting in the third quarter. Thatís also when the offensive line became a giant, sweaty turnstile, the root of the sorry second half performance on that side of the ball. All of the rotating on the interior certainly didnít help and although Belichick was steadfast in his belief that he made the right call in not settling on a specific combination of linemen, not even his staunchest supporters necessarily buy it.
But as bad as the trio of Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell and Jordan Devey were, the two supposed anchors, tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, were worse. According to Pro Football Focus, the Pats allowed more total pressure than any other team in Week 1 (although you probably could have guessed that just by watching), with Vollmer, who was playing in his first real game since suffering a gruesome leg injury last October, often failing to come up with an answer for the Dolphinsí Cameron Wake, only one of the best pass rushers in the NFL (that the Pats also had Michael Hoomanawanui singled up on Wake more than once was as egregious a coaching mistake as any on the day).
Yes, Brady was lousy in this game, missing easy throws, putting up those glaringly ugly numbers (here's another gem) while leading the offense to four punts and two turnovers in the second half and failing to take advantage of the few stops the defense did get. Yes, the disappearance of Julian Edelman in the second half after such a dynamic first two quarters (six catches, 95 yards, two carries, 21 yards, one target after halftime) along with any attempt to control the tempo of the game on the ground made no sense. And yes, the invisibility of Danny Amendola and newcomer Brandon LaFell didnít help and must be addressed. But, as has been discussed ad nauseum now and remains a bright, flashing neon light bulb of obviousness, if the offensive line doesnít get fixed post haste, itís going to be an excruciatingly long year for everyone, especially Brady. GRADE: D
We can probably trace the origin of this disaster to the decision to change to a base 3-4 front despite not having the ideal personnel for the scheme (sorry, but Chandler Jones is not a 3-4 defensive end in any league on any planet in any galaxy). If the idea was to free up more room for a consistent outside pass rush, the coaching staff must have forgotten that part of the scheme back at the hotel pool (Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill sacked an eye-popping 58 times last season, was hit just twice all day Ė thatís hit, not sacked). And Darrelle Revis, the all-universe corner brought in to not only fix a secondary thatís been at least partially broken for years but solidify the entire defense thanks to all he can do to an opposing passing game, was roasted more than once by Miamiís mediocre Mike Wallace and wound up leaving early with cramps. Oh, and because the Pats apparently didnít want anyone to forget any defenses of recent vintages, they rolled Revis out in this look on more than a few occasions.
Thought Revis was brought here to play press-man? pic.twitter.com/Phvcfvs6fo— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) September 8, 2014
Itís not that simple, naturally, but the opportunistic, hard-hitting group that forced three Miami turnovers in the first half stayed in the air conditioned locker room at halftime because that wasnít the same bunch of guys getting shredded for 23 unanswered points in the third and fourth quarters. The Dolphins ran for 191 yards in the game (126 in the second half) at an obscene 5.0 yards per attempt (that the number ballooned to 6.8 YPA when the Pats were in the 3-4 should induce instant nausea on the part of any and all observers) gashing the Pats, who looked like Pop Warner kids trying to tackle high schoolers for much of the time, up the middle.
No one gets away clean, not Revis, not Jones, who was popped for two roughing the passer penalties on the rare occasions that anyone actually got pressure on Tannehill, not Dontía Hightower, who did play a role in Tannehillís first half interception thanks to a well-timed blitz up the middle but otherwise spent the majority of the game wearing his normal cloak of invisibility. And especially not Vince Wilfork, who looked slow and rusty in his first game in nearly a year, especially when he made Dolphins' back Knowshon Moreno look like Jim Brown on a fourth quarter TD run.
At the end of the day, as everyone, from Belichick on down the line, said in the aftermath of Sundayís stink bomb, then entire operation needs to get better. In the case of the defense, the supposed ďnew-lookĒ part of whatís expected to be a title contender, thatís an understatement. GRADE: C-
COACHING/SPECIAL TEAMS/INTANGIBLES - I watched this game live then I watched it again despite knowing exactly when the chunks would start rising in my gullet, and I canít for the life of me figure out what the Pats were doing on either side of the ball in the second half. No running game, no Edelman on offense. The same, vanilla, conservative, here-take-this-open-swath-of 20-yards-in-the-middle-of-the-field calls as in the past handful of years on defense. No adjustments, just a bunch of instances of the coaching staff seeming to outthink itself.
Meanwhile Philbin, the Dolphins milquetoast coach, recognized multiple mismatches, took advantage and left Belichick in his cloud of dust as he sped away. It was scary how clinical and efficient the beatdown was and the Pats had no means of stopping it. Sure there were penalties and bad passes by Brady and massive breakdowns on both lines, but Belichick and company did not put their team in the best position to win this game on a number of levels.
In keeping with the theme of absolutely nothing working all day, with the exception of two long Stephen Gostkowski field goals, the special teams werenít exactly awesome either, starting the with the tone-setting blocked kick. And though punter Ryan Allen did get better as the game went along, culminating with 63 and 62-yard boomers back-to-back in the fourth quarter, itís tough to enjoy awesome punting when it comes as a result of an offenseís total ineptitude though, and even tougher when you know that it means the equally inept defense will have to retake the field after barely getting a chance to catch its collective breath.
The Pats came up short in every way on Sunday. And while itís not the end of the world, there are few better at leading their team back from a loss than Belichick and Brady, and history tells us that weíve got a long ways away from truly having to worry, it still feels at least a little bit like they are a lot further from where they want go than we thought. We'll what the coaching staff comes up with as a response on Sunday from Minnesota. GRADE: D