It’d be easy to freak out right now.
The Patriots, save for those first few moments when they had a punt blocked and allowed a quick score to open the game, got off to a great start to their season in Miami. Tom Brady and Julian Edelman picked up right where they left off in 2013, Rob Gronkowski was back to his old self, spiking a football in the end zone, Stevan Ridley held onto every ball he touched, and the heavily-hyped defense forced three turnovers while Brady’s offense relinquished none.
Then everything imploded.
Brady was sacked four times in the second half while Edelman was shut out, Gronkowski barely saw the field, the running game became irrelevant, the offense gave two balls away, and the defense was overmatched by Ryan Tannehill’s bond with Mike Wallace and the ground efforts of Barry Sanders. Check that, Knowshon Moreno.
A 20-10 halftime advantage morphed into a mesmerizingly ugly 33-20 season-opening loss, the Patriots’ first defeat to open a year since 2003 (Yes, I do remember what happened later that February).
This morning, the AFC East is upside down. The Dolphins, Jets, and Bills are each 1-0, with the Pats sitting a winless fourth in the division.
Should we freak out? Are our expectations for New England any different after seeing the club horribly overmatched in its first action of the year?
There are a million ways to look at this.
Maybe most frightening, the Patriots are healthy. Yes, Brady (249 yards on 29-of-56 passing) is dealing with a calf injury – not that he looked too troubled by it in Week 1, unless it played a role in his wild inaccuracy late in the game – and a lumbering Gronkowski (4 catches for 40 yards) is still recovering from his offseason knee surgery, which obviously limited his snaps more than should be the case as the season moves along. Then again, the hulking tight end did wind up with a game-high 11 targets.
Receiver Danny Amendola was a non-factor and new tight end Tim Wright, impressive in his lone preseason action, was also invisible. Brandon LaFell was targeted six times without a catch and committed two penalties. You know the saying, if you have nothing nice to say…
Perhaps offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the play-calling deserves the lion’s share of the blame for how the contest advanced after the half and the increasing number of three-and-outs. Edelman was barely targeted after a rhythmic 95 first-half yards, seemingly an error in judgment when it comes to the game-planning.
The offensive line is a mess. Players were rotating from position to position across the line like a game of musical chairs, finding no answers and former offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia wasn’t around to provide guidance for his replacement Dave DeGuglielmo. For the skeptics pointing to the Logan Mankins trade, the already injured veteran Pro Bowler likely wouldn’t have been a difference-maker on Sunday. At least Brady, hit six times and guilty of two fumbles to end countless rushed plays, left the game upright.
The defensive line couldn’t stop the run or chase down Tannehill to save its life. Or, in this case, a possession. Moreno’s 134-yard, one-touchdown outing gave the Patriots nightmarish flashbacks to his 224-yard contest last November when he was a member of the Broncos (I recognize that was the game-plan that night) and left some longing for the very few days of Tommy Kelly. The pass-rushers? What pass-rushers?
If ever there’s a case of potentially overrating a guy, it may be Darrelle Revis. The “all-world cornerback” made a few nice plays but, generally speaking, endured a substandard debut shadowing the speedy Wallace. The Dolphins’ wideout scored once and should have found the end zone twice. At best, Revis was average in his true Pats debut, far from the reputation of being the best in the game and the answer to the team’s defensive woes of previous years.
Overall, the league’s newest top-five defense – or so we’ve told everyone – allowed the franchise’s most points since Week 15 in 2012. But, don’t worry, Brandon Browner isn’t available yet. Right?
And the penalties? Nine flags for 100 yards will ensure Bill Belichick doesn’t sleep well all week after a few hours watching his undisciplined team.
Now that all that’s out of the way, exhale.
Here’s how you should view the 0-1 Patriots:
It’s September. Barely. The Patriots’ season has just begun. We’d all have a much different tone had the Pats looked like this approaching Christmas.
Gronkowski, we hope, will get healthier, the secondary pass-catchers will become more involved in the offense, the line in front of Brady, God willing, will make adjustments, and the defense will surely improve. Most especially Revis, even if not to the levels of his old Island-owning self.
Personally, I predicted New England to go 13-3 this season, factoring in that one of those losses would come in the division, either in Miami – where the Pats are now 15-35 all-time – or against the Jets. In other words, my expectations haven’t change. Perhaps the disappointment is simply out of the way early.
While there’s no question this team has its deficiencies and numerous questions to answer, they’re still immensely talented on both sides of the ball if healthy. That’s not homerism; it’s a fact. There’s no need to lose your mind, envisioning a playoff-less January. The Patriots will be there, just as they always are, poised for a deep run.
But Sunday’s defeat down south should certainly serve as a wakeup call to coaches and players alike because the Fins are no better than a 10-win team and more likely will land around 8-8. As the season progresses, there will be far greater challenges – as soon as the Chiefs and Bengals in Weeks 4 and 5, before a run of the Broncos, Colts, Lions, and Packers in consecutive games to start the year’s second-half – with more significant weapons. Fortunately, the schedule starts relatively light with the Vikings and Raiders to come in the next two weeks.
So, now what? Relax.
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