We’ve been down this road before. Not once, but multiple times.
The New England Patriots are having a rough September, and after consecutive losses through the first three weeks of the season, familiar questions are being asked again.
There is a day when all those things will be true, and that day has never been closer than it is right now. But based on New England’s history and track record alone, writing their obituary at this point would be nothing short of premature.
The Patriots are no strangers to slow starts. In 2012, they also dropped two of their first three contests, only to finish 12-4 and reach the AFC Championship Game. In 2014, they were embarrassed in primetime by the Kansas City Chiefs and fell to 2-2 before finishing with a 12-4 mark and winning the Super Bowl. And last year, they looked like a train wreck in their season-opening defeat to Kansas City, yet went 12-4 again and almost won the Super Bowl.
New England’s current situation feels a little different than those three occasions because of how flat they’ve been on both sides of the ball and how utterly they’ve been dominated. Their 26-10 to the Detroit Lions on Sunday was a rerun of last week’s curb-stomping to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and it marked the first time they’ve dropped back-to-back games by double digits since 2002 – a year they failed to make the playoffs.
It’s extremely uncharacteristic of a Belichick-coached team to fare that badly in consecutive games – before Sunday, the Patriots were 45-6 following a regular-season loss since 2003.
And as concerning as the results have been, the way New England have looked has been even more troubling. The defence showed no fight as they allowed the Jaguars and Lions to methodically march down the field seemingly possession after possession, while the offence has felt very vanilla, lacking any sort of ingenuity or creativity. The Patriots, who are usually as disciplined as it gets, were even penalised for having 12 men on the field at one point on Sunday.
Simply put, they’ve not felt like the New England Patriots.
There’s a difference between not executing and not even being in position to execute in the first place. The latter has applied to the Patriots so far. They can certainly play better, but this may be more about talent – or lack thereof – than anything.
But reinforcements are on the way to help alleviate that exact issue.
Defensive end Trey Flowers and safety Patrick Chung – two of the team’s most important players on that side of the ball – will return sooner than later from concussions.
Flowers is arguably the Patriots’ best defensive player and someone who can single-handedly change the complexion of their pass rush, which has been nonexistent the past two weeks in his absence. Chung, meanwhile, is a Swiss Army knife and someone who brings much-needed versatility to the unit.
On offence, two weapons will be added to Brady’s arsenal – a familiar face who can help get the passing game back on track, and a newcomer who can inject some dynamism.
Here’s the stat on Tom Brady. When he gets three or more seconds to throw, his passer rating/QBR by year...— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) September 24, 2018
2011: 96.1 / 86.4
2012: 80.5 / 72.8
2013: 71.7 / 72.7
2014: 81.8 / 79.7
2015: 82.5 / 74.7
2016: 97.9 / 87.7
2017: 98.6 / 88.1
2018: 39.6 / 30.6
After he serves the final game of his four-game suspension, Julian Edelman will resume his role in the slot to give Brady a reliable receiver to lean on, while Josh Gordon has the potential to be a poor man’s Randy Moss and stretch the field vertically, which will in turn open up the Patriots’ horizontal attack.
Just in terms of the talent New England will add over the coming weeks, it’s hard not to imagine significant improvement in the areas that have so far plagued them.
But with the Patriots, you always have to account for in-season development and adjustments. It’s not controversial to say Belichick uses the early part of the schedule as an extended preseason, with the idea of building up his team so they’re peaking at the right time.
Throw in the fact that the AFC East remains weak and for the taking, and New England’s margin of error remains wide.
There’s a reason why the Patriots have been so good at this for so long – the same reason why they shouldn’t be written off yet.
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