The New England Patriots are 2-3.
The last time the Patriots were below .500 this late in a season was 2002.
I was 4 years old.
For a whole generation of Patriots fans, these are uncharted waters… but is this cause to abandon the season?
Consider the Circumstances
The Patriots are one of two teams in the NFL that have been dealing with some form of COVID outbreak (the other being the Tennessee Titans).
Many will point to the fact the Titans are 5-0, saw more players sidelined, and also were not able to practice in an official capacity for two weeks and say the Patriots can’t make any excuses.
Notice how I said official capacity.
There are reports the Titans were still holding player-led workouts outside the team’s facility during their hiatus.
The Patriots did no such thing.
Listen, I don’t blame the Titans players for their choice. It’s not smart, they could put themselves – and more importantly others they come into contact with – in danger with this virus, but I place more blame at the hands of the NFL for creating an environment where teams have to chose between their health and ability to be prepared for a game because there’s no clear procedure in place for canceling and moving back games amid the virus.
There was a scenario Tennessee could have played Week 4 with no practice and they did not want to sacrifice their competitive advantage. The NFL put them in that position.
The Patriots faced a similar scenario the past two weeks, but chose the side of caution and only had two official practices (one of which included Cam Newton). Players applauded Belichick for considering their safety during these times, but unfortunately it contributed to a loss to Denver.
In addition to the lack of practice, New England has been banged up at offensive line. No David Andrews nor Shaq Mason meant players shuffling around and playing different positions than normal (see: Joe Thuney at center), plus inexperienced players starting.
The offense had a tough day, Cam Newton made mistakes. I contribute it to the issues at OL and the lack of practice the team has had.
Consider their previous 4 games – and first 3 starts with Newton – and tell me which represents this group more.
Cause for Concern?
Whatever excuses one can make, the reality is this team is now 2-3.
They are 3rd place in the AFC East.
It was hard to envision New England beating Seattle and KC even before the season began, so a 2-2 start wasn’t that shocking, but this was a game the Patriots win under normal circumstances.
Despite it all, I’m not sounding the alarm.
The Patriots have started seasons slow before in the Bill Belichick Era.
In 2018 they started 1-2.
In 2017 they started 2-2.
In 2014 they started 2-2.
In 2012 they started 3-3.
In 2005 they started 4-4.
In 2002 they started 3-4.
In 2001 they started 3-4.
The obvious difference this season is the Patriots are below .500 through 5 games, which as we mentioned before is the latest they’ve been below .500 since 2002, but slow starts are not unprecedented in New England.
In New England, it’s always been about how the team finishes.
In 2018 they went 11-5; in 2017 they went 13-3; in 2014 they went 12-4; in 2012 they went 12-4; in 2005 they went 10-6; in 2002 they went 9-7; in 2001 they went 11-5. Six trips to the playoffs, four to the Super Bowl, three championships.
Another obvious difference this season: no Tom Brady.
That’s a given, but there’s still plenty of players on this team from 2017 and 2018, still some from all the way back in 2012. This organization knows how to fight through adversity.
The Patriots schedule was always going to be challenging this season, we knew that before last season even ended. Still, being 2-3 versus 3-2 isn’t ideal.
With that, here are the remaining 11 games for the team:
Week 7: San Francisco at New England
Week 8: New England at Buffalo
Week 9: New England at New York (A) (Monday)
Week 10: Baltimore at New England
Week 11: New England at Houston
Week 12: Arizona at New England
Week 13: New England at Lost Angeles (A)
Week 14: New England at Los Angeles (N) (Thursday)
Week 15: New England at Miami
Week 16: Buffalo at New England
Week 17: New York (A) at New England
New England still has to face Baltimore and has two games with the first place Buffalo Bills, but I see signs for hope.
There’s still two games against the Jets.
A game against a rookie QB (albeit a pretty good one) but a team that always hurts itself in the end.
A Super Bowl LIII rematch (is McVay ready for Belichick this time?)
A game versus the Arizona Cardinals, and a trip to Miami.
Oh yeah, and Jimmy G’s return to New England next week.
Truly, I still believe 10-11 wins is still possible. Even if it’s just 9 wins, remember seven teams per conference will make the postseason this year.
A lot will be predicated on how the Patriots do next week. It’s probably the biggest must-win game in the regular season since 2002. Still, we’ve seen this team respond well to a loss once this season with their win against the Raiders.
Given a week of practice and a sense of urgency, I expect a bounce back next week. They’ll face a 49ers team who were just in the same position last night against the Rams, and came out and won.
If you’re the Patriots, win next week and find a way to win in Buffalo, you could be 4-3 after Week 8 while the Bills are 5-3. Buffalo faces Seattle during Week 9 while the Pats face the Jets; New England could gain control of the division by November 9.
Hypotheticals and wishful thinking aside, ultimately the Patriots need to do their jobs.
In order to do your job, practicing would help, and hopefully the team will not have to close shop due to the coronavirus moving forward (easier said than done).
There’s room for improvement all-around, but mainly on the offensive side of the ball. Cam needs more time to practice with this group, because remember, this is still Year 1 in New England for him, and surely we haven’t seen a complete gameplan around him with everything Josh McDaniels envisioned just yet.
Health is needed on the offensive line.
More is needed from the receiving unit, either in the form of an addition to the group or a player stepping up. Outside of Week 2, the passing game hasn’t been good.
The goal of the offense is to compliment the strong defense New England has. It may have been ugly against Denver, but the Patriots only allowed 18 points, all from field goals; Drew Lock had a 34.9 passer rating.
Outside of Week 2, the Patriots defense has allowed just 68 points on the season (17 per game). The offense doesn’t need to score a lot for this team to win games; 19 points would have done it this past week.
I truly think today was an outlier type of performance given the circumstances, and I’ve seen too many Bill Belichick-coached teams turn it around to be worried at this moment.
They figured it out Week 3 with Cam under center, and I have faith in the team under Cam for Week 7. Tom Brady isn’t walking through that door, but there is a viable leader at the position.
It’s not time to panic.
Image above from Sports Illustrated
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