I don’t know about you, but my Facebook feed has been chock full of Patriots panic over the past few days. I get that there’s a lot of competition out there for website traffic, but if you’re going to claim to be “True Fans”, then you need to show me you’ve been paying attention to this team for more than the past seven days. You need to realize why this franchise is different from every other one in the NFL.
When you realize that the Patriots were playing last year’s number two seed in the AFC and lost the two players who were probably the most critical to what they were doing during the game, the result isn’t that surprising. But the fix won’t be all that surprising either.
Hands off the Panic Button
We’ve seen bad losses like this early in seasons before. They happen. The 2003 Pats lost 31-0 to the Bills. You can’t tell me you’re a die hard fan and not be able to tell me how that story ends. I’m not sure how a “true” Patriots fan who’s old enough to remember the last time they got shellacked by the Chiefs is panicking now. It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s one game, and it’s not the end of the world. You remember this right? How did it that season end?
For crying out loud, what kind of amnesia would you have to have to have forgotten how bad the Patriots looked losing 16-0 at home to the Bills in week four last year? Again, how did that work out?
A Patriots Season is Always a Learning Experience
The Patriots have brought in a lot of new players. They’re talented players, but they’re new to the Patriot Way nonetheless. No matter how talented you are, it’s going to take you some time to adjust to life in Foxboro. You’ve got to get these players comfortable playing with each other, and comfortable playing in the Belichick system. They’ve got a year’s worth of education that they’re going to be getting this season.
It’s a Timing Offense
You knew that the Pats offense was going to have to adjust to the loss of Julian Edelman. You knew it. Tom Brady and Edelman have a timing that few other QB-receiver combos in NFL history can match. They’re on the same page. It’s obviously going to take time for a new receiver to work into that mold. It just will. The one guy on the roster who was close to being that Sympatico with Brady was Danny Amendola. Once Amendola left the game, the offense ground to a halt.
But you’d have to be beyond foolish to think that Brady won’t be able to work the new receivers into that mold. It may be Philip Dorsett. It might even be Rex Burkhead, but they’ll develop someone to take over the slot position.
The other thing that was missing on Thursday was the timing with the outside receivers. You cannot develop this in practice. But you will see the timing between Brady and Brandin Cooks develop as the year progresses.
This is How Gronk Returns
Seriously, we’ve seen this before. We’ve seen how Rob Gronkowski returns from injury. He usually starts slow. After coming off his injuries in 2013, the Patriots lost their opener in Miami 33-20. Brady threw Gronk’s way 11 times in that game and completed only four for 40 yards and a TD. We saw the same thing on Thursday when again, Brady hit Gronk on only two of six attempts.
In the first four games of the 2014 season, Gronk was averaging under four catches and 40 yards a game. Once he got comfortable again in week five, he averaged over six catches a game, for nearly 90 yards.
A healthy productive Gronkowski will make a huge difference in this offense.
It’s a Complicated Defense
The problems with the Patriots in week one were not the result of a lack of talent, so the shrill cries that the Patriots defense is going to curtail their season are nonsensical. They have an awful lot of new players that they’re integrating into the defense. They’re talented players, but defense is a team concept, and especially so with the Patriots.
It’s going to take a few weeks for David Harris, Cassius Marsh and Stephon Gilmore to get up to speed on this defense. The problems of the defense on Thursday weren’t physical, but mental – and this was on full display in the fourth quarter, after Dont’a Hightower left the game. This limited what Matt Patricia was able to do schematically with a lot of new players on his defense.
This has never been a defense built on superstars, but on solid football, and on coaching and team defense. This is what you’re going to see going forward, as these new players get acclimated to the system. By now, this isn’t something that should surprise Patriots fans. We should expect it by now.
Stop Lecturing Belichick
There are a lot of Patriots websites out there run by hysterical people. So, don’t tell me you’re a “true fan” if you’re crying out for Dwight Freeney. This isn’t fantasy football. You don’t just want to plug the biggest name in right away.
Nothing against Dwight Freeney. He’s a Hall of Fame player, and Connecticut native (who played against my brother in high school). Great guy. But he’s 37 years old, and a free agent for a reason. What you’ve got in Cassius Marsh is probably a better option right now. So no, the Pats don’t “need” to make this move, or any other move right now.
They need to get a few players healthy, and they need some time to get their timing down. And the rest of us need the hysterical “true” fans to take a deep breath and remember that we’ve heard this story before.
This is how the 2014 season started. The similarities are eerie.
… and this is how it ended.
And if that wasn’t enough to quell your Patriots panic…
Here’s the Patriots record in games started by Tom Brady. Leaving the January games aside, which tend to be meaningless, you can see pretty clearly that September tends to be their weakest month (can you imagine having your weakest month be over 70%)
If you’re going to “get” the Pats, your best bet is to do so in September, when they’re still getting on the same page.