The Patriots have been here before – a concerning September performance. Cris Collinsworth – not exactly the best NFL color commentator, especially now that Tony Romo is among them – talked at length about it during the broadcast on Sunday night. Patriots fans remember a couple of them against the Chiefs, including one whose season ended with a Super Bowl victory.
But this one doesn’t feel the same.
This team doesn’t look like a 1-2 team – they look like an 0-3 team, and in fact, they almost let the one win get away after a great first two-plus quarters against the Texans, whose number the Patriots have. And while you can give them a small pass for losing at Jacksonville – a very good team and it was a road game – there’s nothing to say about Sunday night.
Simply put, the Patriots have been thoroughly outplayed the past two weeks, and all after they didn’t exactly out-class the Texans in the opener.
This isn’t going to be rectified by Josh Gordon being ready to play, either.
In the opener, the Patriots’ defense early on was masterful. They didn’t let DeShaun Watson get anything remotely resembling a running lane and forced him to throw under duress often. The Texans seemed to either adjust faster than the Patriot defense could, or wear them down, in making it a close call late. But the last two weeks, the defense has looked like they peaked in the first half of the opener. While Trey Flowers’ absence is no small contributor, he’s just one player on that unit. They are surrendering over 400 yards a game and have allowed the three opponents to convert nearly 50 percent of their third downs (19-39).
The offense is fast becoming a bigger concern. The Patriots are averaging 312 total yards thus far and are 10-35 on third down conversions. They have had the football for almost half the time as a result, and that’s undoubtedly wearing the defense down. Tom Brady, who has looked like himself at times and has looked off at others, has been sacked six times, several of them being coverage sacks; both times that he went down on Sunday were of that variety, and all night long the Lions seemed to have good coverage.
That last point might lead someone to point to Gordon and the impending return of Julian Edelman. While both will certainly improve the look of this offense, especially Edelman given his track record, thinking they alone will be game-changers is going too far. They will give Brady more and better weapons, but the reality is that Brady has made a living with receivers that aren’t elite, or were not before they came to Foxboro. Brady has made a lot of receivers a lot of money, and while it’s nice to have better options, that’s not a necessity to win. The Patriots have proven that.
As for Gordon, let’s try to manage expectations. He has played in 11 games since 2013, when he had the only season that can lead anyone to believe he can be a top-notch receiver. Included are two full seasons in which he did not play a single game. He now has to learn a whole new playbook, and there’s the obvious point that he has to stay clean off the field in addition to not being a locker room issue. And while the latter was not a concern with Randy Moss, let’s remember that Moss never had the problems Gordon has had. The worst thing you could say about Moss is that he seemed like more of a follower than a leader, and before coming to Foxboro he played in two toxic situations with at best questionable characters to follow – Minnesota (around a lot of the characters involved in the sex scandal just after he was traded) and the Raiders (nothing more needs to be said).
In other words, no one should think Gordon being able to play even as early as next Sunday against the 3-0 Dolphins will be a game-changer and all will suddenly be right with the world.
There is a lot of football left to play, and the Patriots under Belichick and Brady are known for being a little tougher to beat in December and January than in September. They might very well turn this around and make another run to the final game of the NFL season, and even win it. It’s too early to write off Brady, Belichick or the team for the season. But it’s hard to recall a September during this era where the Patriots have been so thoroughly outplayed two straight weeks and even part of the prior week as well.
That’s why this time around looks and feels a little different than the concerning Septembers of the recent past. There is a little more to be concerned about right now than in the past.