So the Patriots lost a game, and some fans are starting to worry. Not panic yet, but there are distant rumblings of unrest among the inhabitants of Patriots Nation.
The restless among us think the team could be in more trouble than previously thought. They say that even if you discount quarterback play, there were special teams mistakes, defensive lapses, and an inordinate number of penalties in the loss on Sunday.
Time to take a page out of Aaron Rodgers’ playbook, and R-E-L-A-X. It was one loss to a division foe with a coach who traditionally gives your quarterback trouble – and your QB was a third-string rookie with one game under his belt. It was a recipe for a loss; even in the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium.
As for the three issues previously mentioned, here is why they won’t amount too much by December/January.
The special teams issues should be correctable. On the first kickoff return, Matthew Slater’s signal to Cyrus Jones was a bit late, and in the confusion the Patriots ended up with poor field position. On his second return, Slater signaled to take the ball out of the end zone – which turned out to be another mistake and resulted in bad field position again. Both of those are easily corrected.
The most pressing special teams concern is the field goal unit. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski has missed 4 of his last 13 field goal attempts, including the preseason. And Sunday’s miss was costly in a low-scoring game. It appears the long snaps have been iffy, but that doesn’t explain all of the issues. Special teams coach Joe Judge should spend some quality time working with the three-man-operation to button it down before it becomes more of an issue.
On the defense, there were lapses, but the halftime adjustments seemed to clear up most of that. Buffalo scored 13 points in the first half and just 3 in the second half. And to put a finer point on it, here are the numbers for Bills QB Tyrod Taylor by half:
- 1st half, 17 of 22 (77.3%), 165 yards, 1 touchdown, 112.9 QB rating
- 2nd half, 10 of 17 (58.8%), 81 yards, 0 touchdowns, 71.0 QB rating
The coaching staff simply took too long to adjust to the onslaught targeting Pats corner Logan Ryan. The team also tackled poorly, which is something Bill Belichick has noted with past teams coming off longer-than-normal rest (they had 10 days off before this game). He fixed it a few years back, and he’ll need to get back to whatever corrected the situation to get better tackling after any bye weeks this year.
Penalties are often an anomaly, and that’s the case here. The Patriots almost always end up among the 10 least penalized teams in the NFL. But on Sunday, the Patriots had as many declined penalties as the Bills had accepted ones (six of each), and the Pats had 9 penalties accepted for 74 yards lost.
But don’t read too much into any penalty problems. In the last decade, the Patriots finished out of the top 10 in least penalties only once. That was the 2014 season, when they finished 27th. It also happens to be the only year they won the Super Bowl during that time frame.
So if you have lingering worries, set them to the side. and remember, the last time Buffalo shut out the Patriots was the Lawyer Milloy Bowl, opening day 2003. And despite Tom Jackson’s protestations, New England emerged with their second Super Bowl victory that year.