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ben volin | on football

NFL Week 1: Ex-Patriots fall flat without the Bill Belichick safety net

D'Andre Swift (left), who dropped what would have been the winning touchdown pass, is consoled by Lions coach Matt Patricia.
D'Andre Swift (left), who dropped what would have been the winning touchdown pass, is consoled by Lions coach Matt Patricia.Nic Antaya/Getty

A defining characteristic of the Patriots over Bill Belichick’s 21-year tenure has been their preparedness for any and all situations.

The Patriots usually out-execute their opponents in the fourth quarter. They always seem to be in the right place at the right time. They seldom hurt themselves with self-inflicted wounds like penalties and turnovers.

Consider it the Bill Belichick Safety Net. He provides the extra 1-2 percent that is needed to come out ahead.

Most of the ex-Patriots scattered across the NFL came crashing down without that safety net Sunday, as their new teams self-destructed in un-Patriotlike fashion. They discovered that football games can be a lot harder to win when Belichick isn’t the one pressing the buttons.

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Those sloppy losses are where we begin the Week 1 review:

▪ You already know about the Dolphins' 21-11 loss to the Patriots in which they had no real plan or fight on either side of the ball. Brian Flores, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, and Ted Karras now understand what it’s like to be humbled in Gillette Stadium.

And you watched Tom Brady’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad opening day with the Buccaneers, a 34-23 loss to the Saints. Brady shouldered most of the blame with his two interceptions. But the Bucs were generally sloppy, committing three turnovers and nine penalties for 103 yards.

On fourth and 2 late in the second quarter, you could see Brady metaphorically roll his eyes from the bench when defensive tackle Vita Vea jumped offsides to extend a Saints drive. That never happens with the Patriots.

“After the way we practiced the last two weeks, I never thought I’d see us have that many penalties and turnovers and mental errors that really cost us when we got back in the game,” Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said.

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It was a tough start for Tom Brady with Tampa Bay.
It was a tough start for Tom Brady with Tampa Bay.Brett Duke/Associated Press

And the Lions inexplicably blew a 17-point lead to the Bears, losing, 27-23. The game felt like Super Bowl LI, with Matt Patricia, Trey Flowers, Duron Harmon, Jamie Collins, and Danny Amendola playing the role of the hapless Falcons.

Patricia made a big gaffe late in the fourth quarter, opting for a 55-yard field goal attempt instead of punting and playing for field position, which helped ignite the Bears' comeback. From there, Matthew Stafford took a bad sack. Then he threw an interception. Rookie D’Andre Swift dropped what would have been the game-winning touchdown pass with six seconds left. And Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky, of all quarterbacks, led three fourth-quarter TD drives.

Patricia, squarely on the hot seat this year, was asked by a reporter if his coaching was holding the team back in the fourth quarter. Patricia’s response was to brag about the Malcolm Butler interception in Super Bowl XLIX.

“I think I’ve got probably one of the biggest plays in the fourth quarter in the history of the NFL where I think I did a pretty good job,” he said. “So I don’t think it’s that.”

Yeah, but Patricia doesn’t have the Belichick Safety Net anymore.

▪ The start of the season felt like a strange, apocalyptic hellscape with empty stadiums and coaches wearing masks. But give the NFL credit; the first week essentially went without a hitch. There were no key players missing because of COVID-19, and no issues with false positives taking players out of games.

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That’s not to say everything was perfect. NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent sent a memo to all 32 teams Monday reminding them that any non-player standing on the sideline has to wear a mask the entire game, under threat of punishment (a fine of $50,000). Saints coach Sean Payton and Rams coach Sean McVay were among those not always wearing their masks Sunday.

A maskless Sean Payton on the Saints sideline.
A maskless Sean Payton on the Saints sideline.Brett Duke/Associated Press

And while the artificial crowd noise sounded fine on the TV broadcasts, the players and coaches didn’t seem to like the quiet, fan-less atmosphere. Belichick said it felt like practice. Brady said the empty Superdome “felt like a scrimmage.” Arians said he felt sorry for the Saints for not being able to turn the noise up louder.

“I don’t think it was fair to the Saints to have it that low,” Arians said. “You could have an easy conversation across the field with somebody. It’s not a good deal; it should be fixed.”

▪ The top quarterbacks came to play. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers had 364 passing yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions in a huge win over the Vikings. Seattle’s Russell Wilson, the Official Volin Pick for 2020 MVP, went 31 of 35 for 322 yards, with four touchdowns and no picks. Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson completed 80 percent of his passes with three scores and no interceptions. And Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes had three scores and no picks, though he got bailed out of one interception by a questionable penalty.

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And Atlanta’s Matt Ryan (450 yards) and Indianapolis’s Philip Rivers (363) did what they always do — put up big numbers in defeat.

▪ Week 1 was also a good opportunity to rate the coaches. With limited practice time and no preseason games, we saw which teams used their time wisely and had their teams ready to go.

Pete Carroll’s Seahawks traveled 2,000 miles and beat down the Falcons. Sean McDermott’s Bills jumped all over the Jets. Jacksonville’s Doug Marrone and Jay Gruden executed a flawless offensive game plan with Gardner Minshew, who completed 19 of 20 passes in an upset of the Colts. And you knew that John Harbaugh’s Ravens would be ready to roll against the Browns.

Ron Rivera did an excellent job with no expectations in Washington, overcoming a 17-point deficit to beat the Eagles. Matt LaFleur’s Packers put up 43 points against a division rival. And McVay’s Rams looked really sharp in a surprise win over the Cowboys.

▪ Nothing worse than suffering a season-ending injury in Week 1. The Colts likely lost running back Marlon Mack for the season with a torn Achilles', and Cowboys tight end Blake Jarwin’s season is over with a torn ACL. Cowboys teammate Leighton Vander Esch will be out for a while with a broken collarbone, and the Packers may have lost right guard Lane Taylor for the season with a torn ACL.

Quick hits

▪ Brady wasn’t the only quarterback to lose with his new team. Teddy Bridgewater threw for 270 yards and a touchdown in the Panthers' loss to the Raiders. And Rivers threw for 363 yards in his Colts debut but had a crippling fourth-quarter interception in the loss to the Jaguars. The only newcomer to win was Tyrod Taylor, who threw for 208 yards in the Chargers' win over the Bengals.

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▪ The Cardinals are certainly happy with their big investment in DeAndre Hopkins. The NFL’s highest-paid receiver had a career-high 14 catches and 151 yards in his Cardinals debut, a 24-20 comeback win over the 49ers.

▪ No. 1 pick Joe Burrow wasn’t great in his debut, throwing for 193 yards and an interception while compiling a 66.1 passer rating. But he still had the Bengals in position to win at the end. A game-winning touchdown was thwarted by an offensive pass interference penalty on A.J. Green, and kicker Randy Bullock missed the game-tying 31-yard field goal.

▪ The referees were a little rusty, too. There were too many ticky-tack pass interference calls, particularly the offensive pass interference call on Cowboys receiver Michael Gallup that ruined their comeback attempt. Consider that call a makeup for the officials inexplicably not calling roughing the passer on Jared Goff’s interception earlier in the game.

▪ Also, just take the 3 points, Mike McCarthy.

Tracking ex-Patriots

▪ Bucs QB Tom Brady: Threw two interceptions in a season opener for only the second time (four INTs in 2003 against Buffalo).

▪ Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski: Played 54 of 70 snaps but had just two catches for 11 yards on three targets.

▪ 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo: Threw for 259 yards and two scores, but 49ers went 2 for 11 on third down.

▪ Lions LB Jamie Collins: Had three tackles before getting ejected for lightly touching referee Alex Kemp with the top of his helmet. Technically Collins did violate the rules, but it seemed like an overreaction from Kemp.

▪ Lions S Duron Harmon: Played all 65 snaps and had five tackles.

Chicago's Tarik Cohen is tackled by Detroit's Duron Harmon.
Chicago's Tarik Cohen is tackled by Detroit's Duron Harmon.Duane Burleson/Associated Press

▪ Lions WR Danny Amendola: Led the Lions with five catches for 81 yards.

▪ Seahawks WR Phillip Dorsett: Was inactive for Sunday’s win over the Falcons.

▪ Jets WR Chris Hogan: Played 51 snaps and had one catch for 0 yards in loss to Bills.

▪ Raiders RT Trent Brown: Left Sunday’s win over the Panthers with a calf injury.

Ex-Patriots coaches

▪ Matt Patricia, Lions: Now 9-23-1 in two-plus years as a head coach, and 0-2-1 in Week 1.

▪ Bill O’Brien, Texans: Has lost four straight Week 1 games. Now has Baltimore coming to town.

▪ Brian Flores, Dolphins: Can’t afford to drop another division game this week as they face the Bills at home.

Stats of the Week

▪ Kevin Stefanski became the 14th consecutive Browns head coach to lose his first game with the team.

▪ Seventeen teams rushed for at least 100 yards, but there was only one individual 100-yard rusher: Chiefs rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire (138).

▪ The Patriots won and Brady lost on the same weekend for the first time since Oct. 23-24, 1999 (Patriots beat the Broncos, Brady and Michigan lost to Illinois).

▪ Josh Allen had his first career 300-yard passing game (312), and had the Bills' first 300-yard game since Tyrod Taylor in Week 16 of 2016, a streak of 49 games.

▪ Cam Newton’s 15 rushes were the most ever by a Patriots quarterback.

▪ Burrow became the 13th straight No. 1 pick to lose his NFL debut. The last one to win was David Carr in 2002.


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin