fb-pixelEagles 25, Patriots 20: In Week 1, a moral victory is just fine for New England Skip to main content
EAGLES 25, PATRIOTS 20

A moral victory? In Week 1, that might just be good enough for the Patriots.

Kendrick Bourne caught two of Mac Jones's three touchdown passes on Sunday against the Eagles, and was targeted a team-high 11 times by the third-year quarterback.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

FOXBOROUGH — The sirens of concern first sounded 90 minutes before kickoff, when the Patriots listed starting guards Michael Onwenu and Cole Strange among their inactive players for Sunday’s season opener against Philadelphia.

They grew louder when the Patriots turned the ball over on back-to-back drives to open the game. They peaked over the ensuing three drives, when the offense could not convert a first down and gained a combined nine yards.

The stagnation that plagued the passing attack last season appeared to return. Amid rainy conditions at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots struggled to establish an offensive rhythm. They fell into an early 16-0 hole, their largest first-quarter deficit in a decade.

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Up against a team that advanced to the Super Bowl and is projected to do so again this year? Things certainly seemed bleak.

The revamped, revitalized 2023 Patriots, however, managed to rally. With the defense forcing four straight punts, the offense strung together back-to-back touchdown drives to come within two points by halftime.

They ultimately couldn’t finish the job in the second half despite multiple chances to close the game out, and lost, 25-20. But the bounceback performance gave the team plenty of reasons to be encouraged — and rightfully so.

“We just started a little slow,” said wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, who caught two touchdown passes. “It’s good to learn off a game like that, through adversity. Adversity is big. On the sideline, I was saying, ‘Who are we through adversity?’ and I think we showed we got a lot of grit.”

Kendrick Bourne (right) led the Patriots offense with two receiving touchdowns, helping them turn a 16-0 hole into a competitive game on Sunday.Maddie Meyer/Getty

Coach Bill Belichick will be the first to remind the group there are no moral victories. Center David Andrews said it himself after the game. Still, multiple players shouted out the team’s resilience.

“It obviously didn’t start the way we wanted it to start, at all, but for no one to back down, and continue to compete play after play after play,” said tight end Hunter Henry, who also scored. “I mean, that’s a great football team over there. It really is. They beat us today, but I was proud of the way that we competed and just continued to fight. We didn’t come out with the result that we wanted, but I was proud of that fight.”

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Those messages will eventually ring hollow if the wins don’t materialize. In Week 1, though, the team has plenty of positives to build on, especially given the circumstances.

The offensive line, featuring two rookies and a right tackle that missed all of training camp, largely held its ground against one of the best defensive lines in the league. While tackle Calvin Anderson and guard Atonio Mafi each committed a costly holding penalty, the unit didn’t surrender a sack until late in the fourth quarter and collectively fared better than expected.

“They’re a great defensive line. Probably one of the best in this league, if not the best,” Anderson said. “When you go into a game with that type of pressure on your shoulders, you know you have to keep Mac [Jones] clean in order for him to make plays. You know you have to keep all of the backs clean so they can get upfield.”

Jones, who shouldered the blame for the loss, finished with a career-high 54 passing attempts for 316 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception that was returned for a score. It was the fifth time Jones has eclipsed 300 passing yards, and the fourth time he’s thrown three touchdowns.

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Jones targeted nine different pass catchers, with Bourne (11) his most popular option. The wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs all played a role in the pass game, reflective of new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien’s creative and versatile scheme.

“It starts with me,” Jones said. “Rookies played really well. The offensive line played really well. The skill players played really well. So, I definitely let the team down tonight. Couldn’t score early. We just fell behind because of me, and I put it on myself.”

Mac Jones felt he let the Patriots offense down with early mistakes, though he also helped the team claw back into the game as it progressed.Adam Glanzman/Getty

Belichick acknowledged the early weather conditions initially played a factor in the play-calling, as the team didn’t start incorporating deeper throws until the rain stopped. Up until New England’s first touchdown drive in the second quarter, Jones hadn’t attempted a throw more than 10 yards downfield — another common occurrence last season.

As the group started to find its groove, though, O’Brien wasn’t afraid to have Jones sling it, though he almost threw a second interception on an underthrown ball to Bourne.

Seven of the nine pass catchers had receiving plays of at least 10 yards.

“I think the cliché thing that everybody is going to say is we’re not here for moral victories, but, at the end of the day, when we were on, it felt good,” said tight end Mike Gesicki. “Guys were clicking. Offense looked good. Defense played lights out. They were unbelievable, so we have to help them out.”

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An underwhelming offense and high-performing defense describes the essence of last season. It won’t take long for the Patriots to show this season has the potential to go differently. In Week 2, they’ll host the high-flying Miami Dolphins, who scored 36 points behind 466 passing yards from Tua Tagovailoa and 215 receiving yards from Tyreek Hill.

If the Patriots want to show Sunday’s game is proof of substantial building blocks rather than moral victories, they’ll have the perfect opportunity to do so come Sunday Night Football.

“We definitely feel like we can play with any team,” Bourne said. “Just keep improving every day. Not feeling like we’ve arrived. Just feeling like we are playing our game, playing within the scheme, and making the plays when they come. I think that will make us better.”

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Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.Follow her @nicolecyang.