FOXBOROUGH — In Sunday’s opener against the defending NFC champions, the Patriots answered some questions: No, the offensive line isn’t as bad as we initially thought. Yes, the rookies can be trusted. And yes, the defense is capable of keeping an MVP candidate such as Jalen Hurts in check.
But in the end, it wasn’t enough against the Eagles. Philadelphia jumped to a 16-0 lead and hung on for a 25-20 win over the Patriots.
Here are some other takeaways:
▪ Although the Patriots offense was inconsistent, the defense was impressive from start to finish, especially after being put in a lousy situation in the early going. (It looked a lot like most games last season.) After 16-point flurry, Hurts and the Eagles — the highest-scoring team in the league last season — couldn’t crack the end zone the rest of the way, and finished with one offensive touchdown on the day. Matt Judon and the defense got good pressure on Hurts. The Eagles converted their first two third-down chances, but didn’t get another one in the first half. Hurts didn’t do much damage when he was flushed out of the pocket, as Judon (one sack) and Josh Uche (one sack) limited his activity.
▪ On multiple occasions, the Patriots looked like a team that was close to figuring it out against one of the NFL’s elites, only to commit a penalty, or a turnover, or do something equally foolish at the worst possible moment to set themselves back. Ultimately, the margin for error against a talented roster like the Eagles just isn’t that great, and the Patriots paid for it.
▪ The New England offense struggled over the first quarter-plus. Jones was ineffective (he was 3-for-7 passing for 14 yards in the first quarter), the run game was stuck in neutral, and the Patriots coughed up the ball twice (one fumble from Ezekiel Elliott and an interception from Mac Jones) on the way to a 16-0 deficit against the Eagles. All the emotion at the start of the contest — with the appearance of Tom Brady near the top of the lighthouse and the wild weather — was drained from the stadium. For the offense, it was the worst possible way to start the season.
▪ The Patriots’ offense did stir midway through the second quarter, when Jones put together a pair of nice scoring drives, capped by touchdown passes to Hunter Henry (a 9-yarder for the new father) and Kendrick Bourne (19-yarder). At one point, Jones connected on 10 consecutive passes. During this stretch, Pop Douglas caught a 23-yarder, the longest gain of the first half for the Patriots. The teams went into the locker room with the Eagles holding a 16-14 lead.
▪ The Patriots hung with the Eagles for much of the second half, but a few missteps by the offense ultimately doomed them. Midway through the fourth quarter and down 8 points, they successfully converted a fourth-down chance, thanks to a terrific 12-yard catch from Henry that got New England deeper into Philadelphia territory. A few plays later, however, the Patriots couldn’t convert their second fourth-down chance, and the Eagles took over on downs. Philadelphia turned that into another field goal to make it 25-14 midway through the fourth quarter. A second touchdown pass to Bourne made it 25-20, but the Patriots couldn’t convert on the 2-pointer, and a late drive for New England came up just short.
▪ Almost all of New England’s rookies played a ton. Douglas had four catches for 40 yards and Kayshon Boutte got significant snaps (likely because DeVante Parker couldn’t go) as well as guards Sidy Sow and Atonio Mafi. On the other side of the ball, cornerback Christian Gonzalez (who had a second-half sack and a fourth-down pass breakup late in the game) was out there during crunch time, while kicker Chad Ryland and punter Bryce Baringer also acquitted themselves well. It’s only one game, but it was a good opener for the youngsters.
▪ One of the more unheralded aspects of New England’s ability to keep things manageable in the first half came on special teams. Baringer dropped his first three punts inside the Philadelphia 20, and Marcus Jones (punt return) and Ty Montgomery (kick return) also did their part when it came to tilting the field. The special teams was the most consistent of the three units for most of the afternoon.
▪ Given the respective rèsumès of the Eagles’ offensive and defensive lines, it would have seemed implausible to see the first half end with more sacks from the Patriots than the Eagles. (New England’s offensive line — with two rookies — would keep Jones clean over the course of the first half.) The Eagles ended up with one sack, but all in all, it was a good night for New England’s pass protection.
Read more Patriots coverage:
- ‘I am a Patriot for life’: There was only room for gratitude at Gillette Stadium upon Tom Brady’s return
- Plenty of positive signs for the Patriots, just not where it counted — on the scoreboard | Dan Shaughnessy
- Building blocks? Debatable, but Patriots loss to Eagles definitely offered plenty to like
- Patriots’ offense needs to learn how not to lose in order to start winning
- On defense, when Ja’Whaun Bentley speaks, the Patriots listen — and they responded against the Eagles