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Dan Shaughnessy

Plenty of positive signs for the Patriots, just not where it counted — on the scoreboard

Mac Jones (left) and the Patriots were penalized on a 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

FOXBOROUGH — Tom would have won it.

There were a lot of positives in the Patriots’ opening 25-20 loss to the Eagles Sunday.

Mac Jones threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns, completing 35-of-54 passes, and had the Patriots in position to take the lead in the final minute. Bill O’Brien has revived New England’s offense and Bill Belichick’s defense is stout indeed.

Best of all, Tom Brady told the world “I am a Patriot for life,” while wearing his old No. 12 jersey in a nifty halftime ceremony.

But as we watched from all along the watchtower (Bob Kraft’s new lighthouse is 218 feet tall), the outcome was a somewhat sad reminder of all that was great and may never be as good again.


In the good old days, Belichick and Co. would have won the game. Charlie Weis and/or Josh McDaniels and Ernie Adams would have won. Kraft would have announced, “We are all Patriots” and the rest of the NFL would have cursed the relentless good fortune of New England’s steamroller football team.

Those Patriots had Brady and we all know he would have taken the Patriots into the end zone in the final two minutes for a last-second win.

But the reality is Tom was sitting with his family and the Chardonnay crowd for this one. And there was no way out for the Brady-less Patriots after an abysmal first quarter put them in a 16-0 hole.

“Got off to a slow start and made it competitive, but couldn’t make enough plays," Belichick mumbled. “. . . We didn’t play good enough to win . . . we should have been better obviously."

With team owner Robert Kraft (left) and his daughter Vivian (right) by his side, Tom Brady pumped up the crowd at halftime.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

The start was truly stunning. On a day when emotions were high and Brady was back in the house, the Patriots stumbled badly from the blocks. It was as if we were watching Antoine Walker and the Rick Pitino’s Celtics get routed on a night when the Celtics planned to honor Larry Bird.


Early arrivals sat in awe of Kraft’s preposterously large new videoboard and the 22-story lighthouse (”tallest in America”) at the north end of the stadium. The lighthouse offers a view of both Providence and Boston, and no doubt is a comfort to vessels navigating dangerous squalls in nearby Cocasset Lake.

Shortly before kickoff, Brady — Gillette’s first keeper of the light — stood in the pouring rain and rang the bell as fans settled into their seats.

The Eagles scored first with a short field goal. Then, on the Patriots’ first offensive series, a Jones pass (too high) deflected off the hands of Kendrick Bourne and into the arms of Darius Slay, who streaked 70 yards down the left sideline and into the end zone to make it 10-0.

After the kick, the big videoboard cut to former Patriot Kevin Faulk, who was standing in the rain with other fans and exhorted, “I know we just had a mishap, but . . . "

Seconds later, newcomer/former star Ezekiel Elliott grabbed a short pass (another high ball), then coughed it up, giving the Eagles the ball on the New England 26. With 2:39 left in the quarter, the Eagles had a second touchdown and a 16-0 lead.


Yikes. Fans were booing and in that moment we were afraid Brady might pull a Yaz and wheel out of the parking lot bound for the Kowloon. At the very least he had to be wondering, I wonder if they’re going to keep rolling me out here like David Ortiz to disguise their bad product?

“Definitely let the team down tonight early," said Jones.

Fortunately, Belichick’s defense allowed the Patriots to stay in the game. And then, midway through the second quarter, O’Brien’s offense started to click. Jones and friends put together a 10-play, 71-yard drive and cut the margin to 16-7 on a 9-yard TD pass to tight end Hunter Henry.

There was more to come as Jones marched the Patriots back downfield (six plays, 63 yards) for another pre-halftime TD (19-yard pass to Bourne) to cut it to 16-14 and put everybody in a much better mood for the big celebration.

Brady did not disappoint. Wearing his old jersey (still fits), he made his traditional “Let’s Go!” run down the sideline, then delivered elegant remarks while standing next to his family and the Krafts, in front of six Lombardi trophies. Kraft announced that Tom will be inducted in the Patriots Hall of Fame next June 12 (probably Game 5 of the Celtics-Nuggets NBA Finals).

After Brady Palooza, Philly’s Jake Elliott kicked three second-half field goals (56, 48, and 51 yards) to give the Eagles a 25-14 lead with 5:33 left.

Jones got the Patriots in the end zone once, but a final two-minute drive fizzled on a failed fourth and 11 from the Eagles’ 20 with 29 seconds left. Not even the Suffolk County DA could get them out of this one.


“Not good by me," said an accountable Jones. “Had a chance to win the game twice and couldn’t do it."

Tom would have done it. But he was one in a billion and he doesn’t play here anymore.

And in 2023, New England fans have to take what they can get, settle for moral victories, and hope things get better.

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Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him @dan_shaughnessy.