The Patriots’ two losses to open the season have followed the same script: offensive turnovers early end up costing them late.
In a conference call with the media the day after a 24-17 loss to the Dolphins that dropped his team to 0-2, Bill Belichick pinpointed first-half turnovers — including an early fumble by rookie receiver Demario Douglas — as one of the primary culprits why New England has struggled out of the gate.
“The big thing is, offensively, we turned the ball over three times here in two games early in the game, and that’s really the worst thing that can happen,” Belichick said. “Defensively, we’ve had a couple of drives that didn’t result in a lot of points. But then those turnovers put us on a short field, so we had to battle through those.
“It’s just complementary team football, taking care of the ball and defensively being able to convert on third down to get off the field.”
In the opener against the Eagles, Mac Jones tossed a pick-6 and Ezekiel Elliott fumbled. Philadelphia took advantage on the way to an early lead, and the Patriots couldn’t recover.
Against the Dolphins, Douglas lost the handle in the first quarter, and didn’t play the rest of the evening.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t talk about [ball security],” Belichick said on his Monday morning appearance on WEEI. “The days around the practice field, we always work on it and then talk about it as things come up during the practice. Both sides of the ball. Taking the ball away and taking care of the ball. So those are constants for everybody. Everybody who touches the ball is important to ball security. So we spend a lot of time and effort on it. We have to do a better job.”
For an offense that was lacking in explosiveness, Belichick left himself open to second-guessing by leaving Douglas on the sidelines for the entire second half.
“We have other skill players on offense,” he told WEEI when asked about Douglas’s usage. “There’s nothing more important that ball security.”
Regardless of who has been out there, in both of their first two games, New England was able to rebound from its early miscues, drawing to within a score on each occasion. But last-minute bids ended up falling just short.
“I’m tired of us digging ourselves in a hole and playing back and coming up short like this when we could just come out how we’re supposed to come out, across the board,” said safety Jabrill Peppers after the game. “We made plays, but we didn’t make enough plays to win.”
Sunday marked the first game of the year for right guard Mike Onwenu. The 25-year-old, who underwent ankle surgery in the offseason, missed most of the summer, but was able to see the practice field by the end of the preseason.
“It’s been a long time since my last game, so it felt good being out there,” said Onwenu. “I still have a few kinks to work back and get back into the groove of things and be the player I want to be. But it felt good to be back out there under the lights, man. Nothing like it.”
The Patriots used multiple right guards against the Dolphins. Onwenu (46 snaps) got the start, but was lifted in the second half for Atonio Mafi (28 snaps). Meanwhile, left guard Cole Strange (who played all 74 snaps) made his first start of the regular season after spending much of the summer dealing with a knee injury.
“We anticipated playing all three players — Atonio, Cole, and Mike,” Belichick said of the game plan for the offensive line, which is slowly starting to be reassembled after an offseason of health issues.
“We’ll see how that goes. Obviously, Cole and Mike, it’s good to have them back and they’re working back into the rotation. Atonio has played a lot in their absence, and it’s good to get all three of them in the game.”
Right tackle Calvin Anderson, center David Andrews, and left tackle Vederian Lowe also played all 74 snaps.
‘Executed to perfection’
One of the highlights for New England on Sunday came when Brenden Schooler delivered a blocked field-goal attempt in the second half, a play where Schooler came flying off the edge to knock the ball away.
It was the first blocked field goal of Schooler’s career, and the first blocked field-goal attempt for the Patriots since Dec. 6, 2020.
“It was timed up well,” Belichick said Monday morning. “He did a good job of timing the play, turning the corner there on [Christian] Wilkins and laying out for it. It was, as you said, a well-executed and well-timed-out play. It was a big play for us, changed the field position, turned the momentum around.
“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to capitalize on it, but it was still a really good play on Schooler’s part, and well designed by the special teams coaches.”
“I’ve never seen a play like that executed to perfection,” said special teams captain Matthew Slater. “Just a phenomenal play for us.”
Marcus Jones mystery
Belichick had no update on the shoulder injury suffered by Marcus Jones. The cornerback went down in the first half after a tackle of Miami receiver Jayden Waddle. Jones was on the field for a few moments before making his way to the medical tent. He was initially ruled questionable to return, but was then ruled out to start the second half . . . The Patriots officially waived quarterback Matt Corral, according to the league transaction wire. He had been on the exempt/left list. They also released practice squad quarterback Ian Book after a brief stint, and returned linebacker Calvin Munson and wide receiver Jalen Reagor to the practice squad . . . The Broncos signed linebacker Ronnie Perkins off the New England practice squad Monday. Perkins, a third-round pick in 2021, wasn’t active for any regular-season games over the course of his career . . . Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel announced Monday that Waddle is in concussion protocol after taking a hit from linebacker Marte Mapu in the fourth quarter. Mapu was penalized for the hit and Waddle did not return before the game was over . . . Through the first two games, six players — three on offense and three on defense — haven’t missed a snap. On offense, Anderson, Andrews, and Mac Jones have all gone wire-to-wire, while Kyle Dugger, Christian Gonzalez, and Ja’Whaun Bentley have played 100 percent of the defensive snaps.