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Sean Leahy | NFL

It’s OK to still be optimistic about the Patriots

Tom Brady and the Patriots fell to 0-1 for the first time since 2003 after Sunday’s loss.
Tom Brady and the Patriots fell to 0-1 for the first time since 2003 after Sunday’s loss. Jim Davis/Globe Staff/Boston Globe

“Everybody chillax.”

That’s the advice of former Patriots offensive lineman-turned-Sirius NFL radio host Ross Tucker, who knows what it feels like to hand New England an opening-weekend loss.

Tucker was on the 2003 Bills team that humiliated the Patriots, 31-0, on opening weekend in 2003. He recalled the fallout from that game on Twitter Monday.

“They went 14-2 & won Super Bowl,” Tucker said. “We went 6-10. Everybody chillax.”

So, while the Patriots deserve your scorn and criticism for being embarrassed, 33-20, in the season opener, don’t write off the high expectations for this team just because they’re 0-1.

Yes, the loss exposed problems for the Patriots. The offensive line was porous. The defensive line was a sieve the Dolphins ran right through. Tom Brady was ineffective.

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The list of things the Patriots did poorly is long. “Playing. Coaching. Offense. Defense. Special teams.” Those are Bill Belichick’s starting points of areas to fix.

It was not a day for Brady’s résumé. “It’s frustrating because we’re a better team than what we showed, but we certainly weren’t that yesterday,” he told WEEI Monday.

But before overreacting to the Patriots being in sole possession of last place in the AFC East for the first time since 2000, consider that the path back to the top of the division isn’t very long.

Upcoming schedule isn’t scary: The Patriots are on the road this week in Minnesota before welcoming Oakland in their home opener and then traveling to Kansas City. It’s easy to see them at 3-1. Yes, in Minnesota the imposing Adrian Peterson will take aim at a Patriots run defense that surrendered 191 yards to Miami. But expect the Patriots to shore up that weakness and force old friend Matt Cassel to try to beat them through the air. Oakland hasn’t won in its last 14 trips to the East Coast. And Kansas City, loser of six of its last eight games, has fallen far from the team that started last season 9-0.

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Miami is where the Patriots traditionally play the worst: The Patriots have lost two of their last four regular-season games, and both of those defeats came in Miami. In the Belichick era, the Patriots have a 7-8 record in South Florida. It’s by far the place where the Patriots perform the worse. The Dolphins know how to expose the Patriots’ weaknesses and to exploit the advantage of the Patriots not being accustomed to their hot, humid environment.

They looked OK in the first half: Granted, first-half accomplishments don’t belong on the résumé either. But the Patriots offense was moving well in the first half and they led the Dolphins, 20-10, before their second-half breakdowns. “We went out and we created plays,” Vince Wilfork said of the first two quarters. “We played good football.” Brady echoed that. “It’s not that we’re not capable of doing it,” Brady told WEEI. “It’s just that we need to do it more consistently.” The Patriots need to make sure they’re making smart in-game adjustments, as the Dolphins did Sunday.

New England rarely loses two games in a row: The Patriots are good at correcting mistakes. Since 2003, they have lost back-to-back games only four times, most recently in Weeks 2-3 of the 2012 season.

Opening weekend effect: Because this was the opener, the loss stings more than it would if the Patriots lost to the Dolphins in Week 9. They haven’t allowed fans to build up a reservoir of confidence in them yet. We haven’t yet seen Vince Wilfork return from his injury to play at a dominant level. We haven’t seen Brandon LaFell contribute. There’s so much we don’t know, which can lead to a burst of panic. But the Patriots have lost games like this before. In 2010, they were blown out, 34-14, at Cleveland by a Browns squad led by Colt McCoy and Peyton Hillis, who rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns. The Patriots then reeled off eight straight wins to close the season and win the AFC East.

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Now, none of this diminishes the fact that the Patriots have serious work to do to correct the flaws exposed Sunday. Among them:

Brady’s breakdowns: The Patriots QB was under pressure a lot, but he was inaccurate on several throws and didn’t do much to quell the popular offseason theory that he’s a quarterback in decline. He was just 2 for 18 on pass attempts of 15 yards or more, as ESPN’s research showed. He needs to be more dependable, especially in crunch time. The Patriots managed just four first downs in the second half as Miami’s offense exploded for 20 points. Brady owned up to his mistakes. “When we’re open down the field, I’ve got to hit them,” he told WEEI.

Offensive line’s failings: Belichick blamed “a lack of execution” and the absence of “good fundamentals” for the offensive line’s problems. The new bunch of Brady’s protectors, led by a new coach in Dave DeGuglielmo, needs to find a way to jell quickly. And Logan Mankins isn’t walking through the door, as Sebastian Vollmer told the Globe’s Ben Volin. Getting consistent production from the line will make Brady more confident and should cut down on his own mistakes.

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Stopping the rush: It’s demoralizing when teams can run the ball up your gut as the Dolphins did to the Patriots. Peterson is likely eager to take a crack after watching the Patriots’ performance in Miami. Belichick knows the Patriots can’t allow gaps in their run defense to persist. “We have to do a better job in the running game on both sides of the ball,” he said.

.   .   .

Those are starting points, not a complete list of things that went wrong. Maybe the loss was an indication of a long season to come and that the Patriots will pass the baton in the AFC East. But it also may have been a worst-case scenario of a game plan imploding. Give them some time to correct their opening-weekend mistakes.

The history of the Belichick-Brady era suggests that a turnaround is in order. After 11 straight seasons of winning at least 10 games, they deserve the benefit of the doubt following an 0-1 start.

“It is a long season. But we definitely have to get better,” Wilfork said. “And we will get better.”

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And it’s not reasonable to judge their likelihood for the playoffs based on one game. Let’s reassess after four games and eight games. If the Patriots haven’t corrected the mistakes by then, it will be time to talk about a realignment of power in the AFC East.


Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter @leahysean