Are these Patriots as good as the 2007 team?
It would seem a fitting homage to Yogi Berra for the Patriots to inspire conversations about another dose of deja vu. The steamroller that pancaked the Jaguars by a 51-17 count on Sunday certainly felt like a familiar monster.
And so, with New England having demolished three consecutive opponents by a cumulative score of 119-70, it’s unavoidable to wonder: Are the 2015 Patriots embarking on the same ambitious pursuit as the 2007 team that came oh-so-close to 19 games of perfection?
The 2015 offense seems an approximate match from its forebears of eight years ago. This season’s team, in fact, has put more points on the board through three games (119) than did the 2007 team, a vision of ruthlessness that is familiar to those who got trampled in the stampede of eight seasons ago.
Tight end Marcedes Lewis was the only member of this Jaguars team who was on the field when Jacksonville got dissected by the Patriots and Tom Brady in the divisional round of the 2007 playoffs.
“His numbers are pretty similar, huh?” Lewis acknowledged of Brady, shaking his head. “They are who they are. Every time I’ve watched Tom play, he’s looked the exact same way.”
Yet Brady is only part of the equation, albeit a substantial one. The Patriots also feature a wealth of weapons that permit them to attack a huge swath of the field, and a precision offense that tends to apply a sledgehammer to cracks that emerge in opposing defenses.
“This does show that you have the elite quarterback in the league, a team that operates on a high level with an extreme amount of discipline, does all the little things right, when you don’t do that, this is the result that you get,” said Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny, who was with the Bills in 2007. “I think this offense is performing at an extremely high level. First of all, they’re very, very talented and they have the elite quarterback in the game with a lot of threats to throw the ball to. They are operating at a very high level right now.”
Still, it might be a slight exaggeration to suggest that these Patriots have surpassed the early signs offered by the 2007 team.
Through three games this year, Brady is throwing considerably more than he did in 2007, having attempted 133 passes (a 51 percent bump over his 88 attempts that year). His completion percentage is down, from 79.5 percent in ’07 to a still-exceptional 72.2 percent, and whereas he averaged 9.9 yards per attempt in ’07, he’s averaging “just” 8.4 yards per attempt this year — though whereas he threw one interception in the first three weeks of the 2007 season, he has yet to be picked off this year.
Brady has encountered considerable success throwing to the duo of Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, with the pair hauling in 46 of their 70 targeted passes (66 percent) for 587 yards and six touchdowns. But Brady almost never missed when he targeted Randy Moss and Wes Welker through the first three weeks of 2007, connecting on 42 of 50 targets (84 percent) for 624 yards and six TDs.
While Brady was more efficient throwing to Moss and Welker at the start of 2007 than he has been working with Gronkowski and Edelman to date this year, any suggestion of distinctions in the performance of the two offensive attacks seems like little more than an exercise in splitting hairs.
The more meaningful distinction between the two teams thus far appears to be on the defensive side of the ball. Even in the Patriots’ most convincing win of the year on Sunday, Jacksonville totaled 293 yards — the fewest that New England has allowed thus far this year. Their 17 points were likewise the fewest allowed thus far this year.
By contrast, through three games, the ’07 Patriots defense established itself as one of the best in the NFL. That group opened the year by allowing 11.67 points per game through three contests. This year’s team has allowed exactly twice that amount (23.33) while also yielding 78 percent more yards per game (369 in 2015; 207 in 2007) through three games.
In other words, while the offense has verged on unstoppable, this edition of the Patriots has yet to establish the same overwhelming note that characterized the 2007 team during the early days of the regular season. Still, the NFL is now on notice that teams facing the Patriots have very little margin for error in trying to avoid some very long Sundays.
“I’ve been a part of games like that before,” said Jaguars guard Zane Beadles, “but they never get any easier.”