There’s a case of Patriots Panic going around, but it usually cures itself
FOXBOROUGH — Patriots Panic spreads faster after a loss than the flu in February, and its high season is September.
The Patriots, proverbially at least, have a tendency to play their shakiest football early in the year. Some of the worst losses of the Tom Brady era have come in the first few games of a season. Because the strength of a team is still relatively unknown in September, early losses tend to seem more worrisome, like Sunday’s loss to the Lions did.
The flip side is that New England has proven it can overcome those slow starts.
“Look, that’s the National Football League,” Bill Belichick harrumphed Tuesday morning via conference call.
“It’s a 16-game season. Every team faces adversity over the course of 16 games. So, every team will have an opportunity to deal with it and it will happen more than once to everybody. So, when those opportunities come up, we’ll see how, again, individually each of us and collectively as a team how we fare.”
The idea that the Patriots often start slow, then pick up steam is actually more than proverb. The numbers bear it out, at least to a small degree.
Between 2001, the year Tom Brady took over for Drew Bledsoe in Week 2, and 2017 the Patriots were 39-16 (.709 winning percentage) in the month of September.
Using that same time frame, their overall winning percentage is 209-63 (.768). So it’s true, the Patriots lose a higher percentage of their games in September than they do on the whole, or from October onward.
Center David Andrews said there’s no difference in how he sees the first month of the season and that it’s about results, not using the first few games as an extension of the preseason to get things clicking in a way that’s helpful down the road.
“No,” Andrews said. “I think there’s been times here when we started really fast. I think we’ve just got to move forward and keep practicing and keep working.”
Even so, the most logical explanation for why New England gets better as the season goes on correlates with one of the big reasons the Patriots have been so good for so long: preparation. They have a coach and a quarterback who have seen pretty much everything, which gives them an advantage.
That advantage is greater later in the year when they have a better idea of what opposing teams are trying to do. Yes they’ve seen it all, but they can’t use past examples to aid their preparation unless they know which past examples fit the current situation.
It applies to the Patriots roster, too. New England uses a hybrid defense and a complicated scheme on offense. Those things take time to implement.
That’s gotten more difficult, too, since the new CBA was implemented in 2011 and greatly reduced practice time. And sure enough, the disparity between the Patriots early season struggles and late-season success has grown more stark since then.
New England’s winning percentage in September from 2011-17 is .750. What makes the disparity greater is that the Patriots overall winning percentage from 2011-2017 is .840, meaning that there’s still a bigger gap between September performance and performance the rest of the way since the new CBA was put in place. That means the lack of competitive football Sunday night is probably a bigger concern than the fact that the Patriots are 1-2, though there have been non-competitive games in other slow starts as well.
In 2014, after the 2-2 start and cataclysmic (seeming) Chiefs loss in Week 4, the Patriots moved on to Cincinnati, went 10-2 the rest of the way, then won the Super Bowl.
Back in 2003, the Patriots lost 31-0 to the Bills in Week 1 and went 2-2 in September. After that, they didn’t lose another game all the way through Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Defensive end Deatrich Wise said that last year’s experience of recovering from a 2-2 start, going 11-1 the rest of the way and making the Super Bowl, is something to build upon.
“I’m hungry,” Wise said. “I believe that I’m hungry, I believe the team is also hungry, too.
“We’re not worried about it, but it’s one of those things that we learn from situations that happened in the past and we re-use those to move forward.”