Thoughts and observations on the Patriots through 10 games
A blowout loss always will set off alarm bells in New England. A blowout loss with the bye looming? That’ll instantly set Patriots Nation to DEFCON 1.
Talk of the good old days (like say, the last 15 seasons) and how the Patriots never lose in November and December will dominate a lot of conversations from Great Captain Island to Estcourt Station and all New England points in between.
Remember when the Jaguars won the AFC Championship in Week 2? Remember when Matt Patricia completed the transformation of the Lions franchise in Week 3? Those clubs are 3-7 and 4-6 respectively and sitting at the bottom of their respective divisions.
New England is atop the AFC East at 7-3 with four division games remaining, including their final two home games.
So, before any panicked calls are placed to General Beringer, it’s probably prudent to take a deep breath, check the facts, and hold off on the gloom-and-doom predictions for the time being.
Here are some reasons for optimism, reasons for concern, and other random thoughts and observations through 10 games.
■ The Patriots have lost games after the midway point in each of the last two seasons before ripping off winning streaks of seven (in 2016) and three (in 2017) games en route to a pair of Super Bowl berths and one title.
■ Tom Brady and his teammates were discouraged and dispirited in the immediate aftermath of the loss to the Titans. They don’t usually let those feelings linger, however. Brady’s demeanor with the press on Wednesday — lots of smiles — was a good indicator that this team has put Nashville in its rearview.
Brady was honest: “Everyone’s frustrated at some point in football. The game’s too difficult, there’s too many other challenging opposing teams you’ll face, players, coaches. They make it very hard on you.’’
Brady was upbeat: “Still a lot of football left.’’
Brady was playful: “I love Hamilton . . . I would love to just be on that show, I don’t know, a week. But I would need a lot of practice.’’
■ The schedule is favorable.
The Patriots are currently the third seed in the AFC and are behind the Chiefs and Steelers for the coveted bye. That could change quickly.
Kansas City has several big challenges ahead, starting in with the Rams in Los Angeles Monday night. They also face potential pitfalls with the Chargers at home and the Seahawks in Seattle.
The Patriots, meanwhile, have back-to-back December road tilts in Miami and Pittsburgh. A win over the Steelers would give New England the head-to-head tiebreaker over both Kansas City and Pittsburgh.
■ Finally, a sense of normalcy.
Bill Belichick’s club is used to playing in showcase games — it’s one of the prices of continued excellence. But this year’s schedule was beyond ridiculous.
Five prime-time games over a seven-week stretch is a tough ask for players.
Of their six remaining tilts, all are day games, including four in the 1 p.m. time slots.
■ Reinforcements on the way.
The bye week affords the many Patriots nursing injuries big and small to get a little healthier for the final stretch run.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski (ankle, back) will have had three weeks off when the Patriots face the Jets Nov. 25. A rested and ready Gronkowski will be pivotal for this offense to hit its stride.
■ Balance will be better.
Sony Michel has flashed glimpses of being the electrifying back he was in college. But depth at the running back spot is a concern. James White is more valuable as a receiver and Cordarrelle Patterson is not a long-term solution.
The return of Rex Burkhead (neck) in Week 13 could be a boon. Burkhead is a tough runner who gives great second effort while doubling as a quality receiver.
■ Adjustments needed.
The offensive line struggled to protect and get a push in Nashville as the Titans unveiled some creative looks, including having the entire front seven stand to disguise their attack. It was a look that brought back memories of some of the fronts Belichick used in the past against Peyton Manning’s Colts teams.
Since the NFL is a copycat league, other teams likely will try this — or variations of it – in the future. The bet here is the Patriots will be prepared.
■ Here and there
Still a little surprised by Dion Lewis’s comments after the Nashville game. To the victors go the spoils, sure, but the Patriots did afford him a chance to kick-start his career in 2015 . . . Best road meals: Beef on weck and wings at Duff’s in Amherst, N.Y., and anything at Urban Grub in Nashville . . . Literally bumped into Chris Long after the Eagles-Patriots preseason game. Hadn’t talked to him since the aftermath of New England’s Super Bowl win over the Falcons but he immediately extended his hand, asked how everything was and said, “We all had a lot of fun that year, huh?” Yes we did.