Seventeen thoughts on the Patriots’ win over the Eagles ...
1. So, you want the good or bad first? Unless you’re a sports radio host desperate to get those phones ringing, you want the good, so let’s start with that: This ugly, hard-fought win was the greatest confirmation we’ve had so far that the Patriots defense is, if not historic, then very, very good. Like, capable-of-being-the-main-reason-you-won-a-Super-Bowl good. (And maybe historic. The next few weeks will offer more clues.)
2. The D took some lumps early. Jason McCourty got flagged for pass interference, a 49-yard penalty, on the first play from scrimmage. (Looked ticky-tack to me.) And the Eagles’ lone touchdown drive was a 16-play, 95-yard march bridging the first and second quarters that seemed as though it might last for the entire game. To some degree, it felt like a carryover from the loss to the Ravens, though Philadelphia’s success didn’t have many style points.
3. But that prolonged drive wasn’t the beginning of some big Eagles statement. It was the end of it. Philadelphia didn’t score again the rest of the afternoon, and the Patriots defense found its dominating form. In 10 possessions after that drive, the Eagles punted seven times, turned it over on a Carson Wentz fumble, turned it over on downs, and couldn’t score on a final possession before time ran out. The Patriots finished with five sacks, bringing their season total to 37.
4. I suppose we should acknowledge that the Eagles were shorthanded on offense, with receiver Alshon Jeffery and back Jordan Howard out, while tackle Lane Johnson left the game with an injury. The offense was basically Zach Ertz (9 catches, 94 yards), and Stephon Gilmore and friends did a nice job limiting any damage he could do. Wentz ended 20 of 40 — with only six completions to receivers — for just 214 yards. Are we sure he’s that much better than Nick Foles?
5. As for the bad, well, the offense is still a work in progress, to be generous. The lone touchdown pass was thrown by former Kent State quarterback Julian Edelman, and the Patriots tried trickery before that, with Rex Burkhead taking a handoff and throwing the ball back to Tom Brady, who threw incomplete toward Phillip Dorsett. Trick plays are fun, but they’re usually a sign that the conventional offense is struggling.
6. Unusual dynamic after the game, with Brady, who is unfailingly polite even when he’s in a lousy mood, as curt with reporters as we’ve ever seen him. Meanwhile, Bill Belichick was amusingly salty and relatively upbeat, taking what seemed a like a dig at Johnson and also suggesting the Eagles’ lone TD shouldn’t have counted because Jonathan Jones intercepted the pass.
7. I think that relative role reversal of the moods is understandable, though. Belichick loves those gritty ’80s NFC East-type wins reminiscent of his Giants defensive coordinator days, especially when they come against one of those NFC East teams. And Brady was rightfully agitated about the performance of the offense — and probably his own performance as well.
8. This was the third game this year in which Brady didn’t throw a touchdown pass. He finished 26 of 47 for 216 yards, was sacked just once but under siege often, got nothing out of Sony Michel (10 carries for 33 yards) and the running game, and missed some throws that he could usually hit with his eyes closed. His frustration was understandable. It was just surprising to see him show it at a time when he usually puts on his best face.
9. It does seem Brady is underwhelmed by the talent he is working with. We got a glimpse of why he doesn’t trust Jakobi Meyers when the rookie broke in the opposite direction of a Brady throw. But I hope Brady is not still upset that the Patriots cut ties with Antonio Brown. It was Brown who let him down with texting and social media idiocy, not ownership by cutting its losses with the guy. He did it to himself.
10. Not sure what Brady’s trust level is with N’Keal Harry at this point, but the first-round pick’s NFL debut went fairly well. He finished with three catches on four targets for 18 yards and had a couple of nice blocks (though he also missed one, I believe on his first snap). It’s clear he’s willing to fight for the ball and has some physical toughness, which is always welcome. Hope Harry gives Brady a reason to give him a real chance.
11. It was a fine day for the guys who put the foot in football. Nick Folk knocked home three field goals in the first half to keep the Patriots in it. He’s an upgrade on Mike Nugent at the least. As for Jake Bailey, doesn’t he have to be considered one of the best rookies in the league even though he is a mere punter? He pinned the Eagles inside the 6-yard line three times and at the 12 on two other punts.
12. I’ve seen enough of Mohamed Sanu on punt returns, and I’d seen enough before an Eagles player rolled up on his ankle and bent his knee at an unnatural angle on a second-quarter return. Sanu, like Edelman, is too valuable to the offense to be risking his health on punt returns.
13. The Patriots are fortunate that left tackle Marshall Newhouse hasn’t gotten Brady folded, spindled, or mutilated beyond repair. It seems like every other snap he ends up lunging to keep his matchup from barreling into Brady from the blind side. Can’t really blame him; he’s a journeyman who, because of injuries, is being asked to do more than he is capable of. But man, is it nerve-racking to watch him.
14. The Patriots offense has had three significant personnel losses among its blockers in David Andrews, James Develin, and Isaiah Wynn. For part of this season, I thought Develin was the biggest loss, just because of how well he worked with Michel. I’ll hear a case for Andrews, too, even though Ted Karras has filled in competently at center.
15. But the reality is that the biggest loss probably is Wynn just because Newhouse has been such a turnstile. He’s eligible to come back this week against Dallas, and the Patriots are counting on him to be an enormous upgrade right away. I do wonder whether we underestimate his inexperience; he’s played just 82 snaps in the NFL. But even if he’s still raw, he should be better than what they have.
16. Ben Watson, who played 59 snaps and caught three passes for 52 yards, has done a decent job as a relative afterthought in the offense. Brady shouldn’t forget about him.
17. For all of the frustration with this messy win, the Patriots are now 9-1, clinched their 19th straight winning season, and beat a good team on the road with an excellent defensive performance. The Patriots have met absurdly high standards more than any team in NFL history, and I still think they’re the team to beat this year.