There are two ways to feel about our humiliating 42-27 loss to the Chiefs on opening night. I’ll start with the first feeling: pessimism.
Our defense was atrocious. You’ve probably heard all the numbers already: 537 total yards allowed; 8.3 yards allowed per play; nearly 250 yards from scrimmage for rookie Kareem Hunt; and over 350 passing yards from Alex Smith. We couldn’t generate consistent pressure from our pass-rush (outside of Trey Flowers, who quietly had 2 sacks). Our linebackers couldn’t cover Hunt out of the backfield. And our secondary, the supposed strength of our defense, was torched by Tyreek Hill and company.
What’s going to happen now over the remaining fifteen games? Next week we take on Drew Brees and the Saints. No introduction needed for how good their offense is. Two weeks later, we begin a stretch that includes games against a former MVP (Cam Newton), one of the game’s top emerging quarterbacks (Jameis Winston), the reigning MVP (Matt Ryan), and a perennial Pro Bowler (Phillip Rivers). And then the second half of the schedule includes matchups against Derek Carr and Ben Roethlisberger.
Yes, I’m worried, too. I said on multiple occasions leading up to this season that the Patriots defense was nowhere near as good as their league-leading finish in points against last season indicated: we played unequivocally the NFL’s worst slate of opposing offenses in 2016. Although no one could’ve predicted a Belichick defense to look that bad in the season opener, it was inevitable that our defense would be exposed at some point, particularly after losing key depth pieces such as Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long, Jabaal Sheard, and Logan Ryan during the offseason. And to make matters worse, we must now contend with the loss of Dont’a Hightower for at least the next few weeks. Would anyone be willing to see if Tedy Bruschi or Willie McGinest would like to come out of retirement?
At least the offense had a respectable showing. To be clear, it obviously wasn’t the kind of performance we Patriots fans have been accustomed to. Nonetheless, in a typical NFL game, 27 points is enough to win. The Pats also averaged close to 6.0 yards per play for most of last night’s game, until they had two miserable final possessions in garbage time. Moreover, we left a lot of points on the table. There were three red zone possessions last night in which we only came away with 6 points; and if Josh McDaniels had called a sneak for Brady on at least one of those fourth-and-short situations, we likely would’ve converted one more touchdown.
However, this isn’t to say all things are rosy with the offense, either. Brady was uncharacteristically inefficient, completing just 16-36 passes (why was McDaniels calling so many deep passes, though?). It’s asinine to say his mediocre performance was a result of his age, but it certainly was concerning to see Brady struggle to find his rhythm without Julian Edelman. And speaking of Edelman, more injuries continued to pile up, as Danny Amendola left with what is likely a concussion. With Malcolm Mitchell also on IR for at least the first eight weeks, depth has suddenly become an issue for the receiving corps.
But enough with the negativity. Even though it’s definitely reasonable to feel like New England’s Super Bowl hopes are in serious danger, history has actually shown us that we should be thankful for last night’s outcome.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about my Patriots during the Brady/Belichick era, it’s that we respond well to adversity. Think back to the last time we were embarrassed on primetime to these very same Chiefs. Let’s face it, they’re not good anymore! We preceded to win the Super Bowl. Go back even further to our third championship run in 2004, when we were shockingly upset by a 2-11 Miami squad in the same season we broke the NFL record for longest win-streak. We didn’t lose a game the rest of the way. In all, the Pats are 20-1 since 2003 following two-possession defeats. And if you need further evidence of the Pats thriving in difficult situations, recall how we performed after Spygate (undefeated regular season), Deflategate (two conference championship appearances and another Super Bowl title), and even after falling behind 28-3 in last February’s Super Bowl.
Resiliency has clearly been an enduring attribute for the Patriots over their unprecedented run of success. The least we can do as Pats fans is have unwavering confidence that Brady, Belichick, and company will find ways to solve the host of problems exposed in Thursday’s disappointing opener.