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Patriots Show Promise in Close Loss to Dolphins

Year two of the post-Brady rebuild started this past Sunday in ways that seemed un-Patriot-like, as your New England Patriots dropped the season opener 16-17 to a potent Miami Dolphins team. The game featured more penalties (including 3 personal fouls) and fumbles (4: 2 lost) than any game in recent memory.

In fact, since 2001 the Patriots have only had a game with 8+ penalties and a negative turnover differential 18 other times. And they only managed to win 7 of those games, even with Tom Brady at the helm:

Rk Tm Year Date Opp Week Result TOs Penalties Penalty Yds
1NWE20212021-09-12MIA1L 16-172884
2NWE20192019-09-22NYJ3W 30-142870
3NWE20172017-12-11@MIA14L 20-272978
4NWE20172017-10-05@TAM5W 19-14212108
5NWE20162016-09-11@ARI1W 23-212869
6NWE20122012-12-16SFO15L 34-414873
7NWE20112011-09-25@BUF3L 31-344893
8NWE20102010-10-17BAL6W 23-202978
9NWE20062006-12-10@MIA14L 0-213971
10NWE20062006-11-05IND9L 20-275881
11NWE20052006-01-14@DEN19L 13-275882
12NWE20052005-09-25@PIT3W 23-20310118
13NWE20052005-09-18@CAR2L 17-2731286
14NWE20042004-09-19@ARI2W 23-1231279
15NWE20032003-11-03@DEN9W 30-2621485
16NWE20032003-09-28@WAS4L 17-204864
17NWE20032003-09-07@BUF1L 0-31412121
18NWE20022002-10-13GNB6L 10-28412126
19NWE20012001-09-23NYJ2L 3-104985

And let’s be honest. How often do you see a Patriots team lose when they convert 3rd downs at 60% or better and/or out-gain their opponent by at least 130 yards?

Doesn’t happen often.

So it’s a flukey loss to a good team. And there was a lot of good things that happened in this game. Let’s start with the big stuff.

Mac Jones

The best part about Mac Jones is what he wasn’t. He wasn’t overwhelmed, he didn’t look nervous, he didn’t look like the game was too big or too fast for him. In other words, he didn’t look like a rookie starting his first NFL game.

It did seem like Josh McDaniels was playing things safe in this game to help with Jones’ comfort level by calling a lot of quick screens and short passes, but when it was necessary Mac was able to McCorkle the ball in ways that looked, dare I say, like a veteran.

This is great news. Even greater is when Mac Jones was caught not wanting the football after throwing his first ever NFL TD pass. Why?

“It doesn’t matter. It was one touchdown, we have to score more. It was not like the game was over there. We have to do better in the red zone, score more touchdowns. And we will.”

Mac Jones after the game

This sort of attitude feels familiar when we’re talking about leaders of a Patriots offense, no? That sort of drive and determination isn’t something that can be taught, and that’s a good thing.

The Defense

There seems to be some early negativity around this defensive performance, but I’m not sure why. Sure, there are probably a few plays the defense would like to have back, and giving up a TD from the Wildcat brings back less-than-pleasant memories. But this defense showed up today against a Miami offense who averaged 25+ points per game last season. And the contributors were a lot of the new faces in Foxboro this season.

Barmore had himself a quietly good game:

I’d argue that nobody was more disruptive than Matthew Judon, however. And I think Tua would probably agree:

That hit would send me to the hospital.

Also, let’s not forget the play of Jalen Mills who is mainly out there in the absence of Stephon Gilmore.

A great game all around by this revamped defense. I expect to see this side of the ball continue to improve as the season goes along, as all good Belichick defenses tend to do.

My last bright spot might be a surprise to you, dear reader.

The Running Backs

Yes, I know that the RB corps gave away 2 fumbles (one of which was correctly called), but a Belichick team won’t suffer from fumble-itis for long. Once these backs learn how to hang onto the football you’ll begin to recognize how important they are to this offense. In a game where the Pats out-gained their opponents by over 130 yards, the backfield contributed 125 combined rushing yards (on 4+ yards per carry) as well as another 75 receiving yards between them. So literally half of the 400 yards of offense went through the RBs. A sign of good things to come, especially when it comes to helping out Mac Jones early in his rookie season.

And lastly, one thing to keep in mind over the next few weeks. The Patriots have spent the last decade or so treating the first 4 weeks of the season as a sort of extended preseason. Expect both the offense and defense to slowly build upon what they showed the previous week, becoming more dynamic and effective as the season progresses.

In Bill we trust.

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