The Runner Sports

The Sky Is Falling, The Wind Is Calling, Time For Patriots To Hit Panic Button?

Seven months after their heroic comeback over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI, the New England Patriots opened the 2017 season and their title defense at home against the Kansas City Chiefs. Long coined the unobstructed favorite to storm back to Super Bowl LII, the Patriots launched the campaign with anything but a promising debut, falling to the Chiefs 42-27 on Thursday.

As if the loss on such a monumental night –in which they hoisted Super Bowl banner number five– wasn’t enough to outright be concerning, how the team actually got to that point through 60 minutes provided plenty of reasons to be disquieted. There was talk about this team going 16-0 and that it might be the best, if not better, team since the 2007 roster that went 18-1. Tom Brady entered the season as the early favorite to win the MVP. Rob Gronkowski was healthy and they added a vertical receiver in Brandin Cooks that should open up the offense. The defense was supposed to remain a top-ten unit.

Tom Brady failed to throw a TD pass in an opening game for just the second time in his career.

The defense gave up 537 yards and 3 TDs over 25 yards (two of which were 75+ yards).

Cooks and Gronk combined for five touches, a near TD, and 121 of the offense’s 371 total yards. Danny Amendola collected 100 yards in the air before exiting with a head injury and Mike Gillislee also rushed for 45 yards and 3 TDs in his New England debut in what was surely the only real highlight for this team last night.

Yet, even before the season kicked off, the chips in the walls had shown. In an unusual move, the Patriots made a plethora of roster moves that impacted the top of the defensive depth chart in the coming days before the opener. It resulted in a defensive showing that looked like they didn’t quite know what they were doing at times… because they simply didn’t. The Patriots pride themselves on running a complex system on both sides of the ball, yet they leaned on a defense that sprinkled in a handful of under exposed players to that system, and that was even before Dont’a Hightower went down with an MCL sprain. The offense had taken a hit with the loss of Julian Edelman, and as much as they embrace the “next man up” philosophy, that was monumentally shifting to how the offense moved the ball.

Is it time for the Patriot to hit that panic button?

Don’t be stupid.

The opening defeat feels like an anomaly all around, even despite some very real red flags. A team whose marquee defining trait is typically their under the radar operation, let the hubris flag fly high in a rare demonstration that felt anything but the Patriots’ way. There was an air or snobby superiority that reeked of heat wave summer garbage that hung over the city all day, and emanated from the bars with hour-long lines out front to catch the game –despite it being a relatively cooler evening that was here to remind that fall is here. The fans were over confident, teetering heavily into cocky territory. I’m not here to blast Patriots fans for being excited, energetic, and caring for their team – that’s the very reason I love my Pats fans. It was just a slightly rough summer to hold conversations with Pats fans and not want to slap a high volume of them, as the self-obsessed aura of preponderance grew to unbearable heights since we last officially took to the gridiron.

The summer-long circle jerk of 28-3 paraphernalia even had a final moment when Gillette Stadium blasted the infamous snapshot of the score and time remaining moments before the Patriots began their historic Super Bowl comeback on their own scoreboard during the pre-game ceremony.

 

Just short of inciting a mob, Barstool Sports also took to the stadium to hand out 70,000 towels portraying the commissioner as a clown ahead of the game.

Game day ready @barstoolsports @great_harbor_yacht_club #letsgooo #blitzforsix #gopats #saftb

A post shared by nickniman (@nickniman) on

While Goodell seems to regularly goof, this boils specifically down to the Deflategate relationship –that we all hoped would officially be over— that will seemingly forever intertwine the commissioner and the area, its team, and fans. I’m not asking the North to forget, because we’ll never truly forget, but perhaps it’s time to realize a step forward needs to be made.

At what point does it feel like the last punch was thrown? Even despite a four-game ridiculously unjustified suspension, the Patriots capped the season with the commissioner handing over the Lombardi Trophy to Tom Brady. He caved on his long standing Gillette absence and mercilessly took the jeering thrown at him. When does it end though?

Instead of moving on to 2017, for what felt like the first time, Patriots Nation was truly still hung up on the events that transpired last season.

Well, after a slap in the face in a very real game, I think it’s safe to say we’re on to New Orleans and 2017… finally. It was an awakening moment for hopefully this team, and certainly hopefully for the fan base.

There are some very real chips in the wall, but it’s far from a dead risen dragon tumbling it down.

An opening game loss isn’t ever fun, but it’s hardly spelled trouble for this organization. In fact, the last three times it has happened (2001, 2003, and 2014), the Patriots have gone on to win the Super Bowl in that given season.

Bill Belichick has proven to be one of the sport’s greatest adapters, and that’s often times what the first few weeks of the season are for his rosters. With only 16 games to work with, every point and every down have heightened importance in the NFL, but Bill isn’t afraid to take his lumps early in the year in his adjustment period. If there was ever a team that could sell the uselessness of the preseason, it’s the Patriots.

Since Tom Brady took over as the starting QB (officially in 2001 but for the sake of this we’ll eliminate that year and 2008, in which he didn’t partake in all three first games of the season –14 total seasons) the Patriots have started a season through the first three games 3-0 six of 14 times. So eight of 14 years in the Bill and Brady tandem (three Super Bowl winning seasons included) the Patriots have collected a loss before reaching the quarter mark of the season. Considering the Patriots average 4.2 losses in those 14 seasons, it’s not astronomically frightening, and just a statistical probability it’ll happen.

As loose as the defense looked at times, we have to remember that a whole group of players who had less than a week to work with the system took to the field Thursday. An extra week isn’t a ton of time, but you can bet your sweet butt they’ll look improved the next time they take the field. Will it be winning worthy enough? That’s left to be seen; Bill has to find a way to reintroduce a rushing presence if Hightower does indeed miss a week with that MCL sprain. They could very likely come a callin to the recently retired Rob Ninkovich.

As Danny Amendola enter concussion protocol, the offense will also have to take a hard look at itself in the mirror. Without that Edelman safety blanket, the Patriots looked exposed in 3rd-and-short situations. Mike Gillislee was punching it in on goal line opportunities, but the team failed on a number of 3rd-and-short opportunities. That could be a direct result of the Edelman injury, and was heightened without Amendola on the field. With the bowling ball that is LeGarrette Blount and the greatest five-yard asset in football not on the field, the Patriots have to diversify and find a new solution to those situations. Rob Gronkowski was smothered all night by Eric Berry, but he’ll have to be a force to be reckoned with in this offense going forward, certainly in the short-term next week.

Tom Brady won’t be playing til he’s 45 most likely, but at 40 looked far from a liability on the field last night. The Chiefs boast a great defensive unit that covers the back seven well and breakdown the offensive line with regularity. Tom was agile on his feet at times, and had some solid throws, but the offense just failed to string it together regularly enough while the defense crumbled away.

The radio shows are already talking, again, about the aging Tom Brady and the looming Jimmy Garappolo. Remember the last beatdown to the Chiefs that began those very same conversations?You’d be anything but intelligent to start to stoke up the fire for those hot takes. We’re reminded that this team is far from perfect and are very human. But the early loss has a lot of positive to it as well. It got the 16-0 talk over with in it a hurry, and will prove as the true rallying point for the season to start with. The Patriots have some things to fix, but through a laughably easy AFC East, they’ll be shoe ins for the conference championship at the least as long as they can correct some of these very fixable existing issues. This team’s not perfect, but the beauty of it is, they don’t have to be.

Tyler Arnold

Tyler Arnold

I am the founder and editor-in-chief of The Runner Sports. I've been an avid sports fan since I was a child and have turned that love into a profession. I will watch, comment, and break down anything I can get my hands on, from football to white water rafting in the Olympics. Your visit means a lot to me, so thank you for your readership.
Tyler Arnold