If there’s one word to describe the Patriots’ play on both sides of the ball in week four: abysmal. From the offensive play calling to the lack of energy from the defense, just about everything was hard to watch. This game in particular was one of the worst performances under Bill Belichick's Patriots.
New England had about three days rest coming off of Week Two going into Week Three to face the Texans on Thursday night, and shut them out 27-0, an incredible feat on just a few days rest. Then, New England had an extra couple of days to rest, coming off that Thursday night game, going to face Buffalo, and got shut out at home for the first time since 1993. So, what happened there?
Let’s start on the offensive side of the ball for New England. First off: McDaniels’ play calling. They remained conservative for way too much of the game. By the time the offense finally started getting the ball in the air, it was too late. One of the few times the Patriots did throw the ball, it was the very first play of the game: a 90-yarder from Brissett to Edelman that would have been a touchdown, but Chris Hogan was called for holding on the play. From there on out, the offense just wasn’t the same compared to Weeks 1-3, at all.
Rookie Jacoby Brissett was playing through a thumb injury, which definitely had something to do with his poor play against Buffalo. He threw for 205 yards and had a rating of 86.2. One thing that stood out about Brissett was how bad he looked under pressure. New England’s offensive line was fine throughout the game, but when pressured, Jacoby looked lost. The coaching staff nor the quarterback himself seemed too confident in Brissett from the start. It was kind of odd how very little the ball was thrown, considering the health of the receivers.
Rob Gronkowski, from what we know, is pretty healthy. He’s gradually played more and more snaps since coming off of his latest injury. Edelman, Amendola, Mitchell, Bennett are all there and ready to go. Again, the offensive line held up pretty well, so Brissett would have been fairly well-protected if he threw the ball. More often than not, you would see Jacoby handing it off to Blount or White, with little success.
One specific player killed the Patriots singlehandedly: Cyrus Jones. This loss doesn’t fall on him, but he did not help the cause. He returned a few kicks, and half of them were horrendous. He ran two times, and failed both times, only getting 10-15 yards. If he could have just taken a knee and given the offense some type of field position to work with, maybe they would’ve gotten somewhat close to the end zone.
I hate to bring this up, but there’s something up with Gostkowski. Ever since that missed extra point in the AFC Championship game, he hasn’t been the same. He missed a field goal that would have at least put New England on the board, keeping them from getting shut out. Myself, along with many others, would still take him over any kicker in the league, but it hasn’t been automatic this year. For almost ten years, Patriots fans didn’t even have to watch him kicking an XP or FG, just knowing it would go through the bullseye of the uprights, but that isn’t the story this year.
It’s hard to blame anyone but Belichick and McDaniels for the team’s offensive woes on Sunday. For a Bill Belichick-coached team to get shut out at Gillette is unimaginable. This is just a reality check, reminding fans that Belichick is in fact human. Don’t expect them to make this same mistake again any time soon, with Brady coming back. Belichick is pissed, as is Brady, so things will only get better.
Now, for the defensive side of the ball. The Patriots’ D only gave up 16 points, but it wasn’t a great performance by them. For a defense that was supposed to carry the team over the first four weeks, they’ve underperformed, minus the game versus Houston. Other than that, it’s been difficult to rely on the D to get the job done consistently.
I can safely say that Logan Ryan is one of the better cornerbacks in the league, but something was off versus Buffalo. He had a really hard time defending Robert Woods, and it showed.
Overall, the Patriots had a pretty hard time tackling, with a total 14 missed tackles on the day. There were a few missed tackles that really came back to bite them.
Another big story was Dont’a Hightower. Hightower was coming off two missed games from a slightly torn meniscus, and nobody really expected him to have an impact, or play much, for that matter. He played a good handful of minutes, and it visibly wore him down. Hightower is the defensive play caller for New England. He was not 100% healthy, and it dragged him down to play as much as he did. That definitely killed the defense’s vibe and took the energy out of them early on.
One last individual defender that has stood out so far this year is Jabaal Sheard. He was injured late last season and is still recovering, but has so far played through it and has started all four games. The difference between this season and last season is big. He’s been physically limited and hasn’t made the big plays like he did for much of last year, which has again hurt the defense, but it isn’t his fault.
New England’s defense looked great before Sunday’s collapse, so this came out of the blue. Will that bad performance carry into the coming weeks and stick with them? I say no. Rex Ryan’s Bills were sick of losing to New England, and they were angry. They had the ability to quiet Buffalo, but you can’t rag on them for this performance. There will be sunnier days, I promise you, Patriots fans.
Tom Brady’s suspension ending could not have come at a better time: Garoppolo and Brissett’s injuries, Belichick and McDaniels’ game plans, Rob Gronkowski will surely play more and get more receptions, and you can bet just about anything that it will be the Tom Brady Show in Cleveland. The entirety of the team will wake up, and things will come together for New England.
The defense will be fine, and the offense will go back to being dominant, and the play calling will be better by a large margin. A mad Patriots team, a mad coaching staff, an angry Tom Bray coming off his suspension as well as Rob Ninkovich, and you'll probably see more of Gronk. All you can do right now is pray for Cleveland. Those poor, poor Browns.