In case you haven’t heard, the New England Patriots were defeated by the Jacksonville Jaguars 31-20 on Sunday in a rematch of the 2017 AFC Championship Game. In what was one of the most anticipated games on the NFL’s Week Two slate, the Jaguars dominated from start to finish. This time, there would be no fourth-quarter comeback for Tom Brady and company. The Jaguars took the lead early, and never relinquished it.
Unlike in January, Blake Bortles and the Jaguars offense seized their opportunities to keep the Patriots down. They were able to move the ball at will against a sluggish, and often overmatched Pats defense. Bortles turned in, arguably, the best performance of his career, finishing the day with 377 yards and four touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball, Brady and the Patriots offense seemingly could not find a rhythm. While not registering a terrible showing, Brady’s 234 yards and two touchdowns paled in comparison to that of his opponent. He was under constant pressure from a formidable Jaguars front seven, and thus, could not find comfort in the pocket. As a result, the Pats were handed an embarrassing loss that was not really as close as the final score would indicate.
Of course, the overreactions have been plentiful. For a region that is not accustomed to defeat, each loss provides a level of panic, misplaced aggression and second-guessing that continues to reach new heights each and every time.
As Peter Venkman (as portrayed by Bill Murray in 1984’s Ghostbusters) would say, it’s “…dogs and cats…living together…..Mass Hysteria!!!”
It has even led some to question whether or not this loss was so demoralizing that it could threaten to change the culture of the patrons of One Patriot Place in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
It’s so ‘Un-Patriot-Like.” (Sense the sarcastic tone? Good!)
The fact of the matter is that a tough September loss is just as much a part of the ‘Patriot Way’ as phrases such as “Humble Pie” and “Do Your Job.” It’s not ‘un-Patriot-like’ or even unusual. In September 2003, they were embarrassed by the Buffalo Bills 31-0, after which ESPN’s Tom Jackson declared ‘they hate their coach” (referring to head coach Bill Belichick). In 2014, the Pats were forced to do the unthinkable and bench Tom Brady in a 41-14 drubbing at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Once again, ESPN’s Trent Dilfer and Steve Young predicted the beginning of the end for New England, bluntly stating that the Patriots ‘just aren’t good anymore.’ Lastly, the Patriots were once again defeated by the Chiefs 42-27 in their season-opener in September 2017 in Foxboro.
Each time, the proverbial sky was about to fall with each crushing loss.
Each time, the Patriots responded by ending the season with, at least, a trip to the Super Bowl.
Therefore, is Sunday’s loss really ‘Un-Patriot-Like?’ Actually, it seems like “Business as Usual” might be more appropriate.
In Bill we Still Trust?
It is far too early to tell whether or not the Patriots will once again be playing for the NFL’s crown at Super Bowl LIII in February. However, it is also far too early to declare this loss as the commencement of New England’s demise.
Make no mistake. No one is suggesting that this loss should be taken lightly. Assuredly so, Belichick and the Pats coaching staff will be evaluating missed opportunities and correcting mistakes at a feverish pace this week. On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots surrendered 487 total yards of offense to Bortles and the Jaguars. It should be noted, that the Jaguars were without running back Leonard Fournette for this game. Still, the Jags seemed to have no difficulty finding the end zone. With losing DE Trey Flowers to a concussion early in the game, the Patriots pass rush slowed to a near halt. To make matters worse, the secondary seemed to be chasing, rather than covering for much of the afternoon.
On offense, Brady was under duress on nearly every throw. To their credit, the Jaguars also designed a strong gameplan to contain Rob Gronkowski, which is no easy task. Even on their two touchdown-scoring drives, the Patriots looked more ‘workman-like’ than ‘machine-like.’ Some have even questioned the lack of aggression of Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, in choosing to punt over attempting a conversion of a 4th-and-1 with time winding down in the fourth quarter. Arguably, the consensus was that this decision conceded the game to the Jaguars.
So, are Belichick and the Patriots losing their edge?
All things considered, the answer is no. While there is plenty to correct from Sunday’s stinker in Jacksonville, the coaching staff and veteran presence of the New England Patriots suggest that they will be just fine. While “going for it” on 4th-and-1 is a typical Belichickian move, it was not quite the ‘waving of the white flag’ as which it is being portrayed. The Pats were reeling from the overturning (and correctly so) of a near first-down run by James White. Had they failed to convert on the subsequent 4th and 1, the results could have been even worse.
In addition, the Pats receiving corps was in the midst of a subpar day, in which they caught only 11 passes for 104 yards as a unit. The team has unquestionably struggled to replace the production that would be provided by Julian Edelman, who is only halfway through a four-game suspension. However, production at the position should receive a boost this week, in the form of newly-acquired wide receiver Josh Gordon. Gordon was acquired on Monday from the Cleveland Browns for a fifth-round draft choice. Prolific, yet possibly problematic, he arrives with a ton of talent and promise. Should he be able to find a chemistry with Tom Brady (while, most importantly, managing to keep his off-field struggles in check) Gordon will likely be a formidable addition to the Patriots offense.
Bringing in a low-risk, high reward player to help bolster the team? That doesn’t sound too “Un-Patriot-Like” now, does it?
The ‘Age’ of Brady?
Not only has Sunday’s game been labeled as being ‘out of character’ for the Patriots, but it has also been used as a springboard for ‘the end is nigh‘ discussions surrounding Tom Brady. Some have insinuated that Brady’s age is finally getting the best of him. The narrative of the foundering, aging quarterback was certainly in full-effect in the aftermath of Sunday’s game. With a devilish snicker of delight, his critics will proclaim that he is no longer able to keep pace with his ‘younger, fresher’ opponents. The sweltering Florida heat being the final straw that would break the back of a (figuratively) silver-haired hero that was finally within an eyelash of riding off into the sunset. The youthful Bortles thrived, while ‘old man’ Brady withered.
Father Time: 1, Brady 0? …Not so fast.
The truth is that anyone questioning the level of difficulty of playing football during one of Mother Nature’s “hot flashes” has not attempted to do anything in a 107-degree heat index, except try to get a tan. Whether you are 21, 41, or 71, physical exertion in stifling heat and humidity is extremely difficult. The oppressive Florida heat in early September can be just as unforgiving to a team as is the bitter New England cold in January. Anyone that has spent time on a football field in extreme weather conditions would understand that. Perhaps Bortles and the Jaguars were a bit better-conditioned to handle the hometown heat than their counterparts to the north? That could be. However, it was not the reason why Blake Bortles ended the day with a superior stat line to that of the reigning-NFL MVP.
Rather, in true Brady fashion, the New England quarterback refused to use either the heat or his age, as an excuse for his play in this contest. Following the game, he had this to say of Sunday’s weather in Jacksonville:
“I actually don’t think it was that bad; At least I didn’t feel it. It was definitely warm, warmer than what we’ve had, but it was a lot like training camp this year. It was more about execution. They executed really well, and we didn’t. I think it was really that simple. And if we want the outcome to change, we’ve got to do things a lot differently.”
Simply put, Brady’s performance (and that of the Patriots, as a whole) was because they were outplayed by Bortles and the Jaguars. Jacksonville had superior game-planning and execution. They were the better team in this AFC Championship Game rematch. It wasn’t an ‘age’ thing or even a ‘weather’ thing. It was a bad day, plain and simple. Brady has had bad games in the past. Shockingly enough, he has even had some before he turned 41. As he has numerous times before, he will bounce back. The ‘old man’ is not ready for the rocking chair and shawl, just yet. Apologies to those trying to push an agenda, but neither ‘Father Time’ nor ‘Mother Nature’ should get the assist on this one.
“It Is What It Is”
While the Patriots search for solutions to the problems that resulted in a loss to the Jaguars on Sunday, they need not search for their identity. As long as Bill Belichick stalks the sidelines, and Tom Brady takes snaps under center, the Patriots will be in a position to win more than they lose. They will look to correct the defensive woes they showed in this game. Brian Flores and the defense will work diligently to improve on their dismal showing on third downs. The offense will look to incorporate a new face into their receiving corps while working to protect their ‘aging’ quarterback. And…one can bet that that special teams will be practicing (over, and over, and over) the mechanics of reacting to an opponent when they move off-sides.
All in all, it will be business as usual in Foxboro. The Patriots will do their jobs. They will be ready to take on the Detriot Lions on Sunday night. The sky will not fall. The atmosphere will definitely be “Patriot-Like.”
As has been the case numerous times before, reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.
-Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the NFL. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC