One and Five. 1-5. That is what was discussed leading up to the Patriots week two matchup in South Beach against the Miami Dolphins. The last six years, Tom Brady and the rest of the New England Patriots were able to win one of their six games in Miami.
Brady finally has that Miami monkey off his back. A 43-0 victory sends a resounding message to the league that even in a venue where the team historically struggles, this year is different. Everything about this team seems different. Bill Belichick selected a wide receiver in the first round of this year’s draft for the first time in his tenure with the organization. They have BIG names at the skill positions. They retained veteran free agents near the ends of their careers.
Things about this team feel different. They’re gearing up for another Super Bowl run and the game in Miami is another notch in their belt. Despite the story told by the final score and statline, there are a few points of improvement to be made, as well as many positive takeaways to be had. Here’s the week two edition of three up three down.
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Antonio Brown: After an offseason that saw Brown traded to the Raiders only to later be cut by the same organization that invested in him, he has become one of the most polarizing players in the NFL. Regardless of how you feel about him or his antics off the field in the offseason, his play on the field can’t be written off.
The Patriots signed Brown after he was cut by the Raiders. There wasn’t enough time for the transaction to process prior to the teams week one matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, however Brown was able to find his way onto the field in week two amidst speculation that he could be placed on the commissioner’s exempt list due to sexual assault allegations, but more on that later.
Brown was only on the field for 24 of the Patriots 72 offensive plays but saw 8 targets which he converted into four receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown. Brown also had one rushing attempt for five yards. It was clear based on how involved he was on limited snaps that the Patriots wanted to get him involved early and often, and that involvement should only grow as he spends more time with the team and learning the offensive system.
Rex Burkhead: For someone who was considered by some to be on the roster bubble in late August, Burkhead has answered all of those questions and than some. After barely missing the cut for this list in week one it seemed to be a disservice to leave him off again following another strong performance in week two. Week one against the Steelers Burkhead had eight rushing attempts for 44 yards and five receptions for 41 yards. This week against Miami Burkhead had five rushes for 21 yards and two receptions for 47 yards.
The stat lines aren’t what pops about Burkhead’s performances, but more what he has done with limited work. Through two games Burkhead is averaging ten touches for 76.5 yards per game. When projected over the course of a 16 game season that would be the equivalent of a total of 1,224 yards from scrimmage. This yardage prediction likely won’t hold true over the remainder of the regular season, however Burkhead’s role and importance to this team can’t be understated.
He is their best true dual threat at running back and doesn’t telegraph run/pass to the defense as clearly as his counterparts Sony Michel or James White. Despite a hamstring injury that kept Brandon Bolden sidelined for the contest, third round rookie Damien Harris was a healthy scratch in large part due to the role played by Burkhead. His role on the team going forward is secure, and as long as he can stay healthy he will continue to be an important part of this Patriots offense.
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Defense and Pick Sixes: This Patriots defense has allowed three points through the first two weeks of the NFL season. Not three points a game, but three points total through eight quarters. On paper, this Patriots defensive unit is one of the best that Belichick has ever had the pleasure of working with, and they’re showing it on the field as well. Through two weeks this defense has eight sacks and five interceptions and shows no signs of slowing down.
Two of those five interceptions were returned for touchdowns by Stephon Gilmore and Jamie Collins Sr. Looking ahead to the week three contest at home against the division rival New York Jets, this Patriots defense is primed for another big performance. Sam Darnold, the Jets second year first round quarterback is out with Mono. Trevor Siemian, the journeyman backup for the Jets, exited week two against the Browns with an ankle injury that will keep him out of this week’s contest and require surgery.
Enter Luke Falk. Falk was drafted in the sixth round 199th overall and if you’re thinking that sounds familiar, you’d be correct. Let’s get one thing straight however, Falk is not Brady. This Jets team isn’t going to come in and gut out a gritty road game and make this one close. With starting quarterbacks the previous three seasons the Jets have lost to the Patriots 24-3, 26-6, and 41-3. This game is going to be more of the same. Another big performance for the Patriots defense, perhaps another pick six or two, and it may take until week four or longer before we see a team land in the end zone against the Patriots. Their opponents have been that bad, but it’s because this defense is that good.
Offensive Line: Another week for this unit on the wrong side of this list. Overall, this has less to do with the play of the offensive line, and more with the health. Marcus Cannon was a game time decision with a shoulder injury but after testing the injury pregame, Cannon was unable to make the start. This thrust Korey Cunningham into the starting lineup at right tackle.
Cunningham was acquired for a 2020 sixth-round pick from the Arizona Cardinals amid roster cutdowns in late August. The Cannon injury also prompted the Patriots to sign veteran swing tackle Marshall Newhouse as a free agent in order to provide insurance at the position. Insurance policies are important, and that point was reinforced when the Patriots took their talents to South Beach.
Isaiah Wynn left Sunday’s game against Miami with a foot injury and was unable to return to the game forcing Newhouse into starting duties less than a week after his signing. Following an MRI on Monday Wynn is considered week to week with his turf toe injury leaving his status for this week’s game against the Jets up in the air. Cannon’s status also remains uncertain for week two, and with depth at the position already dangerously thin, the Patriots are one more injury away from potential disaster.
Stephen Gostkowski: Gostkowski and the kicking game was a smudge on an otherwise dominant performance. New England left five points on the board by nature of a missed 48 yard field goal and two missed extra points. While five points in this game was inconsequential, that may not be the case in a game against an offensive powerhouse such as Kansas City or a team the Patriots historically struggle against such as Baltimore.
Looking back to Gostkowski’s recent postseason history, he had a missed field goal against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII, a missed field goal and extra point against the Eagles in Super Bowl LII as well as another missed field goal against the Tennessee Titans earlier in the postseason. A missed extra point against the Atlanta Falcons forced the Patriots into converting multiple two point conversions en route to their 25 point comeback.
The last time the Patriots failed to make a Super Bowl was back in 2015 against the Denver Broncos. This loss could be attributed at least partially due to a missed extra point by Gostkowski early in the game forcing the Patriots to attempt a two point conversion late in the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime. Again, Gostkowski’s kicking woes didn’t have an impact on the game in Miami but a missed field goal or extra point in the postseason has already proved costly to the Patriots in the past. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen again.
Antonio Brown: No, this isn’t a mistake and yes Brown did make both lists. Despite Brown’s strong debut in a Patriots uniform, more news broke the Monday following his return to his hometown. Another woman has come out and accusing Brown of sexual misconduct. His first accuser who filed a civil suit is meeting with the league sometime this week.
All of this adds up to what may very well end in an Antonio Brown suspension. Ben Roethlisberger facing similar accusations back in 2010 ended up being suspended by the league initially for six games, which was then reduced to four. Roethlisberger was never criminally charged, so Brown could be looking at a similar suspension.
Brown failed to fulfill his obligation of being available to the media following the week two victory against the Dolphins, which means that he or the Patriots are subject to a fine. It’s possible, perhaps even probable, that this was done with the teams blessing. Brown finds himself in the news once again, and for more than just football, which is not a good sign.
–Adam Myers is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots for Full Press Coverage. Follow him on Twitter @AdamTMyers