Well it doesn’t happen very often, but the Patriots have now lost back-to-back games. I am sure some people believe the sky is falling, but just remember they are still 10-3, in control of their division, and in control of getting a first-round bye. On top of those things, they also have a favorable schedule the rest of the way with two home games and two games against bottom-feeding teams.
Simply put: everything will be okay!
Are there issues? Sure.
Tom Brady clearly lacks trust in his options, after all Jakobi Meyers was wide open on that fourth down in which the Patriots could have received a fresh set of downs if they connected. Moreover, they still continue to struggle protecting Brady and running the ball with any sort of conviction or production. Throw in the fact the New England backs have not broken tackles all year and it is a recipe for a bogged down offense. Here’s to hoping the Pats can move the ball more, similar to their second half against Kansas City where they played solid complementary football.
Here is what’s happening as the end of season is rapidly approaching:
A lot has been made about last week’s blown calls by Jerome Boger’s crew and how they cost the Patriots a chance to win the game. The calls were horrendous and represent a glaring issue among NFL officials. They don’t follow the pattern they tell teams to expect and one that is drilled into them by league offices: don’t blow a play dead. The officials are taught to let the play happen and because it is a turnover and/or a scoring play, it will automatically be reviewed and any mistake can be corrected. Unfortunately, that has not happened multiple times this year in NFL games. It is an uncomfortably bad trend, and one that should not exist. That game represents the worst of league officials, and was just another mistake on the big stage by NFL refs.
Even with all that being said though, the Patriots need to be better and those calls, although they influenced the game and directly impacted scoring plays, did not actually cost them the game. The game was lost in the first half when New England struggled tremendously with any form of offensive production, while also not playing their typical brand of defense. If the Pats play a better first half, maybe those plays do not mean as much at the end of the game. It sucks either way, but there are a lot of plays in a game, and no game is defined by one or two plays.
As mentioned above, the running game has been non-existent for Brady and company and that has really hurt them overall. Last year in the playoffs they rode the run game through the playoffs and to the Super Bowl. Sure they still could throw the ball, but the run game was a great tool to get them where they needed and this year it is necessary more than ever with a lack of production through the air making it absolutely exhausting on Brady, McDaniels and the whole offense.
The good news though is the run game will get a chance to break out of their funk against the worst run defense in the NFL. The Bengals right now allow a league-high 156.7 rushing yards per game, which is 15.6 yards per game worse than the next closest teams, the Dolphins and Jaguars. Even more than that though the Bengals have allowed nine of their 13 opponents to collect over 100 yards on the ground, including six games allowing over 150 yards and four over 200 yards.
If the Patriots don’t get the ground game going this week, they may never do it this year.
This week Julian Edelman missed practice early in the week, but it was widely reported to be more of a load management situation than an actual concern for his status on Sunday. Because of that, now is as good of a time as ever to bring attention to his effort this year where he has banged up all year, and still performed at an incredibly high level. This year Edelman is third in the NFL with 90 catches, eighth in receiving yards with 1010 yards, and ninth in first downs with 49 making him the ultimate move the chains guy. Even more crazy though is how much higher his production has been than the rest of the team. This year Edelman’s 90 catches is more than Jaokbi Meyers, Phillip Dorsett, Ben Watson, Mohammed Sanu (catches with Pats only), and Ryan Izzo combined. He also has more receiving yards than that same group minus Izzo. Simply put, sometimes Edelman gets taken for granted, but he has been outstanding and without him this team would be in a world of trouble.
A lot has been made this week about New England recording the Bengals sidelines this past week of their game against the Browns. Many people jump the gun and have written misleading headlines, created click-bait articles, and irresponsibly gotten details wrong. The simple version though, is that yes, the cameraman they contracted to record did record the Bengals sidelines for a reported eight minutes. However, it seems foolish to imply they did this on purpose. First off, most of the material is likely readily available on the All-22 footage or through cable television for anyone to see. Secondly, everyone agrees that Bill Belichick is a genius, so why would the Patriots have told the Brown they were coming, been written in on the chart where they should be and be wearing clothes with logos from New England sports teams?
Despite those things the Patriots could’ve let the league and Bengals know beforehand and this would’ve been avoided so because of that they will likely get punishment, but it feels like something that will be minor in nature than any problem they have been accused in the past. Although with the NFL, you never quite know.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Bengals 13
The Patriots eventually are going to have a breakout game and I think this will be one of the first games they have where the offense starts to feel better about themselves. This is a confidence game against a bad team with an even worse defense and that should help them at a time when their confidence may not be super high right now. Look for the running game to get going, but also the passing game and play-action plays to be big factors this week. Sony Michel will break a few big runs, Tom Brady hits a couple big passes to players not named Edelman and everyone will start to feel better after this game.
–David Albiani is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @david_albiani