Let me begin with an admission that maybe, just maybe, last week's prediction that the Patriots would win by 14 points was a hair off target. Just a bit outside. But if you consider the time it was written, the thought was that the Patriots would be playing with Jimmy Garoppolo under center... and a defense... and special teams... and a decent game plan.
But that's all water under the bridge now that Tom Brady's back practicing with his teammates. This special day in Foxboro was celebrated by Bill Belichick, who referred to it as 'Wednesday' much to the media's delight. Next stop on the 2016 Revenge Tour will be Cleveland, the first of three AFC North teams in three weeks, with two of them on the road. So, once more: Welcome Back Tom! We've missed you. We love you. Now go out there and win us some games.
Around the AFC East:
Buffalo (2-2) at Los Angeles (3-1)
Miami (1-3) vs. Tennessee (1-3)
NY Jets (1-3) at Pittsburgh (3-1)
Denver (4-0) vs. Atlanta (3-1)
Houston (3-1) at Minnesota (4-0)
Baltimore (3-1) vs. Washington (2-2)
Oakland(3-1) vs. San Diego (1-3)
Cincinnati (2-2) at Dallas (3-1)
Indianapolis (1-3) vs. Chicago (1-3)
1st - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): Here’s how you react to Sunday’s shutout loss if you’re the Patriots: You shrug, knowing you’re going from a rookie quarterback making his second career start to perhaps the greatest quarterback ever this week. And Rob Gronkowski will be closer to 100 percent. And Rob Ninkovich is back from suspension. Nothing that happened Sunday should change how you view the Patriots.
1st - Lorenzo Reyes (USA Today): We know. They lost -- and spectacularly after suffering first-ever shutout at Gillette. They also just got perhaps the greatest player ever back.
3rd - Jenny Vrentas (The MMQB): Didn’t understand how no one thought it was possible for Rex Ryan’s Bills to stifle a third-string QB with a thumb injury. Honestly, it would have been surprising if they couldn’t. Now, it’s on to Cleveland—with Tom Brady.
3rd - Elliot Harrison (NFL.com): Not sure there has been an uglier showing from the Patriots since the Lawyer Milloy game against the Bills. You remember: Bill Belichick cut the popular safety right before the season, only to see him catch on with Buffalo and help the Bills author a 31-0 shutout in Week 1. There was plenty of knee-jerk speculation after the loss that Belichick had "lost the team." Of course, New England won the Super Bowl five months later. Let's be real here: Sunday was putrid. Monday, Tom Brady walked into the building. I imagine (sane) Patriots fans are quite pleased with a 3-1 start from the Jimmy Garoppolo/Jacoby Brissett-led outfit.
3rd - Chris Burke (SI): We shouldn’t take anything away from Buffalo’s Week 4 performance, but New England got caught looking ahead a bit. It would have been hard not to, what with Tom Brady ringing the Gillette Stadium doorbell and shouting, "Can I come in yet?!" all Sunday.
3rd - Mark Maske (Washington Post): Tom Brady’s Deflategate suspension worked out almost perfectly for the Patriots. They went 3-1. They learned plenty about young QBs Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett. And just when things were getting a little out of hand about Bill Belichick not needing Brady, they gave a dud of a performance against the Bills. So there’s no complacency. Brady comes back rested and feeling plenty needed. Pity the Browns, who face Brady and the Patriots on Sunday.
3rd - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): In the big picture, it would seem like this record was a total coup for New England with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett at quarterback instead of Tom Brady. But after being in position to sweep during Brady’s suspension, the listless, scoreless loss to Buffalo was a blemish, more for AFC seeding than the East race. This week: at Cleveland Sunday.
3rd - Adam Stites (SB Nation): With Tom Brady on the way back, there isn't much reason to panic about New England's 16-0 loss with a third-string quarterback. Even with the shutout loss, the Patriots are one of the NFL's scariest teams and only drop to No. 3.
3rd - Staff (AP Pro32).
4th - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): Now that Tom Brady is back, they should move back to the top of this list at some point this season. Going 3-1 without him was huge.
4th - Manish Mehta (NY Daily News): It's easy to move past a home shutout loss when arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history walks back into your building. The Patriots’ goose egg against the Bills bumped them from the top spot in our rankings, but it'll likely be temporary given that the Tom Brady F.U. Tour begins in earnest in Cleveland this weekend. Avert your eyes, Browns fans. Brady's return from his four-game DeflateGate suspension is going to be a bloodbath for your team.
4th - Experts (ESPN): If Tom Brady, who dons No. 12, had an entrance song, it'd be time to cue his music. The Patriots are 3-1 as Brady returns to their lineup and the rest of the league is on notice. The Patriots have a .771 winning percentage under Brady since 2001.
5th - Paul Chartier (WEEI): The defense played poorly against the Bills, but I’m still convinced this is one of the best units in the league. A few special teams gaffes contributed to the shutout loss, but struggles in the kicking game come few and far between with this team. The biggest question mark is the health of Rob Gronkowski. One of the most dominant players of his era has been a decoy for the two games he’s been active. Barring a setback with that injured hamstring, Gronk should be back to his old self in a few weeks. Also, the team’s HOF QB and greatest player of all time returns from suspension this week.
6th - Cameron DaSilva (Fox Sports): The Patriots suffered their first home shutout since 1993, falling to the Bills 16-0 on Sunday. They did so with Jacoby Brissett under center and Rob Gronkowski still dealing with a hamstring injury, so it’s hardly concerning. The Patriots are still among the best in the AFC.