Oh my goodness, people.
To read the reactions on this board and around the web, you'd think this team was on the express train to Distastertown -- or at least headed pell-mell for Mediocreville. I don't know if this is just the way we roll now, as a society, but some people seem like goldfish or puppies: they only remember the last thing they saw. Whether that's a Dolphin's "comeback" (which, since they lost, is a dubious description) or the "lights out" performance of the Orange Crush, shutting out the mighty Andrew Luck and the vaunted Colts offense (16-16 on the road, lifetime).
Have a seat and breathe into this paper bag for a second. While you wait for the numbness in your lips and fingers to subside, please read and digest the following:
First, lets remember that every team you watch right now is, in varying degrees, immature.
As Bill Belichick (coach, NFL) recently remarked, it's much more difficult to know the identity of your team entering the season these days. Under the latest preseason rules, final cutdown day is very close to the start of the season. There used to be six preseason games; now there are four and none of those feature your final roster playing as a unit. Thus, for the first four to six weeks of the season every team is sorting itself out to one degree or another.
Under those circumstances the Patriots are blessed to have a staff which, for the past decade and a half, has done an excellent job of preparing an indefinite team to face other equally uncertain squads.
With that in mind, this is a very credible Dolphins team with a fast and aggressive defense, at least one premier playmaker on offense, and an established quarterback. Whether they begin to crumble as the season wears on, relative to many other teams right now, they're pretty good. As many of you seem to have forgotten in just a week, they pushed the Seahawks to the brink (IN Seattle). Seattle, as many of you also seem to have forgotten, is also a pretty good football team.
They came to Foxboro full of confidence and knowing that without Brady and Gronk (and our defensive captain Dont'a Hightower, by the way) they stood a good chance of winning. And until Jimmy went down they were on the brink of getting run out of the building in a blowout.
Part of the reason for that was the play of Garoppolo. But another part of the reason was the shutdown play of our defense, which, for the second week in a row, showed flashes of brilliance. I'm not going to run the litany of who was missing but you know that unit is also not at full strength. They absolutely throttled the Dolphins...until things changed in the second half.
Well, a couple of things.
First, the Patriots had a three-touchdown lead. Second, we lost our second-string quarterback and had to play our third-string quarterback, severely limiting this week's offensive playbook.
As someone displaying an apparently uncommon degree of levelheadedness noted on another thread, Bill does not care whether he wins by a little or wins by a lot, as long as he wins. If you don't understand that about Belichick by now, I don't know what to tell you.
Bill wouldn't give you a rusty bottlecap and a bag of mismatched socks for the difference between the two. A win is a win is a win -- especially in September, especially with four or five of your best players not on the field.
Like a NASCAR team calculating the distance between the checkered flag and the bottom of the gas tank, this staff calculated that with the lead they had, the play of the offense under Brissett, and the time on the clock, they had enough gas to cross the finish line in first place. True, Gostkowski's miss made it a closer shave than it had to be, but they were right.
And that brings up three other points:
1. What happened to the defense? Why can't we be more aggressive like Denver? They just quit out there!
I refer you to the previous paragraph. Please recall that this is the same defensive group that shut down the Dolphins in the first half, playing a different style of attack under different circumstances. In the second half, Patricia and Bill completely altered their philosophy. A safety with corner man underneath will be less aggressive in attacking a receiver in his zone. A cornerback in man will use the sideline as a second defender. And a defense with a big lead and a hobbled offense will limit big scoring plays and use the clock to its own benefit.
That means that if the Dolphins succeed in conducting long scoring drives, THAT'S THE POINT. They're long.
Time remaining in game / average length of drive = number of drives
Number of drives x 7 = Points scored
Points scored - points needed = do we win?
This is literally and actually the arithmetic of the "prevent defense." On Sunday, it worked to a "T."
2. Ryan got abused -- how come no one made an adjustment? That's two weeks in a row!
Yep, Logan Ryan looked the victim again. Like Kyle Arrington, he has things at which he excels and things at which he does not excel. (Does anyone here remember Arrington? I mean, it was more than four seconds ago that he was our go-to slot corner, so I'd be mildly surprised...oh you do? OK.)
For the past two weeks as the Patriots have moved to late-game contain defenses, Ryan has seemed to struggle in coverage. In Arizona that was largely a fourth-quarter phenomenon. Against the Dolphins, when the strategic shift happened much earlier, we got a much larger dose of Ryan targets for gains. Is this a problem? Why no adjustment?
In answer to the first, maybe. We'll see. In answer to the second, a question: Adjust how? I don't know. To remove Ryan from those responsibilities is to put someone else on that spot. Given the structure of the defensive backfield, I'm not sure you could replace him in that role without opening another soft spot somewhere else. Accounting for that personnel puzzle might be a halftime adjustment but would be difficult in the middle of play.
The staff may be able to work that out -- and they may not. Like we noted at the top, it's early. Could be we improve there. Could be that remains a weakness that needs to be either covered or accounted for. Either way, I'm pretty sure they're working on it.
And either way, it's an issue but not the end of the world. It's week 2, folks.
3. The offense under Brissett.
Conservative and limited. I don't think there's any way around that. I do, however, remember a conservative and limited offense that won a Super Bowl recently -- actually a couple -- and ours is a short term problem. But in that short term I see some pretty good things coming out of yesterday.
First of all, the offensive line. They played very well against a very capable group. I didn't hear Suh's name called. Solder played very well in his season debut. They continue to get better under Scar and I think that will continue. If Solder continues in good health, this very young core is in very good hands.
Bennett looks very good. Good blocking, great for a big man in the open field, good hands. He's a weapon in a loaded arsenal that includes...
Danny Amendola. He showed up in key moments yesterday as well. The Amendola/Edelman/Hogan/Mitchell group looks legit and tailor-made for this offensive philosophy. Which, in contrast to last year, seems to have a much better baked helping of...
Blount (pun accepted but not intended). Paul Brown only knows if he can keep this up but he looks better than ever: more decisive at the line and more explosive on contact. I've not been a huge fan, so I'm happy to be wrong.
Every year it seems we go through this same conversation. Relax and wait until week six. Heck, since Brady won't be back until week five you'd better wait until week seven. It's only by then that we'll have an accurate sense of where this team could be headed.
OK, you can put down the bag.
And get off the train.