A week ago I may have predicted New England would win by 14. Boy was I w-r-o-n-g. I may also have assumed the defense would have plugged some holes and figured out at least the biggie communication kinks by kickoff. Ho, ho... that was wa-a-ay off - In fact, every Pats-Panthers post mortem podcast, gif, and breakdown I’ve viewed so far showed it was even worse. But hey, I’m lucky to be a Patriots fan who can confidently predict victory every week and be right most of the time.
More importantly, Stephon Gilmore held himself accountable this past week, vowing to ‘get better on communication.’ Bill Belichick stated the coaches have to coach better. Tom Brady refuses to blame the defense, taking it on himself and the offense to score more points than their opponent. Team leaders McCourty, Hightower and Gronkowski have all faced the media and expressed commitment to ‘do better’ and keep working until the problems are fixed. No finger-pointing, no singling out any player by name, no lashing out on social media and no panic.
Accountability may not translate directly to a W in the standings but it is a measure of the men in the locker room. Nice to see them set an example in adversity and not turn on each other in frustration. That’s a win in my book. On to Tampa Bay!
Around the AFC East:
New England (2-2) at Tampa Bay (2-1)
Buffalo (3-1) at Cincinnati (1-3)
NY Jets (2-2) at Cleveland (0-4)
Miami (1-2) vs. Tennessee (2-2)
Kansas City (4-0) at Houston (2-2)
Pittsburgh (3-1) vs. Jacksonville (2-2)
Oakland (2-2) vs. Baltimore (2-2)
Indianapolis (1-3) vs. San Francisco (0-4)
LA Chargers (0-4) at NY Giants (0-4)
5th - Staff (SI).
7th - Experts (ESPN): It's a great advantage having Tom Brady, but it's not so great when your defense turns opponents into Tom Brady. The Patriots' defense has allowed a higher completion percentage, more passing touchdowns and more yards per attempt than Brady has thrown this season.
7th - Chris Simms (Bleacher Report): I don't think I've ever seen the New England Patriots blow as many coverages in a four-week period as we've seen this year. I'm shocked how often we've seen receivers running completely uncovered through the New England secondary. This defense is poor...there's no other way to put it. There's no difference-maker in the front seven, and the Patriots cannot cover well enough to get off the field on third downs. We cannot expect Tom Brady to make magic in the fourth quarter every week. Speaking of Brady, is it me, or does he seem to miss the easy throws and make the remarkable ones? ...
7th - Mark Cannizzaro (NY Post): Not ready to bury Tom Brady and Co. yet, but last-place ranking on defense is major concern.
7th - Manish Mehta (NY Daily News): Tom Brady is still an ageless wonder, but can a 40-year-old Superman overcome this incredibly horrific defense? The Hoodie will have a short week to figure out how to plug all of New England’s defensive leaks.
7th - Ian Glendon (Cover32): Ceiling: This team with Brady and Belichick, are always a Super Bowl or bust team. Despite their early defensive struggles, this team is still a favorite for the Super Bowl. Floor: With said defensive problems, the Patriots could realistically be looking at a 10/11 win season, which, by their standards, is a poor season as they likely would struggle to win the division.
8th - Staff (AP Pro32).
9th - Joshua Schrock (NESN): It’s time to panic about the Patriots’ league-worst defense that was shredded by the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. As good as Tom Brady is, he only can do so much.
9th - Mark Maske (Washington Post): It’s stunning that the defense is this bad right now. The Patriots re-signed LB Dont’a Hightower (although he’d been sidelined with a knee injury until returning Sunday), retained CB Malcolm Butler and added CB Stephon Gilmore in the offseason after leading the league in scoring defense last season. Some scrutiny must be aimed at defensive coordinator Matt Patricia; there is also room to wonder whether backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo should have been traded in the offseason for help on defense. Even the customary late-game exploits of QB Tom Brady are not enough at this point. But this might just mean that everyone will be saying, “Remember when the Patriots were 1-2 at home and 2-2 overall?” as they celebrate another Super Bowl title in February.
9th - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): Their defense is a disaster. Is it fixable? If not, can Tom Brady bail them out all season long?
11th - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): A defense led by Devin McCourty and Dont'a Hightower shouldn't be that lost under Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick. But this problem is going on four weeks. This would not be close to a .500 team without Brady. This week: at Buccaneers, a midweek test for the pass D.
11th - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): I can go through all the possible reasons and theories and try to explain it, but if we’re being honest? It makes zero sense why the Patriots defense is suddenly this bad. It’s inexplicable. They’re on pace, after a quarter of the season, to give up the most yards in NFL history. And still, I know there’s no way they remain ranked this low for long.
12th - Staff (USA Today): If the Redcoats had faced this defense, we'd all still be eating tea and crumpets at mid-afternoon every day.
12th - Elliot Harrison (NFL.com): Crazy game at Gillette, and a 2-2 start for the defending champs. Of course, 2-2 feels like 2-6 with the Patriots. What is this New England team? A Super Bowl contender off to a slow start, a la the Seahawks in recent years? Or a quarterback-centric outfit masking a lousy defense? Sounds like the Packers of last year, or the Saints of every year. To his immense credit, Tom Brady almost pulled another panther out of his hat, leading the Patriots on two touchdown drives late in the fourth quarter to tie the game. The secondary couldn't get a stop. Minus Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jamie Collins and every other quality defender this group has lost, the Pats might continue to not get stops.
12th - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): Maybe it would be a good thing to trade Jimmy Garoppolo to the Browns.
12th - Luke Miller (Metro): It looked for a moment as though the Patriots might avoid defeat at Foxborough in the same narrow fashion they did a week ago against Houston. It wasn’t to be this Sunday. Troubling stats for New England, no matter how well Tom Brady performs: after being taken apart by Cam Newton, DeShaun Watson, Drew Brees (okay,) and Alex Smith, the Patriots defense has allowed 457 yards and 32 points per game. That’s 60 more yards than any other team. Sidenote: Bill Belichick will probably sort it out.
15th - Joe Giglio (NJ.com): This Patriots defense is bad. If Bill Belichick can't fix it, the Patriots will go from talk of 16-0 to in trouble very, very fast.
19th - Adam Stites (SB Nation): How in the world did a Bill Belichick-coached team get a defense this bad? No team in the NFL has given up more yards and 128 points is the most the Patriots have ever allowed through four games. Tom Brady is still shredding opposing secondaries, but it’s going to be a problem if New England needs his late-game heroics on a weekly basis like it did in a dramatic win over the Texans in Week 3.
AVERAGE RANK: 9.3 (-6.6)