As you probably have heard by now, the New England Patriots struggled mightily against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. The team was inefficient on offense, beaten through the air and on the ground on defense, and again gave up multiple big plays in the kicking game. It was a total demolition — but one that should be kept in perspective as every little detail tends to get magnified after a loss.
Let’s therefore take a look at six reasons for optimism moving forward.
The Patriots are getting healthier
New England traveled to Tennessee without right guard Shaq Mason and deactivated tight end Rob Gronkowski before the game. Both of them are on their way back and should return to the lineup on November 25. The injuries suffered by running back Sony Michel and wide receiver Josh Gordon will also get better, all while cornerback Duke Dawson returns off injured reserve — as will running back Rex Burkhead soon. All in all, the Patriots should be at the healthiest they have been all year coming out of the bye.
The Patriots control their own destiny
While the team’s chances of earning a first-round playoff bye have taken a hit on Sunday, the Patriots still very much control their own destiny when it comes to playoff seeding: the team will play the Pittsburgh Steelers — the main rival for the number two seed alongside the current number one, the Kansas City Chiefs — in week 15. A win in Pittsburgh will give New England the head-to-head advantage over the Steelers, something it already has versus the Chiefs.
The Patriots still have Brady and Belichick
The last time we checked the team’s media guide, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick were still in it — and they are a big reason why fans should feel confident in the Patriots. While Brady is having a statistical down-year, he is projected to bounce back once all the pieces around him have returned at full strength. This plus a two-week span to reflect and work on mechanical errors should help with the issues that have plagued him so far this season. Meanwhile, Belichick still leads a coaching staff that has historically been able to adapt to situations better than any other.
The Patriots don’t have any prime time games left on their schedule
While this appears to be a minor reason for optimism, it still cannot be ignored: the Patriots not being scheduled to play any more prime time games this regular season should help their overall preparation. No more short weeks means a better practice and rehabilitation rhythm. And even though the game against Pittsburgh could in theory be flexed out, it will likely be protected by CBS and stay in its slot. Therefore, the Patriots will only play Sunday afternoon games moving forward.
The Patriots have not yet reached their ceiling
In stretches, the Patriots looked unstoppable this season. The team has still not reached its full potential, however, especially on offense. Getting injured players back will not be the sole reason for that, but it should still make the unit harder to defend while simultaneously allowing Brady to get more comfortable in the entire construct that is the Patriots’ 2018 offense. Likewise, the defense also has plenty of room left to grow and needs to continue improving its consistency. Games like the one against the Chiefs (the first half at least) and the Green Bay Packers have already shown the unit’s potential. And if it can consistently play up to it, this will be a dangerous football team.
The Patriots’ flaws are correctable
Tom Brady’s physical abilities — despite some claims to the contrary — are still fine, while the rest of the team is also not lacking serious talent at the starting positions. The main problems that have plagued New England so far this season are simply based on consistency and all it entails: the team has been unable to string positive plays together in all three phases to play good football for 60 minutes. The good news is that all this can be fixed through proper coaching and a focus on fundamentals, technique, and improved communication and decision making on all levels. If those things get better — and they can — the Patriots’ consistency and on-field success should as well.
Could 2018 mark the end of the Patriots’ dynastic run? It certainly could, sure, and Sunday’s game in Tennessee might very well turn out to be the moment the team’s demise started. That being said, New England has shown time and again in the past that it should not be counted out at any time. Why would this year be any different, just because the team has not dominated teams like it has at times in the past?
Yes, there are concerns. Tom Brady needs to make better decisions, Rob Gronkowski cannot be counted on to stay healthy for the rest of the year, the defense has played only a handful of good to really good games. But as noted above, nothing is as bad as it seems and the combination of talent on the field and on the sidelines should be enough to right the ship again and return it to its course. Just like every year.