The NFL Films documentary series Do Your Job, which was filmed after each of the New England Patriots’ last three Super Bowl victories, features a scene in which the team’s research director speaks about practice: Ernie Adams talked about the importance of preparation ahead of the Patriots’ title game against the Seattle Seahawks, and how so-called “game day players” do not exist.
Fast forward five years, and the value of practicing is again on full display and with New England’s sloppy 18-12 loss against the Denver Broncos as the most recent reminder. Especially on the offensive side of the ball the team struggled to get into a rhythm and onto the same page after having a truncated practice schedule ever since quarterback Cam Newton tested positive for the novel Coronavirus ahead of Week 4.
After Newton’s diagnosis, and with other players within the organization also testing positive, the Patriots were able to hit the practice fields only twice in a two-week span. Unsurprisingly, execution was a major issue for the club against Denver — something Bill Belichick also acknowledged following his team’s third loss of the season.
“We need more time together. We need to practice together. We need to execute, and do everything better. No question about that,” the Patriots’ head coach said during his postgame video conference call.
“It’s the same for everybody on the team: nobody’s practiced, I mean, we all need to do more practice. We need to get our execution levels up a lot higher.”
As noted above, the Patriots’ inability to practice due to Covid-19 hurt the offense in particular. The unit struggled to generate momentum against the Broncos, and ended the game with three turnovers and only 12 points as well as 288 yards. Despite the defense holding Denver without a touchdown, New England’s offense repeatedly failed to capitalize.
One additional reason for that was some serious personnel turnover up front. The Patriots’ offensive line, which already had to enter the game without two starters — center David Andrews (injured reserve) and right guard Shaq Mason (Reserve/Covid-19) — also lost right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor to what appeared to be a serious ankle injury in the first quarter. With him absent, New England had to shuffle its already thin O-line once again.
“It was a big challenge,” Belichick said after the game. “Playing without guys, getting guys hurt, moving around, had some guys that haven’t played together much, haven’t practiced together much. We need to get on the field. We need to practice. We need to develop some continuity as a team, but especially there.”
Time will tell whether or not the Patriots will get more chances to practice in the coming days after four more players were sent to the Coronavirus reserve list just this weekend. One thing is certain, though, especially after watching today’s game: the team’s long-term success and outlook this season very much depend on it. To get back at, and later above .500, New England has a lot of work to do.
Getting the opportunity to do that work will be key.