It was so much easier to write about the 2019 Patriots heading into Week 7. The team was 6-0, easily holding the number one ranking across the board. It was so boring the experts were openly rooting for the moment something would happen and - FINALLY - there would be a new top dog to hype up, and they could move on from the bleeping Patriots. 18 years of dominance is an eternity in sports and too much for anyone to have to bear.
Anyone but us.
The one fly in that season’s undefeated soup? As I wrote then, “But for now, the Patriots are staying afloat on the buoyancy of the defense while Brady and the lifeboat offense do enough to win.” The Patriots made it to 8-0 before the experts got their wish and the team lost five of the next nine games, including a one-and-done wild-card clunker vs. the Titans.
Clearly, 2020 hasn’t been smooth sailing for the Patriots. At 2-3, New England has started to drift into ‘average rankings’ water. Can’t even wrap my head around that thought so I’ll go with my optimistic flow. With the facility reopened, a full week of practice and perhaps some veterans returning —or at least actual practice time with the players available, I’m predicting the offense and the team will look significantly better this week. (Low bar, I know.) The defense just needs to keep on doing the heavy lifting.
Patriots start to turn this ship around on Sunday, beating the 49ers and Jimmy “The one that got away” Garoppolo. Hang in there everyone, don’t bail out yet.
Around the AFC East:
Miami Dolphins (3-3) - Bye
Baltimore Ravens (5-1) - Bye
Indianapolis Colts (4-2) Bye
12th - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): It’s hard to win games without practice, especially with a roster full of new pieces. (LW: 6)
12th - Dan Hanzus (NFL.com): The Patriots were unable to practice much at all over the past two weeks as they dealt with COVID-19 issues, and it looked that way for the offense in an 18-12 loss to the Broncos. New England managed just 288 total yards and turned it over three times, including a pair of Cam Newton interceptions in the QB’s return from his own coronavirus-related absence. The defense deserves credit for holding the Broncos to six field goals, and two late Drew Lock interceptions pumped life back into the team. It wasn’t enough, however, and the Pats are under .500 through five games for the first time in 18 years. Nobody said life without Tom Brady would be easy. (LW: 11)
13th - Nick Goss (NBC Sports Boston): The Patriots played awful against the Broncos and lost, 18-12, in Foxboro. New England is under .500 in October for the first time since 2002. The Patriots also entered Week 6 with a 39-0 record under head coach Bill Belichick when not allowing a single touchdown. Denver snapped that streak Sunday. (LW: 8)
14th - NFL Nation (ESPN): Most impactful injury: C David Andrews. The starting center and captain suffered a hand injury during a Week 2 loss to the Seahawks and missed the past three games, two of which the Patriots lost. That has led to some major shuffling along the offensive line. The results showed up in a big way in a surprising Week 6 loss to the Broncos in which the Patriots opened with one combination up front and then switched it around considerably after an in-game injury to right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor. When things get shaky up front, the entire offense falters. (LW: 11)
14th - Nate Davis (USA Today): They’d been above .500 through five weeks for a league record 18 straight seasons ... but a lot has changed in New England this year. (LW: 4)
15th - Sean T. McGuire (NESN): The Patriots suffered their most disappointing loss of the season Sunday, falling to the Denver Broncos at home. The Cam Newton-led offense looked lost. (LW: 10)
16th - Peter Botte (NY Post). (LW 12)
16th - Danny Kelly (The Ringer): Contenders. (LW: 11)
16th - Consensus (Bleacher Report): The New England Patriots have hit a rough patch as of late. Both quarterback Cam Newton and cornerback Stephon Gilmore tested positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks. Sunday’s game with the Denver Broncos was supposed to have been played a week ago. Given how the game turned out, the Pats probably would have rather not played at all.
New England got Newton back for Week 6, but he didn’t play well. The Patriots turned the ball over three times (including two Newton interceptions), allowed four sacks and converted only four of 13 third-down attempts.
Mind you, this was a game where the New England defense held the Broncos out of the end zone. Denver quarterback Drew Lock was terrible and the Broncos didn’t crack 300 yards of offense, yet New England still lost. And now, five games into the season, the Pats are a sub-.500 team.
“I’m starting to believe this team doesn’t have enough left to keep the dynasty alive with even a playoff berth.” Gagnon said. “The roster really is below average, and there’s not much even Bill Belichick can do about that. You can’t lose at home to the Broncos in their current shape.” (LW: 12)
17th - Mitch Goldich (SI): Several teams have had their seasons derailed by COVID-19, but few have been impacted more than the Patriots, who had their schedule moved around, lost several key players, lost significant practice time and lost their starting QB for some time. Cam Newton returned to the lineup Sunday, but it felt like a long time had passed since the opening weeks of the season when he made even non-Patriots fans seem to soften and find joy in an exciting new chapter in Foxboro. Not many people want to have sympathy for Bill Belichick or Patriots fans this year (and he wasn’t necessarily asking for it), but the coach had a fair point when he spoke about a lack of practice time after the loss to Denver. I expect them to get back on track. (LW: 12)
18th - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): Since a huge game at Seattle in Week 2, Julian Edelman has seven catches for 66 yards in three games. It’s not like anyone else for the Patriots is catching the ball. Edelman is 34 years old, and there’s no guarantee he’ll rebound to his normal form. That’s yet another concern for the Patriots offense. (LW: 15)
18th - Mark Maske (Washington Post): Not practicing didn’t work nearly as well for the Patriots as it did a week ago for the Titans. No one should count out a Bill Belichick-coached team. Not now. Not ever. But the loss at home to the Broncos was troubling, and the Patriots are not very good at this point. Belichick must get it fixed. (LW: 12)
20th - Mark Schofield (TouchdownWire): Back before the New England Patriots signed Cam Newton, many argued that if Jarrett Stidham was indeed the plan at quarterback, then they would be relying on a defense — one of the best in the league a year ago ‘- to win them some 17-14 rock-fights in an era when such games are the exception, not the rule. This is not the 1980s anymore, as much as my wardrobe might beg to differ…
This game set up in many ways like one of those rock-fights the Patriots were envisioning this offseason. The Denver Broncos scored on their first six possessions, but only field goals on each, so even as the game entered into the fourth quarter, the Patriots were still effectively in position to make this a contest. They then forced two interceptions of Drew Lock in the final quarter, notching a touchdown and a field goal, to make it a one-possession game. Then, they got their offense one more shot at the win, with the ball and three minutes to go.
Only this time, Cam Newton could not close the deal.
The Patriots are still a work in progress, particularly on the offensive side of the football. They were playing with minimal practice time and with a patchwork offensive line, a situation made worse when Jermaine Eluemunor, the starting right tackle, was lost early when Newton rolled up on him during a sack. Newton threw a pair of interceptions, both on tipped passes, and the offense was largely out of sync all afternoon.
Yet they still had a chance to win.
It might not be enough to keep them among the elite teams in the AFC, but it might be enough to get them into the postseason. Who knows, the Patriots could be this year’s proverbial “team no one wants to face in the playoffs,” after being on the opposite side of so many such meetings in the past two decades. (LW: 14)
21st - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): Who are these Patriots? They have a very good defense with some potential in the traditional running game, but there’s too much on Cam Newton to save the day with a limited receiving corps and breaking-down blocking. There’s no time to take it easy and figure it out with the 49ers and the Bills next. (LW: 11)
AVG. RANK: 14.8 [last week: 10.9]