Over the first eight games of the post-Tom Brady era, the New England Patriots had their fair share of struggles while stumbling out of the gates to a 3-5 record. They kept turning the football over, were unable to build much of an offensive rhythm and identity, struggled to defend the run and at times even the pass, and were inconsequential when it came to special teams play. In short, they were a massively inconsistent team in all three phases.
While some of those issues improved on a week-to-week basis, others kept popping up. Entering Week 10’s matchup against the 6-2 Baltimore Ravens, New England had therefore not played a full 60 minutes of solid football since the start of the season. Versus the Ravens and as 7-point underdogs despite playing at home, however, the Patriots delivered their most impressive win to date not just because of the 23-17 final score.
No, New England was also back to playing its signature brand of football. For at least one game, the Patriots were playing Patriots football again.
“Really proud of how the team competed, coming off a short week and getting ready for a team that’s obviously not only a good football team but a hard team to prepare for offensively, defensively, their kicking game,” said head coach Bill Belichick after the contest. “They present a lot of schematic problems, and I thought our guys really put a lot of extra time in the preparation and went out there and competed really hard for 60 minutes.
“It was a tough, physical game. I’m proud of the way our guys played. We ran the ball pretty competitively, stopped the run competitively, took advantage of our scoring opportunities and just played a good, solid 60-minute football game — which is what it takes against the Ravens.”
Trying to define the aforementioned brand of football played by the Belichick-era Patriots would push the boundaries of this here forum right now, so let’s just focus on one of the basic pillars upon which it has been constructed: Just don’t be the team shooting itself in the foot, okay?
Of course, New England was that team quite a bit over the first half of its season. Whether that meant making avoidable mistakes like turning the football over or just not taking advantage of opportunities — *cough* Seattle *cough* Denver *cough* Buffalo — the result was generally the same; the Patriots competed in all but one of their five losses but at the end of the day were just not able to string enough plays together to come away victoriously.
Sunday’s game against the Ravens was a reverse of course in this sense. Not only did New England win the turnover battle 3-0 when counting fourth down stops, the team also played an impressive sequence around halftime to turn a 7-10 deficit into a 20-10 lead.
After scoring a touchdown on a well-executed double-pass from Cam Newton to Jakobi Meyers to Rex Burkhead to go up 13-10, the defense stopped Baltimore’s next drive thanks to a J.C. Jackson interception that ended the half. Coming out of the locker room, the offense delivered a quick four-play drive that covered 75 yards and ended with a Newton touchdown run from four yards out.
It was complementary football at its finest.
“That’s extremely big for us to play complementary football in those situations,” Newton said after the game. “Not only to score, it’s the timeliness of those scores. Right at the end of the half, for J.C. to get a much-needed pick to stop their surge trying to score before the half. And for us to come back, getting the ball back, and capitalizing on that, I think we’ve done that two weeks in a row. It’s just to keep the momentum in our favor. For us, those are big momentum shifts.”
Newton’s head coach shared a similar sentiment when speaking about the sequence after the game.
“It was huge. Those points before the half and then, if you can pick those up to start the third quarter, you have a chance for a swing there. Our offense did a great job before the half and then drove the ball, hit a couple of junk runs there,” Belichick said.
“We were able to complete enough in the passing game to complement the running game. Josh [McDaniels] and the offensive staff had a great game plan; Josh as usual called a great game, did a nice job of keeping the Ravens off-balance defensively. The complementary football — offense, defense using the end-of-the-half situation — that worked out well for us tonight.”
Playing this type of football, especially against one of the better teams in the league, was not seen around these parts ever since Tom Brady left in free agency during the offseason. Brady’s successor, however, played a big role in making it happen by completing all three of his pass attempts on those two drives around intermission and carrying the football twice for eight yards and a score.
“For us to play the way we’ve been playing here lately, that’s what you want your team to be doing: find a way, and trying to find our identity as an offense, playing complementary football, defense as well as special teams. That’s where our meter is pointing upwards.”
If the game against Baltimore is any indication, this sure seems to be the case.