The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Disappointed, But Not Discouraged

Posted on | September 11, 2023 | Comments Off on Disappointed, But Not Discouraged

The New England Patriots lost their season-opener to the Philadelphia Eagles, 25-20, and this result was in many ways discouraging. As in several close games over the psst couple of years, the Patriots made stupid mistakes and failed in crucial situations late in the game. A loss is a loss, and any effort to find a “moral victory” in Sunday’s result does not change the fact that New England is now 0-1 and lost on their home field.

However (and you knew this was coming), as a Patriots fan, I’m actually encouraged by the team’s first regular-season performance. Several questions that had arisen about the team were answered Sunday in a manner that inspires hope that New England could make a run at the playoffs this year. Other observers shared that opinion, including Patriot Nation Podcast co-host Pat Lane, whose takeaways from the Philly game included these points:

1. The New England defense is legit . . .
2. Mac Jones looks fine …


6. The offensive line holds up surprisingly well . . .

Exactly so. Taking these in reverse order, New England fans have spent the past six months fretting about the offensive line, especially the question of who would play right tackle, opposite of veteran Trent Brown at left tackle (who has been widely criticized himself). The Patriots didn’t draft a tackle, instead adding three guards in the later rounds of the draft, and then acquiring some “journeyman” type tackles through trades and free agency. The thing you have to understand about the NFL is that top-quality offensive tackles are highly valued, so that it’s hard to acquire one except by drafting them in the first or second round.

My brother angered me during Sunday’s game when he remarked that Bill Belichick has assembled a “Gucci defense and a Dollar General offense.” After the game, however, I laughed at the uncanny accuracy of this description. A former defensive back who made his bones as a coach when he was defensive coordinator for the New York Giants under Bill Parcells, Belichick has always prioritized defense, an attitude that didn’t really hurt the Patriots’ chances when they had the miracle worker Tom Brady at quarterback. But that preference for drafting defensive players in the early rounds (and refusing to pay top dollar for free-agent talent on offense) has created problems for New England in the post-Brady years.

Rather than go into a detailed discussion of this — which I’m sure most of my readers don’t care about — the No. 1 question I had going into Sunday’s game was whether the Patriots’ makeshift assemblage of offensive linemen would be able to protect Jones, or whether he’d spend the day running for his life or getting pounded into the turf by Philadelphia’s phenomenal pass rushers. New England started two rookies, Atonio Mafi and Sidy Sow, at left and right guard, because the regular starting guards (Cole Strange and Michael Onwenu) were both injured. Calvin Anderson (acquired through free agency from the Broncos) got the start at right tackle, with veteran center David Andrews anchoring the resulting patchwork line and . . .

They weren’t really bad at all. Mac Jones came under pressure many times, but he was only sacked twice. Much credit for that no doubt belongs to New England’s offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, who schemed up a lot of plays where Jones could make quick-release passes before the Eagles defense could get to him. And that was the defense, mind you, that got Philadelphia all the way to the Super Bowl last season.

After an early interception — tipped off the hands of receiver Kendrick Bourne into the hands of Eagles cornerback Darius Slay, who returned it for a touchdown — Jones was excellent at quarterback, completing 35 of 54 passing attempts (64.8%) for 316 yards and three TDs. He also ran for a first down during a touchdown drive late in the first half, and also scrambled for 7 yards (and got out of bounds to stop the clock) during the fourth-quarter drive that ended when rookie wide receiver Kayshon Boutte failed to get both feet inbounds on a catch that otherwise would have given the Patriots a first-and-goal at the Philadelphia 8-yard-line.

While the pessimist would point out that Jones wasn’t quite good enough to win the game for New England, he can’t really be blamed for the loss, either. And, as I say, they were playing against the defending NFC champions, with two rookies starting on the offensive line. For Mac to have done as well as he did under such circumstances, certainly Patriots fans can hope to see a highly competitive offense going forward, especially once the veteran guards get healthy and return to the lineup.

Finally, yes, the Patriots defense is legit. They were able to hold Philly’s dual-threat QB Jalen Hurts to just 170 yards passing and 37 yards running, limiting the Eagles to barely 250 yards total offense, and making several big plays, including a hard-hitting tackle by safety Jabrill Peppers that forced a fumble, and a sack by rookie cornerback Christian Gonzales.

Going into the season opener, even with home-field advantage, I think I was not alone in fearing that the Patriots would get blown out by the Eagles, and when New England quickly fell behind 16-0, it was heartbreaking, but not entirely unexpected. To see the Patriots claw their way back into contention, with two TD drives before halftime, gave me a lot of hope, and for New England to be playing with a chance to win in the final seconds was better than most sober observed had expected.

All in all, I think Patriots fans can be proud of how their team played Sunday, which you can’t say for fans of the Bengals (who lost 24-3 to the rival Browns), the Steelers (who got stomped 30-7 by the 49ers), the Bears (who were defeated 38-20 by the Packers) or the Giants, who were humiliated 40-0 in prime time Sunday night. Losing a close game to the Eagles was discouraging, but it wasn’t embarrassing — hang your head in shame, Giants fans — and I feel good about the rest of the season.



Comments are closed.