Last Sunday brought dismay for folks in New England who support the Patriots. The team managed to keep it close until the last few moments, when Graham Gano hit a 48-yard field goal to close out the game with a win for the Panthers. The Patriots did a few things well, but overall looked sloppy on the field; a rare statement this well into the season. After a rough game against the Carolina Panthers, the Patriots will look to regroup quickly for a Thursday night matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Just what do the Patriots need to figure out for their Thursday night matchup?
It starts with and ends with defense. The Patriots defense looked abysmal at times and very reminiscent of watching a JV high school team struggle to figure out individual assignments and defensive plays. Newly acquired cornerback Stephon Gillmore attributed the play to a lack of communication, but communication isn’t the only problem being shown on the field.
The Panthers truly looked like the 2015 Panthers of old last Sunday, and Cam Newton looked like MVP season Cam Newton. Cam, who has struggled since his MVP season with nagging injuries and consistency, managed to throw for 316 yards and 3 touchdowns to go with 44 yards rushing. This isn’t new, last week rookie QB Deshaun Watson threw for 301 yards and 2 touchdowns (and ran for 41 yards), in week 2 Drew Brees threw for 356 yards and 2 touchdowns, and in the season opener Alex Smith threw for 368 yards and 4 touchdowns. Smell the similarity? By the way, all of these quarterbacks have statistically had their best game of the season against New England (aside from Watson’s game against the Titans, but this can be argued because he posted more yardage against New England).
As mentioned in my article last week, the linebacking core for New England is rather weak this year, forcing Hightower to play strictly middle linebacker instead of giving him the option of moving around. The Patriots very much lack a successful pass-rushing player as well, letting Chris Long and Jaime Collins go while Rob Ninkovich retired. Lastly, the secondary now has ‘errors in communication’. There is literally a problem with every facet of the Patriots defense. This doesn’t feel like a situation that will get better as the year goes on, nor does it seem like something Tom Brady will be able to carry us through.
Whether you think he’s going to retire soon or not, the fact is that Tom Brady is an old man in the NFL. The concept that was behind trading away draft picks for proven players and obtaining talented players while shelling out money is this: Tom Brady is 40, the Patriots need to make it as easy as possible for him to perform the way he does. This means loading up with offensive weapons, a solid offensive line, and a defense that can cause some damage. So far, the team has been dealt some issues with every piece of this, but Brady has performed well. Still, a team is not built for success if they’re completely reliant on a 40-year-old player bailing them out every fourth quarter. It just can’t happen every game. As we’ve seen the past two weeks, if the game gets close at the end sometimes we will win and sometimes we will lose.
What should the Patriots expect with the Buccaneers?
The Bucs have a few options on the defensive front 7 that will likely cause some pressure and havoc, but overall Brady should be able to play the offense per-usual like the last few weeks. Brady found success against Carolina in running a spread offense; I think with another solid front 7 this may be the answer yet again. The Patriots defense is in for a lot as long as Jameis Winston is up for the challenge, as the Bucs have a top wide receiver in Mike Evans and a constant deep threat in Desean Jackson. There is an ongoing fight for the starting spot at Tight End between Cam Brate and OJ Howard, both are performing very well early on in the year.
The Patriots need to get things figured out and they only have a few days to do so. If not, we may be in for a very long season.