The New England Patriots started off the year looking like they'd be the same old Patriots, chugging along through the season and winning games they have no business winning en route to a playoff berth. Then the injury bug and COVID-19 struck the team hard and they spiraled for a few weeks, losing awful games to the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers. It led to pieces declaring the Patriots are bad and their demise is not as fun as we all imagined.
Last week's Monday Night Football matchup with the Jets did little to dissuade that notion. The Patriots won, but Joe Flacco toasted the defense and New England was losing to the winless Jets by 10 points before needing a last-second field goal to come away with a win. Ahead of Sunday night's prime time game against the Baltimore Ravens, one of the best teams in the AFC, it seemed inevitable that the final nail would be put in this Patriots season as a loss would have dropped them to 3-6 with little reprieve coming from the schedule over the next four weeks.
But then, the Patriots won. Aided in no small amount by the notorious Foxborough weather (and perhaps the storm machine Bill Belichick definitely has in the locker room), New England managed to stifle reigning MVP Lamar Jackson and did just enough on offense to come away with a 23-17 victory. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called a great game as the Patriots dominated on the ground and wide receiver Jakobi Meyers threw a gorgeous touchdown pass. Cornerback J.C. Jackson continued on his upward trajectory with a great game and yet another interception, giving him an NFL-high six on the season so far.
This game did not prove the Patriots are not the team we thought they were. Quite the opposite, in fact. They won through the force of their ground game and creative play-calling. They didn't play from behind for the last three quarters, permitting the offense to stick with the run. Their secondary, even without reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore, prevented big plays and came up with timely stops on third down. It was exactly the type of game everyone thought New England would play after Cam Newton signed.
So it doesn't seem like the Patriots are going to collapse and end up with a top-five pick in the draft, as was the popular view after their two consecutive losses to middling teams in San Francisco and Denver. They still have a long way to go, though. The weather played a rather significant factor in this week's win, and more importantly, the schedule is not going to get easier. Next week will bring a matchup with the sorry Houston Texans, but after that, New England will play the Cardinals, Chargers, Rams, and Bills. Only the Chargers have a losing record, and they have yet to lose a game by more than one score.
The Patriots aren't dead yet, but they're a long way from the promised land of postseason football. Health, as it is for most teams, is paramount. When New England's offensive line is healthy, it's easily one of the best units in the league. Thanks to the lack of talent at the skill positions, the Patriots rely on their line in ways few other teams do. In a similar vein, those skill positions are so thin that losing anybody at all will force practice squad players into starting spots. Above all else, if the Patriots fall behind by more than one score, they will always have an extremely difficult time climbing back into the game. Such is life when running the ball is a team's best strategy, by a long shot, to produce offensively.
Still, no need to bury them quite yet. The Patriots have made a habit of winning games they have no business winning this century. They pulled off one last night. Time to see if they can do it a few more times.