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What Offensive Revolution? The Undefeated Niners and Patriots Are Winning With D

San Francisco, led by freakish rookie Nick Bosa, and New England are a combined 15–0 thanks to historically dominant defensive seasons. In New Orleans, Drew Brees was welcomed back, and the Saints got a huge boost from Latavius Murray when another offensive anchor was sidelined. And don’t look now, but after another last-second heartbreaker (this time a W), the Chargers are right back in the AFC West race.
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Is 2019 becoming the year that the ’18 offensive revolution has met its defensive match?

When I presented the idea to a number of high-profile defensive players on Sunday night, I faced the kind of response you’d expect from guys on that side of the ball—in a word, resistance. Because as these guys saw it, nothing in their world had changed.

“It’s always, ‘Defense wins championships.’ I don’t think that will ever leave our game,” 49ers corner Richard Sherman says, after his team’s 51–13 destruction of a Panthers team that had won four straight. “I think playing defense is the only way you can win a Super Bowl in this league. I mean great offenses have won, obviously it’s happened. But last year in the Super Bowl, it was a low-scoring game, it was a defensive game.”

“No matter what in this league, you can’t win consistently without playing good defense,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty says, a few hours after his team took out Cleveland 27–13. “And as the games get bigger and bigger, you have to be a good team overall—offense, defense and special teams.”

“You’re gonna say it was an offensive revolution last year. We still held Zeke Elliott under 100, we still held Saquon Barkley under 75,” Saints defensive Cam Jordan says after his team snapped Arizona’s three-game winning streak with a 31–9 win in which New Orleans limited the Cards to 40 yards on the ground. “Whatever it was last year, our defense was still holding guys under 100 yards. So I guess we didn’t know there was an offensive revolution going on.”

And all that’s fine. But even if Jordan and the rest of those guys didn’t hear it, offense really was all we were talking about as a football-watching country at this time last year.

Now? Well, if you look at the headlines coming from Week 8, it’s clear that the antithesis is unfolding right in front of our eyes, even if it’s not as easy a discussion to have as the one everyone reveled in last year.

• The 49ers’ top-ranked defense, sparked by 22-year-old terror Nick Bosa, keyed that blowout over the Panthers, moving San Francisco to 7–0 on the season.

• The Patriots’ second-ranked defense had its worst statistical day in a month, and that was still enough to bludgeon Baker Mayfield and hold the Browns to 13 points in Foxboro.

• The Saints got Drew Brees back, and made it look like that was just icing on the cake, keeping Kliff Kingsbury’s red-hot Cardinals out of the end zone.

Now, this doesn’t mean that in two or three weeks, we won’t all be marveling at some skill-position star’s mind-boggling numbers. But it does mean that while everyone was looking the other way, defenses found ways to fight back.

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It’s not quite the halfway point of the season—if my math is correct, that actually comes sometime Wednesday—but half of the league’s teams are halfway through the 2019 season. And, as such, we have a lot to get to here in your Monday morning column. Including…

• The Saints’ post-Brees injury survival.

• The Patriots’ age-defying defense.

• The 49ers defense’s captain explaining the rise of its new star.

• Bill Belichick gets No. 300.

But we’re going to start with a quick synopsis of what I feel like has been an underlying, underrated storyline this fall.

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Would you believe that both the 49ers and Patriots are pacing at historic levels on defense? It’s true. Let’s compare their numbers through eight weeks (the Niners have only played seven games) to units that are rightfully remembered with reverence in the 100-year history of the league.

1985 Bears: 305.6 yards per game, 13.13 points per game

2000 Ravens: 251.4 yards per game, 11.13 points per game

2002 Bucs: 237.9 yards per game, 8.75 points per game

2019 49ers: 224.4 yards per game, 11.0 points per game

2019 Patriots: 234.0 yards per game, 7.6 points per game