Judgements VII: Yes, it's every bit as dreadful in New England as it looks
It’s time to stop wondering about the New England Patriots and time to start worrying about them.
At 2-4 they’re off to their worst start since 2000, and they just suffered their third straight defeat for the first time since 2002. So what? Well, so both those dates are significant. Because in both those years they missed the playoffs.
After Sunday’s 33-6 hammering by San Francisco, they seem headed there again.
There are losses, and there are bad losses. And this defeat was so dreadful that quarterback Cam Newton was benched, Julian Edelman threw his helmet in frustration and the defense was shredded for 467 yards – including 301 in the first half. Worse, the 27-point margin was the Patriots’ worst home loss in the Bill Belichick era.
“No sugar-coating it,” a Boston Globe headline read. “The Patriots just stink.”
No argument here.
Look, I know it’s early, but it’s hard to imagine the Patriots as a factor in the division they dominated the past 11 years. Of course, that was when they had Tom Brady at quarterback, and his departure has exposed the bad drafts and questionable personnel moves he worked to overcome.
But it’s not just Brady’s departure burying the Patriots. There’s been an exodus of key players, including unrestricted free agents, Rob Gronkowski, defensive playmakers and eight veterans – including defensive leader Dont’a Hightower -- who opted out this season because of COVID.
Put them together, and it’s clear New England is no longer the team to beat in the AFC East. Buffalo is. It’s also clear that there is no compelling reason to believe the Patriots reach the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.
Granted, Bill Belichick is a great strategist and does more with less than most. But he’s not a great GM. And the lack of talent on this roster and the departure of one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks threatens to turn the Pats into something once unimaginable.
SUNDAY SCHOOL: FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. No reason to question the Steelers any longer. They’re a legit Super Bowl threat. At 6-0, they’re off to their best start since 1978 when they won Super Bowl XIII. Until hammering Cleveland a week ago, there were questions about how strong they actually are. The reason: They hadn’t beaten anyone of consequence. Well, now they have. They destroyed the Browns last week, and they held off previously unbeaten Tennessee on Sunday. That makes them more than the NFL's lone unbeaten team. It makes them a legitimate threat to defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City in the AFC. But first things first. They must get past defending division champion Baltimore (5-1) in the AFC North, and they won’t have to wait long. The two play next weekend.
2. Baker Mayfield is an enigma. One week after he was benched vs. Pittsburgh, the Browns’ quarterback completes a franchise-record 21 consecutive passes and throws for five TD passes, including the game-winner with 11 seconds left. For the life of me, I can’t figure this guy out. He looked lousy vs. Baltimore and the Steelers. Now comes this. But until or unless there’s consistency there will always be questions.
3. Tampa Bay is beginning to look like the team to beat in the NFC. I know, the Bucs are 5-2, while Seattle and Green Bay each has one loss. But look what’s going on here. Brady is Tom Terrific again. Gronk is Gronk again. The Bucs just added Antonio Brown to a stable of wide receivers that includes Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Their defense looks better than any they’ve had since the Sapp/Brooks/Lynch defenses of the early 2000s, with linebacker Devin White producing three sacks Sunday. And they just waxed Green Bay and Las Vegas in consecutive weeks by a combined score of 83-30. In short, the Bucs have all their bases covered.
4. Denver still has a quarterback problem. After going 4-1 last season, Drew Lock was supposed to be the guy to fix it. At least that was the hope. The reality is that he’s given the Broncos nothing his last three starts, with no touchdown passes and four interceptions – including two Sunday in a resounding loss to Kansas City. "I can play a whole lot better," Lock said. "And I'm going to. That's the thing. I'm going to." Since the departure of Peyton Manning after the 2015 season, Denver starters are 29-42, with Trevor Siemian producing the most victories (13).
5. Say goodnight to Dallas. The more you see the Cowboys, the more you understand that Dak Prescott camouflaged a really bad football team. Now they’ve lost Andy Dalton, and, yeah, I know, the Cowboys are only a half-game out of first in the NFC East where anything and everything is possible. But not here. Not now. It’s hard to be competitive without a defense, and Dallas is the proof. That’s six consecutive games where the Cowboys surrendered 20 or more points in the first half.
THIRD AND 20
1. Atlanta doesn’t need a new coach. It needs Mariano Rivera. The Falcons simply can’t close out opponents. They blow a 26-point lead to Dallas. They blow a 16-point lead to Chicago. And they blow a sure thing vs. Detroit, giving the Lions a chance when they should have had none -- letting them score the winning TD with no time left.
2. In his first appearance with the Chiefs, Le’Veon Bell had two 16-yard runs. He had one of 16 or more in a year-and-half with the Jets. Yes, children, change is good.
3. Once upon a time it was defense that put Seattle in the Super Bowl. Now it's defense that could keep the Seahawks out. They have no pass rush, with Sunday's 37-34 overtime loss to Arizona the latest example. Not only didn't Seattle sack quarterback Kyler Murray; it seldom pressured him. Result: Arizona puts up 519 yards, including 360 passing, and hands Seattle its first loss.
4. Now you know why Bill Belichick let Stephen Gostkowski walk.
5. No, that is not a misprint. The Jets had four … yes, four … second-half yards in their 18-10 loss to Buffalo. It’s called Tanking for Trevor.
6. Quick question for Teddy Bridgewater: When you absolutely, positively cannot take a sack … why do you take it? On an otherwise solid afternoon where he missed only five of 28 throws, Bridgewater committed the one mistake he could not … and guaranteed a Carolina loss.
7. Tony Romo says the 49ers’ Fred Warner “is the best linebacker in football.” He may be right.
8. The last-place team in the NFC West is 4-3. The first-place team in the NFC East is 2-4-1. Expect playoff seeding to be a hot topic the second half of the season.
9. Another good week for the Dolphins. They didn’t lose (bye), and the Texans did. Miami has Houston’s first-and-second-round picks in the 2021 draft.
10. Todd Gurley, report to the principal’s office. Raheem Morris didn’t lose that game. You did. Got to be smarter than that.
11. Apparently, you can mess with Texas. Houston and Dallas are a combined 3-11.
12. The lone star of Texas isn’t from Texas at all. It’s Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. He has 10 TD passes in his last two games in Houston. The Packers played seven games in Texas since 2010 and won all seven.
13. Memo to Houston interim coach Romeo Crennel: Get an alarm clock. The Texans have no first-quarter points in their last four games.
14. Tom Brady has 18 TD passes and four interceptions. New England quarterbacks have three TDs and 11 interceptions. Brady is 5-2. The Patriots are 2-4. Draw your own conclusions.
15. Imagine if Matt Stafford played for a successful franchise. The guy has 30 fourth-quarter comebacks in his career, but nobody cares. That’s the price of playing for the Lions.
16. The Chargers’ Justin Herbert will push Joe Burrow for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He’s thrown for over 300 yards in three of his five starts, has 12 TDs and three interceptions and just won his first game. He also became the first Chargers’ quarterback to throw for three scores and run for another in one game since Dan Fouts in 1983. The surprise there is not that Herbert did it but that Fouts did. He was never a threat to run.
17. If Aaron Donald is going to win his third Defensive Player of the Year he’ll have to hold off Cleveland’s Myles Garrett. Garrett just produced a sack in his sixth straight game (he had two), the NFL’s longest current streak. It’s also the longest streak in Browns’ history.
18. The Cowboys’ Mike McCarthy is right. Shame on Andy Dalton’s teammates for not going after Jon Bostic after his cheap shot on their quarterback, forcing Dalton out of the game with a concussion. But it’s a symptom of a greater problem … and the problem is that the Cowboys aren’t really a team that looks out for each other.
19. Best tackle of the day wasn't by a defensive player. It was by Seattle wide receiver D.K. Metcalf, running down Arizona's Budda Baker from behind on a 90-yard interception return. Next up for Metcalf: Usain Bolt in a match race at 40 yards.
20. There is nothing not to like about rookie Joe Burrow except this: His protection. The Bengals give him so little that I pray they don’t turn him into another Greg Cook. If you don’t know who he was, look him up.
STAT THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME
Teddy Bridgewater has thrown three TD passes of 50 or more yards this season. Prior to this year he had two his entire career.
ONE THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
There were five go-ahead touchdown passes in the fourth quarter of the Cleveland-Cincinnati game. That’s the most in the fourth quarter of any NFL game … ever.
AND ONE FOR BOTH OF US
Kansas City was 0-for-8 on third-down conversions, yet won by 27 points Sunday. It was the second-largest margin for a team that didn’t convert a third down in the last 45 years. Carolina beat the Colts by 32 on Christmas Eve, 2011, when the Panthers failed on all six third-down tries.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET QUOTES
“This loss kind of helped. When you are winning a lot of stuff goes unnoticed. We need to clean some things up to get better.” – Tennessee wide receiver A.J. Brown.
“I’ve stood in front of this camera too many times and spoken about the basics we just haven’t put together yet … Not a very good day.” – Dallas coach Mike McCarthy.
"I was mad as hell. I tried not to." -- Atlanta running back Todd Gurley on scoring. with just over a minute left
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET RECIPIENT
Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield. He misfired on his first five passes, including an interception on his first throw. But then he was near perfect, and that’s no exaggeration. He completed his next 21 attempts, breaking the streak only when he had to spike the football to stop the clock. But then he was at it again, throwing his fifth touchdown pass with 11 seconds left to clinch a come-from-behind 37-34 defeat of Cincinnati. Mayfield entered the game with injured ribs and a damaged reputation, both the result of a beatdown last weekend in Pittsburgh. Then he somehow produces a game like this, outdueling Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow – who, like Mayfield, was a Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 draft pick – and waking up Browns’ fans. “Hats off to him,” said Burrow. “He played great.” Amen.