Each year, it feels as though us Patriots fans hold our breaths in the home opener. Between the offense getting its feet wet, the defensive miscues, and the silly mistakes, it's easy to be anxious about the Patriots' performances in week 1.
The 2021 opener was a bit different. There's obviously much to be excited about in New England; it's the Mac Jones era, the plethora of new targets for him to throw to, and a defensive group that's been strengthened by new additions in the secondary and at linebacker.
But today, despite a solid performance from Mac Jones, the Patriots were charged 8 penalties on which they conceded 84 yards; it was ultimately the main factor in their 17-16 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
Let's look at some of the key takeaways for this game.
Mac Jones was great. He is finally here! Just as it appeared the rookie and Heisman trophy finalist would be backing up Cam Newton, the Patriots declared Jones their starter and cut Newton as a result. Now, it's the Prodigal Son's stage, and we're here to witness his accomplishments.
Despite the loss, Jones turned in a first-class performance on Sunday. He threw for 281 yards, completed 29 of the 39 passes he threw, and consistently had his offensive weapons open to throw to. Jones exuded confidence on the field; he built trust with his teammates, was ultra-confident on his last drive (although it was cut short by a Damien Harris fumble), and even handled the media well in his post-game press conference.
"Starting with me," he declared after the game.
The bottom line? After the performance he turned in today, Jones belongs. And he'll continue to grow; he'll have his mistakes along the way, but he'll get better and better. I'm excited for the ride.
Nelson Agholor is going to be a consistent deep threat. I wasn't too overjoyed when New England's marquee wide receiver acquisition played out to be Nelson Agholor, but he certainly looked like he belongs in this Patriots offense. Agholor caught 5 passes and ripped off gains of 72 yards, one of which found the end zone. He gave the Miami secondary trouble most of the game, and didn't skip a beat speed-wise. I'm pretty pumped that Agholor is in this offensive scheme; he can lighten the load that Jakobi Meyers had to bear last year and hopefully take over as the primary deep target.
Penalties. Everyone gets nailed for a penalty every now and then, but a team simply cannot commit the undisciplined, silly fouls that the Pats conceded on Sunday. The team as a whole was flagged 8 times and gave away 84 yards. The offensive line committed 3 penalties for 35 yards; those 3 infractions negated gains of 66 yards. That sure sounds like a touchdown - or, at least, a field goal, getting taken off the board. You better believe this will be Bill Belichick's priority this week in the film room.
The fumble. There's always one. And today, just as it appeared Mac Jones would lead the Pats down the field for a go-ahead drive in the late stages of the game, Damien Harris put a stain on his otherwise impressive 100-yard performance with this brutal blow.
Harris was one of the silver linings in last year's offense; it was certainly run-heavy, so he was naturally a big part of it. And when Sony Michel was hurt, Harris took the job right underneath Michel...never seceding it since. It's not ideal that it came down to this fumble, but you simply have to hold onto the ball when you're down by 1, in the red zone, and the clock is running out on you.
NEXT UP: The Pats head to Metlife Stadium to take on the New York Jets, who are fresh off a 19-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers. In fairness, the Jets weren't as bad as I expected today, especially on defense. Sure, they allowed Sam Darnold to find the end zone once and throw for 279 yards, but they held the Panthers to under 20 points and kept them out of the red zone when it mattered. If Jones can replicate - and build upon - what he did against Miami, it should mean a Pats win...provided they can find the end zone.