Man, oh man, oh man. Where do we even begin here?
In the Patriots first tilt in 2 weeks - and after less than 5 full team practices in that span - they fell victim to the Denver Broncos. Even though the New England defense didn't allow a single touchdown, they still somehow found a way to lose to a limping Broncos contingent.
The Patriots, like many teams, are almost unbeatable when holding their opponents without a single touchdown. I mean, you can't win if you can't score...right? When I saw Mike's tweet after the game, my jaw nearly dropped.
39-0 when they don't allow a touchdown. Undefeated. But Drew Lock and the 1-3 (yikes) Denver Broncos had other plans.
Denver somehow managed to string together 18 points - all on the strength of Brandon McManus' 6-for-6 field goal performance. They weren't from Pop Warner distance, either...45, 44, 27, 52, 20 and 54 yards. McManus' career day was the entire scoring output for Denver, and it was enough to outlast the ailing Patriots.
In a day that will unfortunately be remembered for all the wrong reasons, the Patriots now find themselves in their first 2-3 start since the 2001 season. After a 2-week hiatus and an unexpected bye in Week 5 due to concerns of COVID-19 exposure to the team (including three positive tests from Cam Newton, Sony Michel, and Stephon Gilmore), we all knew there'd be rust. But how about the proverbial throng of mistakes that came with it? The failure to find any skill players for serious yardage? The total shutdown of Cam Newton? The list doesn't end.
So many things went wrong today. But there are some positives to be had, too. Let's get to the breakdown - per usual, the good and the bad.
The Patriots defense, by some miracle, actually played well. We knew the Denver Broncos would be down a few skill players heading into this week's matchup. Wide receiver Cortland Sutton was sent to the Injured Reserve list after tearing both his ACL and MCL, and running back Melvin Gordon was out with strep throat (concerns had also been looming about Gordon's DUI arrest on Tuesday night , so he could be out for a bit longer). Rookie tight end Noah Fant - who has consistently ranked in the top 10 offensive tight ends this year - also was not active. Drew Lock - who some experts say has one of the highest ceilings of young quarterbacks in the league - had missed the games leading up to Week 6, and many weren't sure how long he'd take to adjust to full game-speed.
So, all things considered, the Patriots defensive squadron was in prime position to have their best possible opportunity to succeed all year. Just one problem - McManus did not miss, and their offense was dismal.
Wait, aren't we in the "good" section? I'll stop.
Linebacker Ju'Whan Bentley led the way with 8 tackles and a half a sack, while Devon McCourty and Adrian Phillips followed with 5 and 4, respectively. Rookie strong safety/linebacker combo Kyle Dugger finally got his snap count increased, and made a strong impression in his first "true" game as a starter with 4 tackles and an assist.
The secondary looked to be all over Drew Lock and the Broncos receiving corps. Lock was picked off twice - once by the third-year cornerback J.C. Jackson (who, by the way, is really finding his place in this group), and once by Jonathan Jones, the fourth-year speedster who usually will be paired up against the opposing team's quickest player. Although the effort wasn't enough for a win, they held Lock to 189 passing yards on only 10 completions (he attempted 24 times), sacked him twice, and kept him to a rather dismal 34.9 quarterback rating (QBR).
THIS is the special teams group we need. Who doesn't love a good special teams play?! The Patriots have had their share of elite special teamers over the years - Matthew Slater still patrols the group as the captain, but they've produced "must-have" guys over the years...kickers like Adam Vinateri and Stephen Gostowski, or the guys that had no true position like Nate Ebner. But today, we finally saw some glimpses of "old-school" Patriots special teamers.
Jake Bailey! Say it for the people in the back! He hasn't been overly utilized this year (which is a very good thing), but today's 3 punts were an example of why the Stanford product needs to be a long-term solution for this team. 145 yards between the 3 punts, and a long of 60? I'll take that any day. Gunner Olszewski, who had been nursing an injury for the first few weeks of the season, returned his 3 tries for 77 yards, including a 33-yard return out of the end zone. It was a nice silver lining in an otherwise dismal day.
Did Cam Newton just take 3 steps backwards? I will be the first to put Cam Newton on a pedestal when he's good. I love his passion, his run-and-gun style of play, and his will to see the team win. But this...this was gross.
Cam says that his bout with COVID-19 was tough, but not impacting him whatsoever at this point. However, his lack of physical time on the field over the past few weeks certainly showed. Newton was intercepted twice, sacked 4 times, and didn't find the end zone by air. Although he completed 17 of his 25 passes and had a slightly better QBR than Drew Lock - and chipped in 76 rushing yards & a touchdown - the stats won't give you the full story.
Chalk it up to the offensive line (which is NOT off the hook...we'll get there), the Broncos secondary draping themselves all over the Patriots' skill players, or the lack of preparation...spin it whatever way you'd like. But clearly, Cam didn't have it this week. The wide receivers did not get open for him, but the passes Newton were providing them were certainly not helping the cause. 4th & 10, less than a minute left, N'Keal Harry is wide open, and Newton throws a duck to end the game. You can't be coming up empty in those big-time moments if you are the successor to one of the best quarterbacks to ever grace the NFL. You just can't.
Also, Cam was 0-3 against the Broncos before. Should we have seen this coming? The Broncos social media staff thinks so.
This was a pathetic offensive line effort. My goodness - I guess I know what it's like to be a Giants fan this year. Are you kidding me with this nonsense?
And, before we get into it, don't you DARE say I didn't call it.
What is this?! Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, and Jermaine Eluemunor are the only guys that even belong on this line - let's get that out of the way. Obviously, with the storm of COVID-19 and injuries, you have to play the hand you're given. But who would've thought we'd be missing David Andrews and Shaq Mason so much? Isaiah Wynn, who normally starts at left tackle, slid over to the guard role, while Joe Thuney moved to center in Andrews' absence. That left a gaping hole at the left tackle spot, while Mason's vacant right guard position was also left in a predicament. So, they plugged the spots with two sixth-round rookies in Justin Herron and Mike Onwenu. I think these guys are probably ready to play at this level from a talent standpoint, but they were certainly not synced up well with the rest of the team. When you have 5 guys who are supposed to be thwarting pressure & blitzes, and trying to make sure your quarterback remains unscathed, it's probably not a good idea to have the chemistry be so poor.
Who are you, and what have you done with Stephon Gilmore? What is going on here? The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is having an atrocious start to the 2020 season. In 4 games, he's made a minimal impact on the stat sheet - 10 solo tackles, one fumble forced, and one lowly interception. Gilmore committed an untimely (yet disputed) defensive holding penalty in the end-zone, costing the Patriots a forced 4th down and allowing Denver to kick a field goal...mind you, he's committed 74 yards worth of penalties this year. What happened to the guy that was supposed to anchor this defense this season? I can only hope Gilmore turns it around, because it's appearing that the Patriots defensive platoon will ride-and-die with Gilmore's performance.
THE SHAKEDOWN: Bottom line, this group needs to work to clean their rust off. Hopefully, we can chalk it up to the 2 weeks off, the 3 or 4 full days of practice, and move on. A full week to prepare (barring any COVID-19 flare-ups) should buy this team enough time to prepare for the San Francisco 49ers, who are looking to prove they're still a legitimate threat...and that their Week 5 blunder against the Dolphins was a fluke.