FOXBORO, Mass. — Two straight losses sent some of the more irrational New England Patriots fans and media members into a state of panic last week.
More than one tweet came through this writer’s Twitter replies suggesting the dynasty was over and that maybe the Patriots should send head coach Bill Belichick out to pasture.
Guess it’s a good thing Patriots owner Robert Kraft didn’t share the sentiment.
The Patriots drubbed the Miami Dolphins 38-7 on Sunday afternoon, and every single one of their issues suddenly dissipated. The biggest issue in Weeks 2 and 3, the Patriots’ defense, was suddenly dominant.
Even after winning two Super Bowls in the last four seasons, certain Patriots fans still haven’t been happy with the team’s defense, which historically doesn’t allow a ton of points but do let the opposing team march down the field. It’s a bend-don’t-break style that doesn’t sit well with supporters who want their team to be perfect in every way.
Well, this defensive performance should please even the most critical portion of the fanbase. The Patriots let up just 172 yards, 75 of which came on the Dolphins’ final drive, when the Patriots were leading 38-7. The Patriots shut out the Dolphins through three-and-a-half quarters and didn’t let them past New England’s 45-yard line until the final drive. They also forced two turnovers and sacked quarterback Ryan Tannehill twice.
So, how in the world did they do it? How did they go from making the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions look like the second coming of the “Greatest Show on Turf” to beaching the Dolphins? There has to be some immediate, concrete answer, right?
Ha, no. Everyone on the Patriots had a different explanation.
“It was the energy,” defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. said. “The fans brought the energy today. They came out loud. We came out rolling. Kyle Van Noy had a few plays. Other defensive playmakers had a few plays. And we played together as a team like the Patriots do.”
Energy’s great, but we’re looking for something a little more tangible.
“Everybody just had to play a little bit better, prepare a little bit better, play together as a defense, and I think we did that today,” cornerback Stephon Gilmore said.
Everyone certainly played better. So, Gilmore seems to be on the right track. There wasn’t a single unit that struggled Sunday. The front seven let up just 3.1 yards per carry, and the secondary allowed 4.3 yards per passing attempt.
“We just didn’t put ourselves in holes,” safety Duron Harmon said. “We were better on first down, and we were better on second and long. The last previous games, we weren’t as good on first down, and on second and long, we weren’t good at all. We weren’t even making them get to third down.
“We did everything that we talked about doing this week. We controlled the line of scrimmage, the secondary played good and we kind of just married up that pass rush and that defensive coverage, and that helped us get the ball back in the offense’s hands.”
It also helped that starting defensive end Trey Flowers and safety Patrick Chung returned from concussions.
After Week 3, it appeared the Patriots’ defense had limited potential. Starting rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley hit injured reserve, and the defense already looked shallow and slow.
But Sunday they showed upside no one imagined this year’s unit possessing. Expectations for the defense have to be reset. If they can play this well against a 3-0 Dolphins team, then they should be able to repeat that performance.
It seems for the third time in five seasons, fans and media members hit the panic button too early.