FOXBORO, Mass. — We’ll find out a great deal about the New England Patriots over these next four weeks.
After steamrolling through a crowd of cupcakes during the first half of the season, the Patriots now are in the midst of five consecutive games against playoff-caliber opponents.
They lost the first of those games, falling to the Baltimore Ravens on “Sunday Night Football” two weeks ago. Next up is a Super Bowl LII rematch on the road in Philadelphia this Sunday, followed by dates with the Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs.
Crunch time has arrived for the Patriots, who sit atop the AFC at 8-1 but lead the Ravens by just one game.
“I mean, we’re after the bye, so all of them are — not that the ones before weren’t important — but this is when the team’s really got to elevate its play,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said Friday. “We’ve learned a lot over a lot of competitive games, a lot of competitive practices, training camp, going all the way back to the spring, so I’d say the die has been cast. This is what we are. This is what we’re going to do. This is how we’re going to win. And these are the things we’re going to have to do in order to achieve the results we want.”
The Patriots rank second in the NFL in points per game this season (30.0) but have struggled at times to find offensive consistency, both in the running game and with pass-catchers not named Julian Edelman. They’ve also benefited from six defensive/special teams touchdowns.
Though teams typically find their overarching identity around this point in the season, Brady acknowledged the Patriots still could undergo additional offensive alterations as the playoffs approach. That was the case in 2018, when New England morphed into a power-running outfit after dropping back-to-back games in December and rode that strategy to a Super Bowl title.
“You could feel like you’ve quote-unquote ‘figured it out’ two weeks from now,” Brady said, “and then somebody gets injured and you’ve got to start again. So a lot of teams I’ve been on, you just keep trying to figure it out week to week because the matchup’s a little different. … We’ve got to adapt, and our players have to adapt, and the scheme has to adapt, and then we have to go out and execute.
“We’re a game-plan team, and that’s a real strength of ours. And we’ve got to continue to make that a strength by embracing the different challenges that each team presents to us.”
The Patriots could add two new pieces to their offense in the coming weeks in wide receiver N’Keal Harry and left tackle Isaiah Wynn. Harry, New England’s top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, is awaiting his NFL debut after being activated off injured reserve before the Ravens game. Wynn can return from IR next week against Dallas.
“Those are good players that are playing important roles,” Brady said. “The guys that are in there are guys that are going a good job, and whenever you get guys back, that always helps. But at the same time, the guys that have been in there are doing a pretty good job. Whoever’s in there, we’ve got to go out and execute.
“That’s what it’s about. It’s not about anything other than all being accountable to do our job the best we possibly can, and the more we can do that collectively, the more that transfers over to everybody playing with confidence.”
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images