FOXBORO -- The Patriots loss to the Eagles last season sticks in the collective craw of Patriots fans. A 14-0 lead claimed by the Patriots in the second quarter turned into a 35-14 deficit early in the fourth.
In the mix were 21 Eagles points scored on defense and special teams -- an 83-yard punt return, a 24-yard return of a blocked punt and a 99-yard interception return in a 12-minute span of play.
That loss following on the heels of the team’s 30-24 overtime loss at Denver the previous week turned a 10-0 team into a 10-2 team and was part of the team’s 2-4 close to the season that cost it home-field advantage.
It sticks in Bill Belichick’s craw too. This week, the Patriots face the San Francisco 49ers and their head coach Chip Kelly, who was the man in charge of the Eagles last year.
“We’re gonna have to do a lot better job against their attack and their scheme than we did in that game,” said Belichick. “We didn’t do very well at all against the Eagles scheme last year so we’ll have to improve dramatically on that to be competitive.”
Preparation for the 1-8 Niners takes on an added air of urgency because the Patriots don’t lose much. The 31-24 loss to the Seahawks and the relative ease Seattle had in moving the ball against a team coming off its bye week rested and presumably well-prepared does not auger well for the state of the club.
Now, the Patriots will go cross-country to play a team that -- while its nobody’s idea of a powerhouse -- does present a complex enough offense to maybe challenge the Patriots flatlining defense.
The up-tempo Chip Kelly scheme will put the heat on the Patriots.
“I’d say the passing game San Francisco employs is unique because their running game is unique and it all ties in together,” Belichick explained. “They’re really not a first, second, third down team. A lot of their third-down plays they run on first down, a lot of their first-down plays they run on third down. They’re a fast-tempo team. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to keep track of down and distance when you’re out there going to the line trying to get the call, get lined up and sometimes defensively you lose track of whether its first-and-10 or second-and-8. They’re unique. They’re quite a bit different.”
This game -- and the next two -- are very good opportunities for the Patriots to fine-tune or reinvent themselves. Not where you want to be after nine games but that’s what it is. Going against Colin Kaepernick (53 percent completion percentage), rookie Jared Goff next week and young Bryce Petty and the Jets after that allows the Patriots to step into the 78 mph batting cage for a few swings.
Of course, this situation does present a downside as well. If San Francisco can pinpoint the problems the Patriots are having in coverage, execution and communication and exploit those, suddenly there’s a motivated team on an eight-game losing streak across the line of scrimmage.
And the mobility Kaepernick brings adds an element to the mix that Sam Bradford really didn’t muster when the Patriots lost to the Eagles last year.
“That really wasn’t a big factor in the game last year,” said Belichick. “(The Eagles) still ran the ball with a lot of success against us in multiple formations or multiple types of runs, and then you add that to, now a quarterback, which gives you another dimension in the running game, we’re going to have to do a better job on what we saw last year, but in addition to that, just as you pointed out, defend the quarterback runs as well, or the quarterback keeps or bootlegs. They bootlegged with [Sam] Bradford some, but not as much as they do with Colin [Kaepernick]. The whole dynamic that the quarterback brings to the offense is definitely another dimension. It’s going to be challenging for us. Like I said, we didn’t do very well without that part of it, so we have a lot of work to do there.”
The loss to the Seahawks -- like the loss to Denver last year -- was a blow but understandable. Both are elite teams. The loss to Philly started a tailspin for New England. With the same coach and scheme facing them this year, it’s an interesting bit of irony.