FOXBORO -- Duron Harmon has seen enough.
Shortly after his team surrendered 33 points to a Carolina Panthers offense that previously couldn't get out of its own way, let alone find the end zone, the New England Patriots' fifth-year safety held court, calling out any and all teammates on the defensive side of the ball.
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"In my five years here, we pride ourself on being a smart, tough football team, especially defensive-wise," he said. "We're just not doing it. It's frustrating because we do put a lot of work into it, but it's obviously not enough. We need to go really look at ourselves tonight and we need to come with a better attitude tomorrow, an attitude to work, to do more."
The Patriots have now been gashed for 30-plus points in three of their first four games. That's about as un-Patriot like as anything we've seen since Bill Belichick walked through that door. Not only that, but teams are piling up yardage at an ungodly rate -- 1,827 yards to be exact. Only a half-dozen teams in NFL history have ever given up that many through the first four weeks of the season.
It shouldn't look this way. It's not as if Belichick the GM turned over that entire unit in the offseason following a Super Bowl win. Yes, the Pats lost Rob Ninkovich to retirement, and Logan Ryan and Jabaal Sheard to free agency, but the veteran core remains. Up front, there's still Trey Flowers and Alan Branch and Malcom Brown. Kyle Van Noy and Dont'a Hightower remain. The secondary returns all three safeties and two of its top three corners from a year ago. Actually, that group was suppose to get better after investing $31 million in guaranteed dollars in former Buffalo Bill Stephon Gilmore. However, it's been one big play after another allowed by the back end, which is truly baffling to Harmon.
"You can't explain it," he said. "We continue to go out there, we work hard, we work hard each and every week. We practice as hard as anybody in the NFL. So for us to go out there and do what we do I really believe it's because of a lack of focus. We need to be able to zero in on each play -- there's gonna be between 60 and 70 plays a game -- we gotta get the mental toughness to be able to do our job each play, take one play at a time. Not looking ahead. Not looking behind. Just be able to focus."
Harmon was asked if defensive coordinator Matt Patricia needed to ease back on his defense, simplify the calls and checks so that the players can be more free to just react and play fast. Only problem is, that just what Patricia did after Week One. He's stopped flipping his corners based on matchups, added a more traditional middle linebacker into the mix in Elandon Roberts to streamline communication, and, just this weekend, finally got back the lynchpin in all of this: Hightower.
It didn't matter. Cam Newton looked like the 2015 NFL MVP, not the average quarterback that he's been ever since.
"We simplified," said Harmon, shaking his head. "Can't get no more simple than what we're doing. We just gotta take a look in the mirror, everybody, top to bottom, defense-wise and just see what can I do to be a better football team for the Patriots, what can I do to make sure I do my job each and every play when I get my opportunity. We gotta look in the mirror. We gotta understand that it's nobody but yourself."
Message sent. Will it be received? We'll find out very soon. The Pats are in Tampa Thursday on a short week with a lot at stake.