Patriots

Bean: RIP, 19-0; season's lost a little flavor

Bean: RIP, 19-0; season's lost a little flavor

As we sort out the mess that was the Patriots’ season-opening 42-27, Patriots fans will look for a silver lining. 

If that silver lining for even one person is “at least the 19-0 talk is dead,” cut that person out of your life forever. They’re no fun.

Nineteen and zero wasn’t just a potential record, it was the extent to which we presumed the 2017 Patriots were better than everyone else. They still may be leaps and bounds better than the rest of the NFL, but they weren’t for one game. 

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Yet we set that mark. The aforementioned anti-fun folks cautioned against all the variables that go into a given season: injuries, officials, luck. The rest of us understood all of those variables, but also understood that if things went mostly right for this roster -- particularly the offense -- that they could win every game. No other team can say that.  

Then there were the people afraid of chasing perfection. Maybe the perfect record got to the Pats as the 2007 season wore on, culminating in a suboptimal game plan in the Super Bowl. Then again, the best team doesn’t always win anyway. The 2016 Pats came a penalty away from being a best team that lost. 

I wanted 19-0. Not because I’m some sort of In "Bill We Trust" nutbar, but because it’s something we haven’t seen before. And it’s not like 19-0 was a topic over the summer because we were bored; this was something that was conceivable. 

In fact, I was even going to do a weekly 19-0 Watch looking at every upcoming matchup and where the season could go wrong. That lasted just one installment before @OldTakesExposed got to it.

The Patriots, as they should be, are still favored to win the Super Bowl. They’re better than every other team. They could lose any game, but they should win every one. And hey, there’s never been a team that’s run the table through a 16-game regular season and playoffs, so imagine the Patriots becoming the first en route to tying the Steelers for most Super Bowl titles ever? 

This sounds outrageously New England sports observer of me, but I can’t help but feel that the season has lost a little of its flavor with 19-0 no longer in play. Sure, they’ll still probably run away with the top seed in the AFC and will have a terrific chance at a second straight title, but think back to 2007. The drama that came in the three near upsets was outrageous. 

A season after having the year of three starting quarterbacks, it would have taken something crazy for the Patriots to remain unique beyond their usual dominance. That would have been it. 

Every Patriots championship season can be identified by just a word or a name. Brady. Harrison. Branch. Butler. Comeback. Will future Pats teams be better than this one? Maybe not; as Tom Brady ages, it’s plenty realistic to assume this is as good as it will get. “Perfect” would have fit nicely. 

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Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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