FOXBORO – Without (deep breath) Tom Brady, Dont'a Hightower, Rob Gronkowski, Sebastian Vollmer, Dion Lewis, Rob Ninkovich and (another deep breath) Jimmy Garoppolo for the final 2.5 quarters of the game, the Patriots still found a way to win.
They are 2-0 at the midway point of Brady’s suspension. One could say “no blood,” but the combination of what the process did to Brady and Jimmy being used as a posthole digger makes that phrase inappropriate.
A price has been exacted.
But the tradeoff for that price has been two wins and – maybe more importantly – an early-season galvanizing process. Sometimes, it takes weeks and months for a team to bond and figure out what its character will be.
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The 2014 team didn’t truly coalesce until after the loss to Green Bay and the subsequent week spent out in San Diego.
This team is getting welded together right now.
Is it a plus to have Jacoby Brissett as the starter Thursday night with the ever-understated J.J. Watt across from him? Not exactly.
But it won’t feel quite as daunting and desperate as it would have if the Patriots hadn’t survived in Arizona and against Miami.
Neither win came easily, even though Sunday’s appeared as if it would. But even the puzzling drama that ensued when the Patriots defense made Ryan Tannehill look like someone who is better than Ryan Tannehill had a silver lining. That would be the performance of an offensive line that’s been maligned and the awakening of LeGarrette Blount who ran through and around the Dolphins - and hurdled over one as well.
How many times in the offseason did we spitball about what the Patriots record would be after four games of Garoppolo? Countless.
Now they are 2-0 and – while they go into Thursday’s game with the Texans with an even greater sense of the unknown, the self-belief that’s taking root means their confidence isn’t going to wane.
“All over the field, everybody’s doing their job,” said defensive end Chris Long, who had his second impactful game after coming to the team in the offseason. “It’s a saying we use a lot but it really is true. It’s about everybody doing what he’s capable of doing. Don’t try to do anything more, anything less and that’s what creates a team win. At the end, we were under stress but we made the last one. We were resilient. That’s the epitome of team football, the next guy being ready to step up.”
Long was one offseason pickup that made big contributions on Sunday. Tight end Martellus Bennett is another.
After a modest game in terms of catches and yards in the opener, Bennett went off a bit against the Dolphins and caught five passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. He also continued to mash in the running game.
The litany of user warnings that came on Bennett’s package when the team acquired him from Chicago has people waiting for the day he is anything less than the perfect teammate. Through two games, he hasn’t wavered.
And that’s kinda just how the program works. Annually. Absolutely there are hiccups and it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. But the hokey-ass belief that players will take up their oar and row in unison for some unseen destination if they believe that the boat is headed the right way is time-tested. Annual.
Now they’ll try to do it – at least for this week – with a rookie quarterback.
"Tough hand to be dealt", I said to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as he hustled through the locker room after the game.
“Don’t count us out!” he yelled back over his shoulder.