FOXBORO – The annual improvement of the Patriots is inevitable.
Defense plays like it’s blindfolded for the first four weeks then, with a snap of the fingers, is suddenly competent or actually …. good?
“Hey. Wow. All fixed. That was fast.”
On Sunday, after the Patriots knocked off the Chargers, Bill Belichick once again praised his team’s work ethic. It was the fourth time I can recall him going all in on that topic. When compared to the post-Chiefs laments from veterans about a lack of urgency and seriousness, it’s obvious the real improvement that’s going on is out of our sight.
- Hogan leaves with shoulder injury, wearing a sling in the locker room
- Patriots searching for answers for recent red zone struggles
- Game notes: Record and near-records from Pats' 21-13 victory
- Gostkowski admits misses leave 'bad taste' despite Patriots win
- Curran's Patriots-Chargers preview/review
- Five thoughts: Patriots prevent Bosa, Ingram from taking over
“We’ve been going here for six weeks of preseason and eight regular season games,” Belichick said. “We’ve been playing a lot of football. Every week it’s been a grind whether it’s going back to the preseason scrimmages, whether it’s the preseason games. We’ve been at it here for a long time. I ask these guys to come in every day and put in a hard day of preparation, practice, training, film study and so forth. I’d say I’ve been impressed with the way they’ve done that and have been able to grind it out day after day. It’s not easy.
“We don’t mind doing it; I’m not saying that,” he continued. “But still, it’s hard, and every team has got good players. Every team has difficult schemes. Every team requires a lot of communication and coordination to get plays right and to get situations right. I just meant it in terms of just week after week after week or day after day after day or hour after hour, coming in at eight in the morning and grinding through it until 4:30, 5:00 at night. Those guys are working hard and it’s paying off, but they’re working hard. They’re grinding it.”
Every team works, no doubt. And it’s a hard road from July to January (and beyond) for all of them. But the day-to-day in New England is hard relative to other teams. And that’s when it’s going good. When the defense is playing at an embarrassing level as the Patriots were for the first four weeks, it has to feel for the coaches and players like they are actually living that dream of showing up to work in their underwear. That ain’t gonna stand with Belichick, his coaches or his players. That the franchise is astute enough to hire guys who can take the extra work and not buckle is a credit to their scouting and personnel staffs.
But in the end, it’s the players. They spent the time to get it fixed. Never a doubt, said safety Duron Harmon.
“I know the guys we have here, I know the kind of work we put in each week at practice in the weight room after practice in the classroom,” he said. "I knew eventually it would come around. Did it come around as fast as we wanted it to? No. But we’re making strides right now and we need to keep doing what we’re doing.”
The change, he said is, “Consistency. It really comes down to everybody being on the same page all the time, not one guy playing one coverage then the other 10 guys playing another. Everybody’s on the same page, everybody’s communicating, everybody’s talking, everybody’s playing with good energy, playing fast and physical. That’s really been the change.”
While the defense has gotten itself upright, the New England offense – which carried the team early – has been uncharacteristically bogging down.
“We didn’t finish (drives) off,” said Tom Brady after the Patriots scored just one touchdown despite seven drives reaching the Chargers 25 or deeper. “I think we just have to do a better job of that. I know I’ve said that about 100 times this year, but it’s tough. I mean, we’re trying. It’s just the execution is coming up a little short in critical times.
“We’re not scoring as many points as we’re capable of scoring,” he later added. “I know that. I wish there was a simple answer for it, and the simple word would be execution. I mean, it’s just throwing and catching and blocking and running and doing all those things, staying on track in the red area, but we have more opportunity out there. I mean, we know it. We just haven’t done a great job finishing off the last three or four weeks, but hopefully we’re going to get back to it, and I’m sure we’ll watch a lot of tape and try to evaluate a lot of things that we’ve done and try to build on those things. I wish it would be better, but we’re not. But, we’ll just keep going after it. We’ll keep working hard like we always do, and hopefully it’ll be better here in the next couple of weeks.”
Harmon harbors no doubt the offense will get it straightened out.
“They carried us the first quarter of the season,” he said. “They’re gonna get the ball moving and they’re gonna score. As long as we don’t give up more points than they score, we’ll take it. That’s what we’re gonna keep aiming for.”
At 6-2, the Patriots now have their bye then a trip to Denver followed by a visit to Mexico City to play the Raiders. It’s a key stretch and – possibly – one that could galvanize the team even more as it plans to spend a week in Colorado Springs prior to going to Mexico to play the Raiders.
“Offensively, it hasn’t been horrible. It just hasn’t been up to what we’re capable of doing,” said Brady. “I think we come in every week and we say, ‘We missed this opportunity, we missed this opportunity.’ It’s not one play, it’s not one player, it’s just all of us collectively trying harder, doing better and making the plays happen when we need to make it happen. Hopefully, our best games are still ahead of us. You know, that’s what our goal is.”
It’s a goal they usually hit. And it’s not because of the work on Sunday but all the days before.