The 2022 NFL season started the same way the previous campaign did for the New England Patriots: with a loss to the rival Miami Dolphins.
The Dolphins jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead, which was the second-largest deficit a Bill Belichick-coached Patriots team has faced in a season opener since the 31-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills in 2003. The second half didn't go much better for the Patriots as the Dolphins cruised to a 20-7 win in the hot Miami sun at Hard Rock Stadium.
New England's offense had plenty of struggles in training camp and the preseason. Unfortunately for the Patriots, those concerns are very much alive with the regular season finally underway. Patriots quarterback Mac Jones completed 21 of 30 pass attempts for 213 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Before we look ahead to Week 2, check out our five initial takeaways from Sunday's game.
1) Offensive line is a huge issue
The offensive line got off to a horrendous start. Jones was sacked twice in the first half and pressured on several other occasions.
He also lost a fumble deep inside his own territory that the Dolphins recovered and ran into the end zone. The Patriots offensive line didn't see many blitzes in the preseason. They saw plenty against the Dolphins and consistently struggled to pick it up. Dolphins safety Brandon Jones was completely unblocked on this play and it cost New England seven points.
The left side of the line, including Trent Brown and guards James Ferentz and rookie Cole Strange, was particularly lackluster in this game. It also appeared that Strange was benched in the first half, although he did return in the second half.
New England's offensive line needs to figure out its communication issues ASAP because the vaunted Steelers pass rush is up next on the schedule (more on that below).
2) Veteran pass-catchers were a non-factor
The Patriots entered Week 1 with plenty of depth at wide receiver and tight end, even with rookie wideout Tyquan Thornton out due to injury. This depth didn't matter Sunday, though, as many veteran pass-catchers failed to make much of an impact for the Patriots.
Here's a quick summary:
- Nelson Agholor: Three receptions, 28 yards
- Jonnu Smith: Two receptions, 22 yards
- Hunter Henry: Two receptions, 20 yards
- DeVante Parker: One reception, nine yards
- Kendrick Bourne: One reception, 41 yards
Parker was a significant disappointment. He was targeted only twice, and one of them resulted in an interception (although he was arguably held on the play, but no penalty was called). Parker was supposed to give the Patriots a presence outside the numbers and haul in contested 50-50 balls. He did neither on Sunday.
The Bourne situation is troubling. He had an underwhelming camp and preseason. He reportedly wasn't totally enthused by the changes made on offense during the offseason, too. The veteran wideout wasn't targeted Sunday until garbage time when he caught a 41-yard pass from Jones. Bourne is way too talented to play such a small role, especially for an offense desperate for points. He was one of the team's best wideouts last season. If the Patriots aren't going to give Bourne a larger role, they should trade him. His usage in Week 1 isn't going to work.
Jakobi Meyers was the most effective Patriots wideout with four receptions for 55 yards, including two clutch third-down catches. He can't be the only wide receiver to step up if the Patriots are going to have any success throwing the football.
3) Rushing attack falls short
The Patriots struggled to run the football in camp, and Sunday's results were not any better.
New England tallied 78 yards on 22 carries (3.5 yards per rush). Damien Harris led the team with 48 yards on nine attempts. Rhamondre Stevenson picked up just 25 yards on eight carries. Harris and Stevenson both had 12-yard runs, and if you take those away, the Patriots tallied an average of only 2.7 yards on their other 20 attempts.
The Patriots need a strong run game to give their offense much-needed balance and take some pressure off of Jones. The lackluster rushing attack made it difficult for the Patriots to use play-action against the Dolphins.
4) No answer for Dolphins' top WRs
Tyreek Hill didn't get free for any super-long touchdown plays, but he did plenty of damage against the Patriots secondary. The speedy wide receiver had no trouble getting open and hauled in eight receptions on 12 targets for 94 yards.
The Dolphins' other top wide receiver, 2021 first-round pick Jaylen Waddle, broke the game open near the end of the first half with a 42-yard touchdown catch on a fourth-and-7 play.
Waddle finished with four receptions for 69 yards and that touchdown on five targets.
The Patriots, as a result of trading Stephon Gilmore and losing J.C. Jackson in free agency over the last year, do not have a legit No. 1 cornerback on their roster. Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones are good players, but neither is equipped to shut down elite wideouts.
This Dolphins passing attack is going to be a huge problem for opposing defenses if quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is even slightly above average this season. There's an incredible amount of talent at the skill positions on this Miami offense, and that was evident Sunday.
5) No relief in sight
The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Patriots. It actually becomes much more difficult.
They will go on the road in Week 2 to play the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose defense played great in a win against the defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. The Steelers defense intercepted Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow three times in the first half, including a pick-six early in the game. The Steelers tallied four interceptions overall.
Burrow also was sacked seven times by a ferocious Steelers pass rush, a group led by elite defensive end T.J. Watt. (It should be noted that Watt left the game in Cincinnati with what appeared to be a pectoral injury.) That Steelers front seven will be licking its chops preparing for the Patriots' struggling offensive line.
If the Patriots lose to the Steelers, they'll be 0-2 with the Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers -- two of the best teams in the league -- up next on the schedule.
We're only one week into the season, but it's not crazy to call Week 2 a must-win game for the Patriots. They cannot afford to fall too far behind in what promises to be an ultra competitive AFC playoff race.