Pats Fans: Ten Reasons Not to Off Yourself After St. Louis Debacle
I know what you're thinking. Where is the nearest building I can jump off after this horrible performance against a team that was 1-15 a year ago?
The offense had one first down on its first four possessions, the running game looked anemic at best, and the defense made a wide-eyed rookie quarterback look like John Elway.
With the regular season opener a little over two weeks away, at the same location, against far better competition in the Cincinnati Bengals, this team is more screwed than Ron Jeremy.
You would rather bet on the stock market right now, right? Pass the strychnine, Merrill, it's going to be a long one.
Well, before you swig on that bottle, my friend, sit back, relax, and listen to a list of 10 reasons why everything is going to be okay with Tom Brady and friends.
1. Tom Brady was dominant through most of the game
Let's start from the top so you don't jump on me.
Any concerns left about Tom Brady. He only scored a 158.0, which is .3 points away from a perfect quarterback rating.
His stat line: 18-22 for 273 yards and three touchdowns in just over three quarters of play. The struggles of the offense certainly weren't his fault.
And if there were one player who you would like to play a nearly flawless game, who else would you really want it to be?
I know, you counteract with a trembling hand and teary eye, he did much of the damage in the second half against a questionable cast of characters not likely to make the Rams.
But like Belichick would say, "this is the NFL," folks. This wasn't Celebrity flag football against the "blanket coverage" of Shannon Elizabeth.
These are competitive NFL athletes trying to make a paycheck to be able to buy groceries. Some of them actually will make the Rams roster and play significant time on the defense.
Besides, didn't it seem to you that Steve Spagnuolo pulled his starting defense rather quickly? They played all of 18 plays in the first half and he pulled them off the field. Seem a bit conservative?
Perhaps he knew what I know: that it didn't matter which defense was on the field in the second half, the Patriots were going to make the adjustments and go off.
He made the move to preserve a little pride. If he could have cancelled the second half of the game, do you think he would have pulled the trigger on that deal? In a heartbeat. Team evaluation be damned.
Deep breath now, say it with me: "The passing game (and thus the offense) actually dominated." Thirty-five points will get it done for us in the regular season.
2. Rob Gronkowski is going to be a beast
Perhaps you have not bought into the hope yet, but fear not, there are nine more reasons to go, no worries.
The second, Rob Gronkowski, looked absolutely dominant in the passing game, running three routes down the seam that were all back breakers.
He finished with three catches, on all three balls thrown his way, for 66 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The first one you are familiar with, as he dragged James Laurinaitis with him towards the end zone, he leapt at the last minute and had the presence of mind to put his hand down to give him an added boost to get to the end zone before elbow or knee touched down.
This guy is a winner. Even Scott Zolak couldn't help but compare him to Ben Coates.
On his next touchdown catch, also from Brady, he shielded the defender away from his body expertly and made a spectacular and effortless mid-air catch.
The second one was against the back-ups, you say? Do you really believe having Atogwe in there at 5'11" was really going to stop that completion? Not a Johnny Damon's chance in hell.
His TD celebration was likewise that of a man, spiking the football emphatically, with the type of energy that the rest of the team could really feed off throughout the season. Think Brady likes this guy yet?
By the way, another, perhaps even more talented tight end, Aaron Hernandez missed the game.
Surely, you must be thinking of stepping away from the ledge by now.
3. Brandon Tate will return kicks for TDs this season
Admit it, you were thinking blow-out when he broke the first kick-off of the game for a 97-yard touchdown return. I sure was. Everything from then on was bound to be a letdown on expectations.
In about five seconds from kick-off, Brandon Tate was dancing in the end zone. He also had a solid run on the second kickoff, taking it back 43 yards.
He would have had another TD on that run if the kicker, Josh Brown, didn't track him down. This is the first kickoff return for a TD for the Patriots since Bethel Johnson did it in 2004!
He also caught two balls for 17 yards from Brady, showing that he can be a starting receiver in the offense this year.
He did appear to let up a bit and not create enough space on the sideline on a bomb from Brady, which flew over his head, but hey, he's pretty much a rookie. The positives far outweighed the negatives for this guy.
Cheering up, yet? No? Read on, my friend.
4. Wes Welker is still Wes Welker
Wes Welker continued his amazing comeback from a devastating knee injury in Houston last January. This story alone is worth taking the toaster out of the bathtub.
On Thursday night, he caught two passes from Brady, one for 39 yards. He would have broke the play for an 81-yard touchdown if the defensive back hadn't caught him.
His shifty move on the play showed he is suffering no lack of lateral mobility, a huge fear entering the preseason.
Patriots fans should expect another huge season from this guy, who recall was a huge asset on third down last year, your prototypical possession receiver.
Tom Brady will have Welker as a safety valve once Brady adjusts to all the new options on the offense.
After all, in the first handful of possessions, it appeared Brady hesitated at times, not due to thick coverage, but because he now has so many options on the offense.
Do I throw it Tate on the sideline, to Gronkowski up the seam, to Moss deep down field, Welker short, or Faulk out of the backfield?
Personally, I'd be overwhelmed. But this is the growing pains.
Patience. It is still preseason.
5. These games don't count
Except if you're this guy.
This game changed nothing.
It will not go in the loss column, it will not change the season, except that the coaching staff and the players will work that much harder to improve.
Do you think they're going to rest on their laurels after this game? Do you think Belichick got 10 hours of sound sleep on Thursday night?
Here are some numbers to put you more at ease, as you consider how much preseason results can carry over into the season:
"Of the 20 teams that have played for the AFC and NFC championship since 2002, only three have gone undefeated in preseason."
"The greatest number of teams advancing to either the Super Bowl or their conference championship game had an even 2-2 preseason record. Nine teams in the last five years."
(My thanks to David Neathers of Bleacher report for the above information.)
So, according to the above information, we should actually root for a loss to the Giants to give us the best shot at a Super bowl appearance. Okay, maybe not, but there is a lesson to be learned from the above information.
It doesn't matter how you play in the preseason, particularly if you have a lot of young talent, prone to inconsistency and game momentum.
It matters how you play at the end of the season and in the postseason, based on how much you learned along the way.
As I said before, this loss was a great learning experience. You think the rookies hit the books hard after solid wins against the Falcons and Saints? Hell no.
Sometimes a loss is better than a win, especially in preseason.
6. Devin McCourty continued his solid play
The thought of the development of young talent like Devin McCourty must make you reconsider setting yourself on fire.
McCourty again looked the part of starting cornerback, and from the layman's eye, would seem to have passed Darius "Illegal Contact" Butler on the depth chart.
He finished the night with five tackles, again showing a nose for the football and solid tackling in the run game. He also broke up a pass, though was not credited with an official pass defensed.
Recall that this is McCourty's third game as a professional, yet he plays with the confidence of a seasoned veteran.
Once this guy gets a few regular season games under his belt, he will only get better as the season goes on.
Though the secondary struggled to stop underneath passing routes, McCourty was rarely out of position.
As Randy Cross pointed out, all it takes is one person to blow a coverage. Well McCourty was rarely, if ever, the one.
7. Randy Moss can still go deep
Before you slice your main vein, also consider the case of Randy Moss, who caught three passes from Brady for 74 yards.
The highlight of this performance was, of course, the 65-yard bomb from Brady. Who cares, you say? It was against the backups?
Consider this: on those deep passes from Brady to Moss, do you think it's more about the coverage on those plays on the ability of Moss and Brady to synch up where Moss will be and where Brady will put the ball?
I think it has a lot more to do with the precision of the pass and the route that Moss runs than where the defensive back is.
Frequently last year, Brady would over-throw Moss or under-throw him, causing an incompletion, regardless of the defense.
Whether that was Brady's inaccuracy or Moss's is irrelevant, the point is they just weren't on the same page like they were in 2007.
I have good news for you. Thursday night signaled that these two are ready for another big year on the deep bombs, game changing plays.
If you can complete one or even two of those a game, it changes the complexion of every game.
Suddenly, you're not playing from 10 behind, you're up 10 and the defense can dig in and rush the quarterback, and the secondary can hawk under-thrown balls.
Oh, and that will also open up the short game with Julian Edelman and Wes Welker.
I'm telling you, watch out for this offense. Recall it was short two huge young weapons in Edelman and Aaron Hernandez.
When Brady learns his receivers' tendencies midseason, watch out!
8. The defense didn't give up big plays
The defense gave up three plays of over 25 yards throughout the course of the game, two of those were against the second- and third-string defense.
Most of the Rams offense came on short runs and check down routes to tight ends.
This is what a Bill Belichick coached defense is designed to give up. The trademark of the "bend-don't-break" defense is the soft underneath coverage.
You concede the check-down throws, but hit the receivers hard once they catch the ball, hoping to create turnovers or make the receiver think twice about coming over the middle again.
There were a few missed tackles, but for the most part, the secondary, led by Brandon Meriweather, hit the defenders quickly after they caught passes.
Some of the hits were substantial, but the Ram's receivers managed to hold on to the ball. If this hard-hitting style continues, more than a few balls will hit the turf throughout the course of the season.
The real shortcoming of the defense was in getting off the field on third down and on stopping the offense in the red zone.
The Rams were 11-of-17 on third down, and scored touchdowns in four out of six trips to the red zone.
The good news is that the game hinged on only a few plays here and there.
Getting a stop on third-and-4 on the New England 32 yard line would have resulted in a punt instead of a touchdown, keeping the game at 10-7 Rams.
Had Butler not been flagged on third-and-9 on the first drive of the third quarter, the Patriots would have gotten the ball back with around 10 minutes left in the third only down 20-14.
So while it seemed that the Patriots defense was as sorry as ever to the casual observer, it really wasn't that far away from a decent performance with a few more plays and a few less mental errors here and there.
Of course, Belichick won't paint it that way. He wants his players worried.
With the offense being so dominant, the defense will just need keep the Patriots in the games this season, not hold the opposition to under 20 points.
9. Zoltan Mesko had another solid game
Mesko punted the ball five times for a respectable 37.2 average.
There were mixed results in here, as one punt he booted perfectly into the corner, where it was downed at the four yard line.
If Mesko can continue to down punts inside the 20, showing great kick accuracy, it would really compliment his power well. This kid is going to be good when he gets the consistency down.
On the flip side, one of his shorter kicks in the third quarter was returned 31 yard by the Rams' Danny Amendola. Sam Bradford then turned the good field position into a touchdown, making the score 17-7.
On a positive note, Mesko did help on the tackle, slowing down Amendola enough for the punt cover team to stop him.
Overall, it was a mixed performance for Mesko, but his promise as a dominant punter is still undeniable. Rookies are inconsistent, that's all.
But considering some team insiders claimed that he was shanking every other kick in training camp, I'd say he's improved pretty dramatically from then.
By the end of the season, he will be in the upper echelon of punters in the NFL.
10. The young middle linebackers were tackling machines
So the picture actually features Junior Seau here, but just throw some dreads on the back of his helmet and you have my man, Brandon Spikes.
Spikes and Jerod Mayo had another solid game, against the run in particular, recording 10 and 7 tackles respectively, and avoiding any big runs by the offense.
Spikes even got in the face of the opposing quarterback twice (though on one he was called for a "Roughing the Quarterback," but the call was pretty weak).
Both times, the pressure caused an incompletion. Spikes and Mayo will need to get pressure on the passer up the middle to complement a mediocre outside pass rush moving forward.
Spikes did struggle a bit covering the tight ends in the flat, but seems to be getting a bit quicker every time in recognizing his responsibility in the soft zone.
At this point, it seems like the one weakness in his game. For a rookie, that's pretty damn good. This guy is poised for a monster year in the middle for the Patriots. Think 100+ tackles and a handful of big plays.
You must have taken the finger off the trigger by now. If not, you may have some of your own kinks to iron out before the regular season.
Writing this article actually cheered me up. At the beginning, I thought I would have trouble coming up with 10 things that Patriot's fans could feel good about after the game.
By the end, I realized I had a handful that I didn't even include, such as:
Brandon McGowen's interception
Have I forgotten anything here? I feel like I have.
Please let me know in the comments, Patriots fans. What did you feel good about after the Rams game?
Don't forget to stay away from tall buildings and razor blades, at least for the duration of this week.
Thank you, that is all.