In case you haven’t heard, the New England Patriots lost their season opener to the Kansas City Chiefs 42-27 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA, on September 7, 2017. However, contrary to popular belief, the sun has continued rise and the sky has yet to fall, since that fateful September evening. Even though the panic is still palpable in New England, it’s time to focus on the week ahead and move on to the Patriots next appointment, the New Orleans Saints.
As the Patriots prepare to travel to New Orleans for their Sunday showdown with the Saints, they will have a seemingly tall task ahead of them. The Patriots have had some success in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, as well as some forgettable moments. In fact, one of the single ugliest Patriots losses in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era occurred at that very site in 2009. In that game, the Saints won 38-17. Quarterback Tom Brady threw two interceptions and the New England defense was shredded to pieces. However, as Michael Hurley of CBS Boston recounts in his weekly column, this game is best remembered for its appearance in the NFL Network special “A Football Life,” which focused on head coach Bill Belichick. During the contest, the documentary highlighted Belichick telling Brady “I just can’t get this team to play the way we need to play. I just can’t do it. It’s so [expletive] frustrating].”
So, why mention this now? That 2009 game happened eight years ago and won’t have any relevance come Sunday afternoon, will it? Actually, it will. However it might not be the kind of relevance that one would expect. Let’s take a deeper look.
While the aforementioned game against the Saints was one of the ugliest losses in recent franchise history, last week’s loss to the Chiefs was THE ugliest. It was the most points and yards allowed by a Belichick-coached team. The Patriots looked slow, poorly conditioned and even confused at times. However there is a silver lining at which Patriots Nation may look throughout this week. The Patriots hardly ever put together back-to-back poor performances.
That puts a bulls-eye squarely on the Saints, and the Pats have them in their crosshairs.
It’s true that this organization is an advocate of the ‘one game at a time’ mentality. It’s clear that no one turns the page better than New England. (Everyone remember, “We’re on to Cincinnati?“). However, the Pats, as an organization, also have a long memory. Their coaching staff and quarterback make sure those bitter tastes are turned into the greatest musty tomes, from which the team may learn lessons. As this week unfolds, the Patriots will be examining the lessons learned from last week vs. the Chiefs. They will also be pulling on the emotions of avoiding the suffering of a defeat as demoralizing as their last regular season visit to New Orleans. After all, as Santayana once wrote: “Those who forget the past, are doomed to repeat it.”
For the week ahead, here are New Orleans traits to which the Pats will place close attention:
Not So Sweet Home, New Orleans
When the Saints go marching in to the Superdome, they have not been so heavenly, as of late. In fact, they haven’t been a good home team for the past three years running. The Saints were just 4-4 at home in each of the past two seasons, and in 2014, they went 3-5 on their home turf. Taking it a step further, they went 2-4 last year at home against teams that finished with a record better than .500. In 2015, they lost to the only team they hosted with s record better than .500. just one team that finished with a recordAnd in 2014, they went 1-2 against teams that finished better than .500. The Patriots may be winless in 2017, but no one expects that to last much longer. The Pats will be bringing it to the Bayou, and the Saints better be ready.
Put the Extra Time to Good Use
In terms of preparation for Week 2, the Patriots have a decisive edge over the Saints. They’re the ones with the extra time to prepare, while the Saints will be rushing to get in their work on a short week. In terms of rest and recovery, and in coaching preparation, the Patriots figure to have an upper hand this week. However the most prominent edge the Patriots will have is that of game planning. Bill Belichick is one of the most successful coaches in league history when receiving added time to prepare for a opponent. Based on his team’s performance last week, he will be certainly be working tirelessly with his coordinators and coaching staff to devise a plan of attack for Drew Brees and Company. It’s suffice to say, the Pats will be ready for the Saints this week.
The Offense will look to ‘Jazz it Up’
While the Patriots offense had their share of miscues last week, a lot of credit has to be given to the Chiefs defense, which played brilliantly. Bluntly put, The Pats should not have it as tough, this week. The Saints are definitely not the Chiefs when it comes to defense.
Here’s how the two teams ranked in some crucial defensive categories last year:
POINTS ALLOWED PER GAME
KC: 19.4, 7th
NO: 28.4, 31st
PASS YARDS PER GAME
KC: 247.4, 18th
NO: 273.8, 32nd
KC: 18, T-1st
NO: 9, T-27th
It is 2017 and the Saints defense will be better than the above numbers indicate. However, the Patriots offense should see more opportunities against the Saints than they did against the Chiefs. For the Saints, adding a player like Marshon Lattimore via the draft might have helped some. However, you don’t see too many impact rookies at the cornerback position who can drive the change for an entire defense. Look for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the Patriots offense to focus on a the passing game this week; including utilizing former Saint, Brandin Cooks. The backs may be used more in short yardage, as New Orleans is far better defending the run than the pass. Lastly, Tom Brady is unlikely to have two consecutive poor games, and not many are better than Number 12 when he’s angry. That could lead to a long day for New Orleans.
Simply Put, Defense has to be better.
Patriots defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia, looked beyond frustrated on the sidelines during Thursday night’s loss…and for good reason. The Patriots defense surrendered 42 points on their home field and were routinely beat for long plays by quarterback Alex Smith and the Kansas City offense. Smith had a surplus of time in the pocket, and used it to carve up the Pats secondary time and time again. Therefore, of Alex Smith could do that, imagine a quarterback as seasoned as Drew Brees? That question may make Patriots fans feel a bit uneasy. I’m sure it makes Patricia and the defensive staff feel even more uneasy. The key for the Patriots on Sunday will be figuring a way to pressure Brees in a way that they could not do with Smith last Thursday. the pass rush will likely come from a pair of former Arkansas Razorbacks in Trey Flowers and rookie Deatrich Wise. In addition, the Patriots secondary will work especially hard to avoid a repeat of the track meet that broke out in Foxboro last Thursday. All in all, look for an improved defensive strategy in New Orleans.
So…on to New Orleans
While the Patriots will undoubtedly learn from the past, they cannot use it as an indicator of the type of team they will be in 2017. Belichick, Brady and the rest of the team are smart and talented enough to realize that last week was the exception rather than the rule. After all, the Patriots have lost season openers in the Brady/Belichick era before. They did so in 2001, 2003 and 2014. How did those seasons turn out for New England, one might ask? Each season ended with a silver Lombardi trophy making its residence at One Patriot Place. So, time to bury the panic, along with last week’s game ball, New England. For the week ahead, the Patriots need to move on to New Orleans, by learning from their Kansas City mistakes.
-Mike D’Abate is the Managing Editor for cover32.com/Chargers and covers the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots. He is also a National Content Writer for cover32.com.