One game into the New England Patriots’ season, quarterback Tom Brady was questioning his team’s attitude and competitiveness. Coach Bill Belichick was saying that the Patriots had suffered from a combination of “bad coaching” and “bad playing” in their season-opening defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs. And there was the predictably gloomy speculation from the outside, with some observers wondering if this would finally be the time Belichick and Brady wouldn’t find any solutions.
All of that is so last week now.
It was on to New Orleans for Belichick, Brady and the Patriots, and, fortunately for them, the Saints’ defense was there waiting as a cure-all. Brady’s passing shredded that defense from the outset, and the Patriots put the conversation about their demise on hold — at least temporarily — as they overwhelmed the Saints, 36-20.
The Patriots had only three healthy wide receivers — Brandin Cooks, Hogan and Dorsett — on their active roster Sunday. That number was down to one by day’s end. Hogan limped off the field. He returned to the game but still appeared at less than full speed. Later, Dorsett was taken to the sideline medical-examination tent, reportedly to have his knee examined.
Gronkowski had 116 receiving yards but walked off the field gingerly in the third quarter. It was not Gronkowski’s surgically repaired back that was bothering him. Instead, it his groin, the severity of which is not immediately clear — although he did tell ESPN reporter Mike Reiss that he was “good” after the game.
The attrition on offense will be a significant concern going forward for the Patriots, who lost wideout Julian Edelman to a season-ending knee injury during the preseason. Danny Amendola was on the inactive list Sunday.
But on this day, Brady had the offense functioning as it is supposed to.
Brady threw for 177 yards and three touchdowns in the first quarter alone. It was the first time in his 18-year career he had three touchdown passes in the first quarter.
He threw for 302 yards in the first half. A drop in the end zone by Gronkowski late in the second quarter cost Brady what would have been a fourth first-half touchdown pass.
He finished with 447 yards and three touchdowns in a 30-for-39 passing display.
“Is there anybody better coming off a bad game? You just knew he was going to come in here and give his best performance, up to his standard,” former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said during the CBS broadcast of the game. “That’s just who he is.”
Romo, at age 37, was in the TV booth analyzing a matchup between the 40-year-old Brady and the 38-year-old Drew Brees of the Saints. Brady showed no signs of slowing down through a 2016 season that ended with the comeback for the ages against the Atlanta Falcons and the fifth Super Bowl title for the Patriots with Belichick as their coach and Brady as their quarterback. But Brady’s first game in his 40s, this season’s opener, raised possible issues.
The season began with notions that the Patriots were equipped for a potential run at a 19-0 season. That lasted less than one night. Brady and the offense looked out of sync in the dud of an opener, a 42-27 loss to the Chiefs in Foxborough, Mass. The defense surrendered one big play after another. And Belichick and Brady, so bland in their public comments after victories, did not hesitate to assail themselves and their team verbally in the immediate aftermath of the ugly defeat.
That accountability is one reason the Patriots are who they are and have done what they’ve done. The duo’s ruthless competitiveness undoubtedly made for an uncomfortable week inside the building. After a poor outing, no one on the Patriots talks about what a long season it is and how everyone needs to be patient. There is urgency to fix things right away. Defensive lineman Alan Branch and cornerback Malcolm Butler were absent from Sunday’s starting lineup.
The defense was decent Sunday but nevertheless allowed Brees to throw for 356 yards. With the ever-growing list of injuries, the search for answers will be, in some ways, ongoing.