History says the New England Patriots (0-1) opening-night loss to the Chiefs — a 42-27 defeat in Foxborough that saw New England give up 200-plus yards and 21 points to Alex Smith and Co. in the fourth quarter — was an aberration.
History says the Patriots rarely lose two games in a row, owning a 42-6 record after a defeat dating to 2003. That New England hasn’t opened a season 0-2 since Drew Bledsoe started two failures in 2001 before giving way to the Tom Brady era.
But head coach Bill Belichick made it clear this week that he doesn’t want to talk about history.
“I’m not really interested in living in the past in 2014, 2015, 2003, 2004, which constantly keeps coming up,” Belichick said as he put to bed the shocking loss to Kansas City and began preparations for a Week 2 trip to New Orleans. “I mean, everything’s about some other year, but this year and this team.
“I don’t really think all that’s relevant because we’re talking about another team, but we’ve got a thousand questions about it every week. So, I’m really concerned about the 2017 team, what this team is, what this team needs to do. I’m not trying to live in the past like everybody else is.”
With that focus on 2017, that means turning the page from a clearly disappointing opening effort to a trip to New Orleans to take on the Saints (0-1), who lost 29-19 in Minnesota on Monday night.
Drew Brees and Co. had some red-zone issues that kept the scoring down against the Vikings, but the same history that tells us the Patriots will bounce back this week similarly establishes head coach Sean Payton’s offense as a major challenge most weeks of most seasons.
“Offensively, this is really a great team,” Belichick declared. “They do everything well. Good quarterback, good skill players, good running backs, good receivers, tight ends, offensive line. They have a lot of explosive weapons with a great scheme. That’s why they lead the league in offense every year, third down, make a lot of big plays. They’re hard to stop.”
Not exactly what you want to hear if you’re a defense coming off an early-season stinker.
Belichick noted that the Saints like to change personnel between plays as frequently as any team in the league. As New England works to find its own recipe of personnel and scheme on defense, and to get its communication down, that’s a major challenge.
“So, the constant turning of that personnel is something they do an excellent job with and really have mastered the ability to kind of work in and out of those groups at a very quick pace,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. “The pace of the offense here is very fast. They do a good job of getting in and out of the huddle.
“Then, playing down there in their home stadium is where they’re going to be able to communicate the best, so we’re going to have to do a great job of just really trying to get out there and play sound, play good fundamental defense. I think that’s what we’re trying to get done and we’re trying to obviously play a heck of a lot better than we did last week and just go out and try to make sure we’re improving in those areas.”
But avoiding a rare losing streak to open the season an almost unfathomable 0-2 isn’t only on the New England defense.
Brady and the offense had their own issues down the stretch against Kansas City on the way to defeat. They get to bounce back against a Saints’ defense that struggled in the opener, allowing Sam Bradford to complete 84 plus percent of his passes with three touchdowns and a rating over 140.
So, while the Patriots’ defense faces a potential challenge, Brady and Co. head toward what should be an opportunity.
“Hopefully, we can just go play better than we played last week,” Brady said. “We’re playing a real good team on the road, so it’s going to take a big effort. We’ve got a big challenge and hopefully we can get to 1-1.
“It’s a tough place to play. It’s a big game. Neither team wants to be 0-2, so you’ve got to figure out how to get a win. Everyone just has to go get their job done. Whatever you’re asked to do, you’ve got to do it. That’s what it’s going to take. It’s going to take a big effort from everybody.”
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy has carved out an impressive role in less than a year since arriving in New England via trade from the Lions last Oct. 26. The former second-round pick in Detroit started only two of the 10 games he played last fall in New England on the way to a Super Bowl ring. But, based on his work on opening night against Kansas City, Van Noy is now seen not only as a starter but an every-down player. He played all 69 snaps against the Chiefs, finishing second on the team with six tackles in what was admittedly a tough night for the defense. He’s also taken over the green-dot duties (in his helmet) for head coach Bill Belichick’s unit.
The work earned Van Noy a two-year contract extension this week worth a reported $11.75 million, with a $3.5 million signing bonus and $2 million guaranteed salary for 2018.
Clearly Belichick has liked what he’s seen from Van Noy in his relative short time in New England.
“Kyle has good skills,” Belichick said, explaining Van Noy’s impressive playing time in the opener. “He’s athletic, runs well, tackles well, can rush the passer, play in pass coverage, does a good job playing the run. So, he has a good skillset, which is what you need to be out there in different situations.”
The coach has also been impressed by Van Noy’s football IQ.
“He’s done a good job of that,” Belichick added. “He’s a smart guy, understands concepts well, understands the defense, does a good job of it.”
Wide receiver Brandin Cooks is still working to settle into his new home as he prepares to visit his former NFL stomping grounds. Arriving in New England via trade from the Saints this offseason in exchange for the final pick in the first round of April’s draft, Cooks is ready to face his former teammates.
Cooks had three catches for 88 yards in his New England debut, including a 54-yarder. He also drew a couple penalties totaling 38 yards in the losing effort.
Given the injuries hitting the Patriots receiving corps, the newcomer could be leaned on even more heavily in the coming weeks, a role his offensive coordinator seems to feel he’s ready for.