The New England Patriots may be letting their dominance slip after a decade-long stranglehold on their division, just about as long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been paired together. Their loss yesterday to rival Miami came from a second half explosion-and-meltdown combination that the Patriots have rarely ever shown during that stretch. Some have even called this the worst open to their season since Tom Brady went down in the 2008 game, a game in which the team still pulled out a victory. Many of the factors of the game could point to the New England Patriots coming back to the A.F.C. East pack.
The Tom Brady-led team has barely ever been in doubt for a playoff spot since 2001, when he took over as the quarterback. Only twice in the 13 seasons that Brady has been at the helm has the team not appeared in the playoffs — the year after their first Superbowl win and the infamous Brady-less season — and only once has the team gone via a Wild Card spot — back in 2001. The team often runs away with the division to boot, taking seven of the division titles by five games or more, and making it to eight A.F.C. Championship games in the process. That is not even mentioning the five Superbowl appearances and three championships.
Expectations for the New England Patriots are sky-high, and their slipping dominance may be caused by that title-or-bust mentality. The game against Miami this past Sunday looked well in-hand going into halftime; the Pats were up 20 to 10 and their defense had already caused a turnover via their new acquisition Darrelle Revis. Rob Gronkowski, looking at his first action since mid-season last year, even had a touchdown and celebratory ball spike early on, giving hope for a season full of repeat performances.
The second half started shortly after, but only one team showed up. Miami scored 33 points to New England’s zero in the third and fourth quarter, with the latter only amassing 67 yards of total offense in the half. Tom Brady himself had a forgettable day with two lost fumbles and a completion percentage just over 50 percent.
In their usual way, no one on the team was ready to cry panic. Brady simply blamed their execution, calling their effort on that front “poor,” while Belichick offered that the team “needed to do a better job.” This was the first loss on opening day for Belichick and Brady since 2003, and that is on top of being outscored by the most points in the second half since 2009 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. One more statistic on this loss: the Patriots were 16-1 in their last 17 games when taking a ten-point lead into halftime, which made Miami’s overwhelming dominance in the second half all the more impressive.
The New England Patriot way of domination amongst their A.F.C. East peers seems to be slipping. Their Week 1 loss highlights a soft run defense and shaky timing on offense: two abnormalities to their long-reigning dynasty. A Week 1 loss does not guarantee the first playoffs since 2008 without the New England Patriots, but it does expose some issues that every other team will hope to exploit all season long.
Commentary by Myles Gann