FOXBOROUGH — Delete it.
Go ahead. Hit “list” on your DVR, highlight “Bills at Patriots,” and then hit the red button. Unless you like the sensation of getting right up to a heart attack, and then backing off.
And if for some reason you were saving the Ravens, Seahawks, or Jets games as well — hoping to have time to cut a 12-second “Ras-I Dowling 2012 highlights video” for YouTube? — erase those, as well.
For that matter, cleanse your memory of all of it.
The 2012 season starts today for the Patriots.
That’s when cornerback Aqib Talib, acquired from the Buccaneers, walks into Gillette Stadium. He’ll have his feet washed to signify the absolution of any previous sins, and have the ceremonial blue Patriots cleansing robe slipped on by Robert and Jonathan Kraft to signify Talib’s fresh start with the team.
Forget Shakespeare and all that “past is prologue” nonsense. The Patriots stock playbooks, not playwrights.
Talib is now a Patriot, from this moment forward.
And make no mistake, the Patriots will be a better team with Talib starting at cornerback.
How much better? Who knows? But it has to be better than what we saw on Sunday in the Patriots’ 37-31 victory over the Bills at Gillette Stadium.
What you saw there was rock bottom.
The Patriots, coming off a bye week that included extra study and practice time, took the field and couldn’t stop the run (162 yards), hit quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick four times officially (three sacks), allowed him to complete 68 percent of his passes (second only to Fitzpatrick’s game against the Titans), the Bills to set a franchise record with 35 first downs, and to put up a season-high 481 total yards.
That last mark broke their previous high set against, you guessed it, the Patriots.
“Overall, we made some plays and we did some things well, but there were other things that just weren’t as sharp as what they need to be, or what they should be,” coach Bill Belichick said. “Yeah, we’ve got to definitely do a better job on those. It was far from perfect.”
Apparently, the Arctic Circle is far from warm.
All you really need to know about the state of the Patriots’ defense is a guy who has two suspensions since the start of the 2010 season (personal conduct, performance-enhancing drugs) — in addition to four other violent incidents since being drafted in 2008 — and was in the midst of a suspension when acquired, is riding in on a white horse.
As for what happened on Sunday, I’m not in the business of making excuses for the Patriots, and I’m not going to do that here.
But what I will say is the Patriots are not built defensively to stop Chan Gailey’s Bills. What they do with the spread offense, and the amount of small and quick passing weapons combined with the speedy and tough running duo of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, is a mismatch for Belichick’s scheme, at least in the regular season.
The next time one of your buddies wants to talk about how awesome the Patriots’ front seven is and how they might have one of the league’s best linebacking trios in Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, and Dont’a Hightower, like this is 2003, go tell them to watch either matchup against the Bills. It was a clinic in how not to defend intermediate seam passes.
What you will see is a defensive scheme that looked like a relic playing against the future. And how amazing is that considering the Patriots’ offense is on the cutting edge?
You can point to what the Patriots did in the Super Bowl against the 2001 “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams, but there are a lot of differences, not the least of which is the prohibition of downfield pass contact. Even still, it would be unwise to underestimate a Belichick game plan with an extra week of preparation.
But we digress.
We’ll put off a discussion about whether Belichick’s scheme could be obsolete a few years down the road, because it isn’t right now. Chip Kelly is still at Oregon for the time being, and the rest of his speed-spread fraternity won’t be changing the NFL any time soon. And Belichick will have time to adjust.
Just like for the rest of this season.
The Patriots will not have to face another offense like this the rest of the way. The Bills are unique to the NFL. Thank goodness they don’t have a consistent quarterback or competitive defense, because their season is over.
The Patriots will see mostly conventional offenses the rest of the way. And no matter what you think you’ve seen so far — we told you, burn those memories — the Patriots do have more than a puncher’s chance this season.
If last year’s team, which needed meaningful contributions on defense from Tracy White, James Ihedigbo, Shaun Ellis, Sterling Moore, Antwaun Molden, and Julian Edelman, reached the Super Bowl and held a 17-9 lead with 11:20 left in the third quarter, then certainly this group can.Continued...