MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The Patriots played one half of football pretty good. But there wasn’t one thing that looked good for the Patriots in the second half of their season opener Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
Not one damn thing.
The Patriots were shut out in the second half, defensively inept in the third and fourth quarters, gashed again on defense by Knowshon Moreno in a 33-20 loss at Sun Life Stadium. There’s not much worth retaining from that. Bury the football and file this one in the memory dump.
Besides disappointing fans with a lackluster effort (there was a full blown meltdown on Twitter Sunday afternoon), the Patriots surprised us with an abhorrent effort on both sides of the ball.
As difficult as this might be, I’m going to boil this down to five takeaways.
1. Mix and match, fix and scratch — Bill Belichick said after the game it was the team’s plan to play every single player. That led to the offensive line getting switched up practically every other series. Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer were set at the tackles while Marcus Cannon was set at left guard. But the center and right guard combination seemed to differ on a whim.
The Patriots brass appears to want to extend the tryouts for starting positions into the regular season. While Dan Connolly started at center and Jordan Devey started at right guard, Ryan Wendell would come in and play center and Connolly would shift to right guard.
The obvious inference from this shuffling of players is that the Patriots are unsure about which combo they truly desire. And there’s nothing better than live game action to find out, if we are to continue to infer upon the situation. That led to disastrous results on Sunday, with Tom Brady sacked four times — all in the second half — and six total hits on the quarterback. Everybody was giving up plays on the line and the communication appeared to be shot. Belichick and new offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo need to make a decision about who the starting group is now so that this unit can build cohesion. It certainly appeared that the coaching staff thought they could skate by against the Dolphins. They ought not make the same mistake twice.
2. The 3-4 debuts to substandard results — The new-ish Patriots defensive scheme was supposed to allow for the front seven to bring pressure on the quarterback from every angle. That is not exactly what happened Sunday afternoon. In fact, if you told me a day prior that Jerod Mayo would get the Patriots’ first sack of the 2014 season — and the only Patriots sack in Sunday’s game — I would’ve laughed in your face. I’m sure crazier things have happened. There were only two recorded hits on Ryan Tannehill Sunday, not including both of Chandler Jones’ penalties for roughing the passer. The Patriots looked off kilter all game and there is no easy way to explain how ineffective they were. But what was most problematic was the team’s run defense, which allowed 191 yards to the Dolphins, including 134 for Moreno. (Moreno, if you recall, ran for 224 yards last season against the Patriots as a member of the Denver Broncos.) Lamar Miller added 59. Fixing the run game isn’t easy. And the Patriots could very well be exposed next week against Minnesota and Adrian Peterson.
3. Darrelle Revis is not infallible — The one person expected to play above the wretchedness that was on display Sunday was Darrelle Revis, and while he was exemplary in spurts, he also lost a number of battles. Going up against Mike Wallace — arguably the fastest wide receiver in the NFL — Revis got burned on a couple of routes but was saved on a couple of misfires from Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He broke up two passes, but allowed Wallace to body him out on a post route for a 14-yard touchdown in the third quarter that tied the game. For Revis, the opener was a mixed bag. Which is to say, better than most.
4. Rob Gronkowski’s return was awkward — The most depressing statistic for Sunday’s game was wide receiver Brandon LaFell’s zero catches on six targets. He had more penalties (two) than receptions. But if you dug a little deeper, you’d probably be pretty depressed about Rob Gronkowski’s output as well, which was his first football action since last December. Playing in limited snaps, he was targeted 11 times but caught only four passes, including a 6-yard touchdown in the second quarter. There were moments in which he was merely clumsy, and then there were moments in which Brady seemed to be force-feeding him, which is normally not a bad idea. But there was an obvious level of acclimation that needed to occur, which didn’t happen in the preseason. On Sunday, the two looked like they were working on getting on the same page while everyone else was just playing. It was apparent and annoying.
5. An interesting group of inactive players — It was quite remarkable to see both Aaron Dobson and James White, two healthy individuals, inactive for Sunday’s game. There were times — particularly when Brandon LaFell was having a rough go — that I thought Dobson could help. White was considered at one point ahead of Brandon Bolden in the depth chart. But it was Bolden who made his mark Sunday with three total touches. As usual, the Patriots surprise us with their roster decisions. It wasn’t too long ago that we were projecting Bolden to be a 53-man roster cut. Now he’s back in the fold, right where he was a year ago. The Patriots may revisit Dobson in the immediate future because of LaFell’s play. But White may be edged out until injuries occur.