Five takeaways from the Patriots’ win over the Eagles, a 17-10 testament to their mental toughness …
IT’S A GOOD WIN
Tom Brady wasn’t happy afterward. He wore a puffy, camouflage jacket and a joyless expression throughout a short postgame press conference — but from his terse comments came a pearl of wisdom.
“Any time you go on the road and beat a good team,” the quarterback said, “it’s a good feeling.”
Such a statement belied Brady’s demeanor, which did nothing to suggest he had a good feeling about what had happened over the four hours prior.
But there’s truth to what he said.
The Patriots deserve to feel good about what they accomplished Sunday. The offense struggled for much of the game, as it still struggles to find its rhythm. On the other side, the Eagles are now 5-5, and as such will be fighting for their playoff life the rest of the season.
But after two weeks to stew on getting blown out at Baltimore, New England found itself down 10-0 and on the verge of letting another one slip away at Philadelphia — but showcased enough toughness to stem the tide, right the ship, and pull back home into port with a record of 9-1.
After the defense yielded as long a drive as it has in years, it wasn’t scored on again. And this time they did it without needing to force multiple turnovers, and without preying on the vulnerability of poor quarterback play.
Special teams helped do its part, too, particularly a kicking game that made three field goal tries and featured a few pretty punts from Jake Bailey. And yes, Brady’s attack had its difficulties. At 67.3, he finished with a passer rating of less than 90 for the fourth time in five weeks, and failed to throw a touchdown pass for the third time in seven tilts. The running game didn’t do much either.
Yet they overcame. They battled. They hung in early, and hung tough late. They went on the road, and they beat a good team. They should feel good.
WHAT AN ANSWER FOR THE DEFENSE
After the Patriots offense managed just a couple of first downs and 29 yards on two quick possessions, the Eagles took the ball for a third time in the first quarter. And what transpired next looked like big trouble.
At least in the moment.
Philadelphia began at the 5 thanks to a fantastic punt from Jake Bailey, but field position proved no obstacle for the Eagles because the Patriots couldn’t stop them. A four-yard run was followed by a four-yard pass, then another four-yard completion allowed Philly to get out from the shadows of its own goal line on third down — and that would be the only third down it would face over the first 87 yards of the march.
The Eagles gained at least four yards on the first 12 plays of the series, with a Pats penalty mixed in for good measure, and that brought them all the way to the New England 8. After a three-yard run and a well-covered incompletion the Patriots nearly escaped unscathed, but Dallas Goedert held on to a 5-yard slant just long enough to establish possession in the end zone, and the Eagles had a 10-0 lead to show for 16 plays that covered 95 yards and swallowed 9 minutes and 33 seconds.
For the moment, that appeared to be the followup to a bad performance against Baltimore that ended with the Ravens going 14 plays and holding the ball for at least eight minutes on each of its last two competitive possessions in that game. When Philadelphia trumped even the Lamar Jackson-led dominance of those drives on their third series Sunday, it was a disconcerting development.
But, in the end, that just makes what happened thereafter all the more impressive.
Discounting the penalty, that drive gained 90 yards, and ended early in the second quarter. When the fourth quarter began, Philly had 136 yards of offense for the game.
In the eight drives after their touchdown, the Eagles totaled 67 yards, rendering seven punts and a fumble. They went just 3-for-13 on third down, and finished averaging just 3.9 yards per play. Coming in, the Eagles were averaging 5.2.
“Good players,” Belichick explained when asked what changed after Philadelphia’s touchdown. “Good players playing well.”
GREAT CALL BY MCDANIELS … AND HE’LL NEED MORE
In the most recent post-victory edition of the NFL Network’s “Do Your Job” special, Josh McDaniels divulged some of the thinking behind the plays the Patriots turned to in the pivotal moments of the AFC championship game and Super Bowl LIII. Within those comments, he spoke about the importance of putting faith in the team’s strengths, and relying on them in the biggest spots.
“What are we really good at?” McDaniels identified as part of the thinking. “What’s the most consistent part of our team offensively? And then you commit to it.”
So, naturally, with the Pats facing third and 11 from the Philadelphia 15-yard line on Sunday, and trailing by a point, the offensive coordinator called for a double pass with Julian Edelman firing to Philip Dorsett in the end zone.
It was a great call. Once Brady slung it to Edelman, Philadelphia’s secondary flooded to the ball. That opened a clear throwing lane, as long as Edelman held in long enough before letting it go, and he did. He fired a strike, and it stood as the Pats’ lone touchdown of the evening.
And it looks like McDaniels may need a lot more like it.
Even after 10 games, the Patriots are still an offense without an identity. McDaniels may feel the need to dip into his bag of trick plays in those got-to-have-it moments because while he might prefer turning to the things the team does well, or does consistently, there isn’t really anything that qualifies.
They’ve yet to establish that they can run. The receiving corps is unsettled, at best. And after Sunday’s 1-for-3 output the Patriots have now converted less than half of their red zone trips into touchdowns on the season.
If McDaniels and Brady had answers, Sunday could’ve been far more comfortable — and the potential of this team would probably appear far more certain. Instead, they’re still trying to figure out what works.
With each passing week that becomes more difficult to discern. The matter grows more desperate. And necessitates that McDaniels will gets daring, creative, and increasingly inventive.
SLUGGISH ROAD STARTS BECOMING A CONCERN AGAIN
Ultimately they figured things out well enough to win the AFC championship game at Kansas City, and that feat was enough to offset the travel troubles that saw the Patriots go 3-5 on the road last season. This year the results haven’t been as rough, but the offense has had some trouble getting started on the road. And Sunday was no exception.
New England did nothing with each of its first two possessions, and settled for three field goals in a touchdown-free first half. At Baltimore the Pats produced a total of 13 yards with their first three possessions, and trailed 17-0 before scoring.
The Monday night win in New Jersey, against the Jets, was an exception. But prior to that, the Pats scored just 12 first-half points against a Washington club that had quit on its coach, and a visit to Buffalo yielded a touchdown on a short field but little else, especially early.
The good news for New England, though, is that its sluggish road starts may not matter all that much. Four of the Patriots’ final six contests are in Foxborough, and one of the two road trips is a Week 15 jaunt to Cincinnati — where they’ll be greeted by a Bengals team that may well still be winless. Before then there’s also a trip to Houston, but if the Pats handle their business down the stretch they could put themselves in position where the Super Bowl would be their only potential travel in the postseason.
HARRY MAKES HIS DEBUT, AND HIS MARK
One encouraging step forward for the offense was the presence of N’Keal Harry. The first-round pick made his pro debut after spending the first half of the season on injured reserve, and while his numbers weren’t eye-catching — three catches for 18 yards — his contributions were suggestive of movement in the right direction.
On his first snap, Harry was positioned inside as a blocker on the opening series, suggesting a trust in his ability to handle that responsibility. His first catch came when Brady looked right before quickly turning to throw left, almost blindly trusting Harry to break off his route properly and be in the right spot.
Then, after a head injury sent Dorsett to the locker room, Harry took over his spot and stayed out there as the Pats turned up the tempo and ran their offense while rarely huddling. Brady threw his way four times in total, and on one third down Harry came onto the field to sub out Mohamed Sanu. In fact, Brady threw to Harry as many times as he did Sanu — and Edelman and James White were the only players the quarterback threw to more.
As Patriots debuts go for rookie receivers, Harry’s presented a reason to believe he can be a factor. With tackle Isaiah Wynn presumably rejoining the offensive line next week, the Pats may finally be poised to get something out of their last two top picks.