‘You gotta prove everything'
After stunning loss, Patriots need a big response in New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS — Thanks to an embarrassing opening-night loss to the Chiefs, the Patriots find themselves needing to make a statement today at the Superdome.
How they respond against the Saints will essentially dictate their storyline for the rest of the season.
“After a loss like last week, you gotta prove everything,” said tight end Rob Gronkowski. “Your physical toughness, your mental toughness, all that.”
Tom Brady called out the team for failing to have a sense of urgency in the 4227 loss to Kansas City. Brady questioned his teammates’ attitude and competitiveness on a night the defending Super Bowl champions didn’t show much fight during the fourth quarter.
Harsh words for a team that had no quit, and came back from 25 down in the third quarter, in beating the Falcons only seven months before in Super Bowl LI.
So what will happen today against the Saints?
There’s a big difference between being 1-1 and 0-2. With a win, the Patriots are back on track, back in business. A loss and all bets are off. The hole is dug deeper, and the problems will look much more problematic.
“This is huge, just for the fact we know what we did in the fourth quarter was uncharacteristic. We don’t get taught or coached to play that way,” defensive captain Duron Harmon said, referring to a 2721 lead that was squandered when the Chiefs scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth. “So I just think for us to get out there, get that taste out of our mouths, get back to playing the football that we’re used to playing — which is Patriot football — that’s going to be the big key this week.”
Indeed. This is about how the players respond. While members of the coaching staff also said they needed to do a better job preparing the team, it still comes down to the players. They’re going to be facing a Saints team that is also hungry to atone for a Week 1 loss to the Vikings on Monday night and fired up for the home opener. The Patriots would be wise to start fast.
“We’ve got to be at our best mentally, physically, emotionally. This team really tests you. They play very well at home,” Brady said. “We didn’t play very well last time we went down there (a 38-17 loss in 2009). We kind of got our butt kicked. So it’s a tough environment. It’s their home opener. We’re going to be challenged in a big way, so we’ve got to meet the challenge.”
The Patriots defense, last year the best scoring unit in the league, saw the dam burst in the opener. The Chiefs feasted on big plays and long scoring drives. Matt Patricia’s unit couldn’t stop the run and couldn’t stop the pass. It was a complete meltdown across the board.
“We pride ourself on playing good situational football in the fourth quarter. That’s something we didn’t do. We know it. We’ve been working hard to fix it. People are putting in the work. They’ve been putting in the work since the game to fix it,” said Harmon. “I’m excited about it. I’m excited for the opportunity. Now we get to go up against one of the best quarterbacks ever, and one of the best offenses of the last decade. It’s going to be a challenge for us, but we have a lot of guys on this team who are up for that challenge.”
As for the offense, Brady & Co. could never maintain a rhythm and failed to convert on two key fourth-and-1 situations, which ultimately turned the momentum. By the fourth quarter, nothing was working for that unit, either, as it continues to find its way without Julian Edelman, who is lost for the season with an ACL injury.
“When you get beat the way we got beat I think that sat with everyone for a very long time. We’re going to have to go do something about it,” said Brady, who is 16-4 as a starter after a loss. “I mean no one else can do it for us. We’re the only guys in the locker room. No one else is putting on the uniform. It’s only us. It’s up to us to go do something about it so that’s what we have to be able to do.”
Gronkowski said the players had a good week of practice, but that only gets you so far.
“It starts at practice and that has to carry into the first play,” said Gronkowski. “We need to make plays, get the offense rolling, and bring energy the whole game.”
Saints quarterback Drew Brees has been around long enough to know the Patriots he saw on film from the Chiefs game aren’t what he’s likely to see today at the Superdome.
“That’s a team, especially after a loss, that comes out with a vengeance,” Brees said during a conference call this week. “We know that they are going to be ready to play, and we need to make sure that we are ready to play.”
For the Patriots, it’s all about the response. An 0-2 hole at the start of the season isn’t part of the plan.
TOM BRADY TOM BRADY ROB GRONKOWSKI