The New England Patriots, who are the reigning Super Bowl champions and were the favorites to win the Super Bowl this season, are struggling to win games. After four games this season, including a loss at home on Sunday to the Carolina Panthers, Bill Belichick’s team sits at 2-2. With that loss to Carolina and their Week one loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, this is the first time since the 2000 season (Belichick’s first as head coach in New England) that the Patriots have lost multiple home games before Week five. The Patriots are tied with the New York Jets for second place in the AFC East and both teams trail the Buffalo Bills (3-1).
Coming into the season many experts thought New England had a realistic shot to go undefeated. After two losses already a 16-0 regular season is obviously not going to happen, but this team still has postseason and Super Bowl aspirations. This Thursday the Patriots will take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road and try to get to 3-2. Here are some Patriots keys to victory this week.
Week Five New England Patriots Keys to Victory
Simplify the Defense
The Patriots defense has been absolutely abysmal this season. Matt Patricia’s unit ranks dead last in the NFL in yards per game allowed (456.8) and second to last in points per game allowed (32.0). Through four games New England has surrendered 128 points, which is one measly point shy of the most points allowed by a reigning Super Bowl champion (1987 New York Giants). It is also the most points allowed through the first four games of a season in franchise history. The yards allowed are the second most through the first quarter of a season in Patriots history.
Belichick preaches accountability and that everyone needs to do their job, otherwise the team won’t be successful. The Patriots have talent on defense but there has been a lack of communication, particularly in the secondary, thus far this season. Clearly, not everyone is doing their job on the defensive side of the ball. It will take some time for New England to (hopefully) get better on defense this season. It will certainly be a struggle for them to drastically improve on defense on a short week so their only option, at least for this week, is to simply the defense. Simplifying the defense will, at least in the short term, allow the Pats defense to just try to make plays.
On Offense, Attack Through the Air
The Buccaneers defense, while not nearly as bad as the Patriots overall, still leaves room for improvement. This season they are surrendering 394.3 yards per game (30th) and 21.3 points per game (16th). But the Bucs are much better against the run than the pass. Tampa Bay is allowing only 78.7 rushing yards per game (fifth) but 315.7 passing yards per contest. Only the Patriots pass defense is worse (allowing 324.0 passing yards per game).
Even with poor offensive line play (the Pats have allowed 27 quarterback hits (eighth most) and 13 sacks (sixth most)) Tom Brady is completing 66.5 percent of his passes this season (10th), while averaging 350 yards per game (first). Brady has also already thrown 10 touchdowns (tied for first with Aaron Rodgers) this season, with no interceptions (Rodgers has three). On Thursday Brady needs to be looking to throw to his plethora of receivers, including Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and tight end Rob Gronkowski, early and often.
The Patriots must attack Tampa Bay’s defense through the air. That’s not to say New England should completely abandoned the run; they need to keep the Bucs defense honest. But Brady and company will be much more successful Thursday night through the air than on the ground.
Don’t Have a Short Memory
Usually it’s good for a team or a player to have a short memory and forget about missteps. If a team loses in heartbreaking fashion or simply plays awful one week, more often than not it’s a good idea for said team to forget about that game and move on. The same goes for a quarterback who throws a horrible interception.
But the Patriots are unique. Belichick’s team seems to thrive when the world is doubting them (and outside of Brady just about everyone is doubting them right now) which is a big reason they rarely lose two straight games. New England needs to play with a chip on their shoulder and have an “us against the world mentality” like they did after Spygate and Deflategate.
Brady and company need to do what they did in 2014 when they started 2-2, after a thrashing at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs (41-14) and everyone wrote them off as Super Bowl contenders. That season, after starting a surprising 2-2, the Patriots went 10-2 the rest of the way, en route to a Super Bowl victory. New England needs remember just how much they hate to lose, that almost everyone is doubting them and play angry on Thursday, and for the rest of the season.
It will be a difficult game for the Patriots on Thursday, but if they can focus on these three things they should come away with a victory.