NEW ORLEANS – For those who subscribe to the idea things are seldom as bad as they seem after a loss or as good as they might appear after a win, let’s focus on the second part as it relates to the New England Patriots.
Just as there wasn’t an overreaction to the season-opening loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, it’s not as if all of the Patriots’ problems are fixed after Sunday’s 36-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
Outside of a growing injury list that includes tight end Rob Gronkowski (groin), there probably isn’t anything as concerning as the big plays the defense has surrendered.
“We know we are going to have some mistakes on the field that we are going to have to learn from,” said safety Duron Harmon, one of the team’s captains. “But I would rather learn from them this way than the last way [the loss to the Chiefs].”
So maybe the best news for the Patriots is that their next opponent, the Houston Texans, have been big-play deficient through two games. Outside of rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson’s impressive 49-yard touchdown run in the Texans’ 13-9 win over the Bengals on Thursday, Bill O’Brien’s team hasn’t been picking up yardage in big chunks.
In turn, the Patriots’ defense has been giving them up at an uncharacteristic rate. The Drew Brees-led Saints had six passing plays of 20 yards or more (one came late when the outcome wasn’t in question).
Last week, the Alex Smith-led Chiefs scored on touchdown passes of 75 and 78 yards against the Patriots, had another 25-yard gain, and there was also a 20-yard pass-interference penalty on cornerback Malcolm Butler in the end zone also set up a touchdown. The Chiefs added a 58-yard run and 21-yard touchdown scamper to put the game away.
How unusual is this big-play vulnerability for the Patriots?
Consider that in 2016, the defense allowed just 44 passing plays of 20 yards or more all season. Through two games, they are on pace to give up 72.
Coming into Sunday’s game, safety Devin McCourty said improvement would start with the defense giving itself a chance to have a good play by everyone being on the same page. He saw strides made in that area Sunday, but knows there are still areas that can be tightened things up.
Brees’ pinpoint accuracy also deserves some credit as well, as he finished with 356 passing yards.
“Obviously every play wasn’t great. We still gave up a couple big plays in the first half that we know we can fix,” McCourty said. “We still have a lot of room for improvement.”