This one’s difficult to write. I began it before halftime.

New England sits at 2-2, sandwiching two wins (at Minnesota and vs. Oakland) between a grim season-opener at Miami and a listless effort in Kansas City. (And after they got one-room-schoolhouse disciplined by the Chiefs, the term “listless effort” drips with kindness compared to most descriptions we could think of.)

Monday night’s palindromic 41-14 loss in KC will send this team in one of two directions: they’ll either figure it out, come together, and get their requisite double-digit wins, or they’ll continue on this path and fail to live up to expectations. After last night, fans find it difficult to consider anything other than the latter.

Some thoughts on the season so far:

RECEIVERS. Okay, what the hell? Last year  by Game Four, then-rookie Aaron Dobson had 11 receptions for 118 yards and a touchdown. This year he has one catch for 13 yards and a growing collection of healthy scratches. In 2013, then-rookie Kenbrell Thompkins had 15 catches for 257 yards and three TDs through four games. This year, six for 53, plus a couple of healthy scratches as well.

Last year by this time, then-rookie Josh Boyce had one catch for 24 yards, a virtual career compared to his zero for zero due to his current practice squad status. Danny Amendola in 2013? Ten catches, 104 yards, all from his very first game in a New England uniform. Amendola suffered a groin injury that made a bris seem preferable, forcing him off the field for the ensuing three games. This season he has three grabs for 16 yards (and as many last night as all of the above pass-catchers, i.e., zero).

So what the hell happened to the receivers? Why did what had the potential of a bust-out season become merely a bust? Some potential reasons below.

OFFENSIVE LINE. These guys have yielded to pressure like gullible teenagers. With rookies Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming manning the center and guard spots, respectively, maybe they have the formation that will work out for the best (despite Fleming getting roundhoused like a palooka at one point).  The raw numbers from this year actually depict similar pressure on Brady as in the first few games of last year (as submitted by @PatriotsSB49 on Twitter), but – combined with some curious play-calling, the offense has seemed far more consistently feckless than they have in years.

PLAY CALLING: Hey, Josh McDaniels? Maybe run the ball. Maybe, when you travel to the loudest, or second-loudest, or however-loud-it’s-always-louder-than-Gillette-Stadium-gets stadium, maybe avoid passing on the first three downs, punting, then giving the Chiefs the ball for the rest of the quarter? Just an idea.

And, no go on those bubble screens any more? You know, the ones where Julian Edelman, your best receiver, gets the ball in space? No viability in putting Dobson out there for a pass longer than 15 yards? No sense in running your biggest back, Stevan Ridley, on third and two?

When the Patriots mix it up, they can use play-action, which seems about the only way the Patriots receivers can get open. How much yardage they gain on the ground doesn’t matter as much as the fact that they make the defense look for it. In Miami, New England passed 56 times and rushed only 20 (for 89 yards). At Minnesota, they had 37 rushes for 150 yards, actually averaging less than they did in Miami at just over four yards per carry, but with enough consistency to get the job done.

And why the hell isn’t Tim Wright getting more looks? Is he not a matchup problem for defenses? Can’t they just pull an Ochocinco and call a down-and-out for him twice a game? Seems like he should be contributing more at this point. I mean, not all new players can be Danny Woodhead and offer major contributions after one week in Foxboro, but a player who caught 54 passes for Tampa Bay last year should have more than four with his new team.

Christ, remember Danny Woodhead?

BRADY: Because of our first three topics, Brady hasn’t been himself (or, perish the thought, maybe this is what he has become START GAROPPOLO NOW Oh Heavens help us). He forces the ball to Rob Gronkowski despite Gronk getting double- and triple-teamed. He forces the ball to Edelman despite having enough field in front of him to run for a first down. His performance in KC (14 of 23, 159 yards, one TD, two INTs) shows the kind of pressure he was under.

Last year he seemed to trust Thompkins. He sure as hell trusted Amendola, at least for one game. Now, not so much.

PERSONNEL: Some iffy choices by the coaches (see receivers issues above). Plus, hard to imagine this defense performing worse with lineman Tommy Kelly aboard. Say what you want about Logan Mankins’ decline and his price tag, but he would have offered some stability to a crew that has seen more shuffling than your grandmother’s deck of cards on a rainy afternoon of Crazy Eights.

On defense (and I refuse to focus on defense, because seriously, I can’t), where are the playmakers? If Chandler Jones doesn’t sack somebody, does anything happen? Is Revis Island more like Revis Sandbar, showing up half the time and then disappearing? And can someone get Rob Ninkovich some new cleats?

HEART. Or, as we say around here, HAHT. Where is it? Why does it seem that, when they get behind, most Patriots players seem to look around, waiting, hoping someone else makes a play?

Think about it. Taking size out of the equation, if you found yourself in a vicious cockfight, which New England player would you want by your side?

I’d take Edelman. Matthew Slater. Rob Goddang Gronkowski, who – bless his soul – had the good taste and wherewithal to avoid a Gronk spike Monday night after his late TD.

Who else? Jones? I’d say so. But Vince Wilfork? Ninkovich? I have to think about them. I would not have to think about putting Mankins on this list.

Brady? In a fight? I don’t know. Maybe he’s gotten weary. Maybe too much has been put on him. The coaches can’t – or won’t – depend on the running game. The O-line can’t give him the consistent time and comfort he needs in the pocket. The defense can’t get him the ball back quickly, if Monday night’s fecal-sluice-bag of a game is any indication.

The 2013 Patriots made it all the way to the AFC Championship with an injury-depleted roster. With many of those injured players back playing, the 2014 Patriots suffered their worst loss since 2005 on their way to a .500 record through the season’s first quarter. I don’t know exactly what’s happening. Maybe they don’t, either. But in Buffalo in two weeks – after a presumed loss to Cincinnati and a 2-3 record – they’d better figure it out.

Chris Warner can be consoled at chris.warner@patriotsdaily.com and on Twitter at @cwarn89

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27 thoughts on “Patriots 2014 First-Quarter Review

  1. LTD, I’m with you now — McDaniels has to go. There’s no excuse for last night. None.

    Also, all you need to know about Brady this year is that on both the Edelman-stops-running pick and the throw-it-down-the-middle-with-three-defenders-in-view pick, he NEVER ONCE looked off the receiver he ultimately tried to throw to. Ironically, on the latter one Edelman had beaten his man and was free over the middle, but short. Never got a glance.

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    1. Charlie Weis is newly unemployed. Bringing the man into the fold certainly couldn’t make things worse. McDaniels might be a maestro of X’s and O’s, but his game plans and play calls are putrid. It’s like he doesn’t take into account that the offensive line is an abortion. Yes, play to the defense’s weaknesses, but consider your offense’s limitations as well. Maybe I’m idealizing Weis’s time here, but I feel like the guy could make a difference right now. And I think he’d get on Brady’s ass as well — which is needed. Remember the use of the screen pass during the Super Bowl winning years? That was, essentially, part of the running game. And it worked like crazy.

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      1. Personally I would love to see this. I know BB had Charlie at Foxboro in the Coaches Box for a game in the playoffs last year. It would not be unheard of…I just don’t see them making the move mid season.

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        1. I think Weis was only there because he heard they were doing a Sizzler-style unlimited buffet in the food area. Rumor has it Kansas had put him on a student meal plan years ago.

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  2. Chris,

    Nice recap of the first four games…here are some additional observations based on last nights game.

    – I thought the OL played well with the 2 rookies. In the first three possessions not one of the passing miscues was because of pressure issues. There was a clean pocket and the Pats did not move the ball at all. I think the answer to most of the OL issues is Stork at Center. He is nasty and he is good. He has some to learn but I think the OL is not the issue.

    – To me the issue and only issue with the offense right now is Josh McDaniel. The plan last night was horrid. They telegraphed each running play by bringing in 3 TE’s. They telegraphed each passing play by putting either Gronk or Edelman in motion. By leaving both Thompkins and Dobson home they were telling the chiefs they were not going more than 15 yards down the field. It was infuriating to watch. I don’t want to let BB off the hook. I presume the man knows what a good offensive plan is. He signed off on this one. He deserves to answer for it.

    – So to fix the offense…if it were me…I would be spreading out opponents going 5 wide with 3 receivers Gronk and Vereen and start playing much faster. The fact we have seen none of that tells me McDaniels head is up his arse. Maybe I am wrong and Brady can’t do that any more…but I watch him throw and there is zip so it appears he should be able to. Maybe he is hurt in which case this is a different discussion. Maybe Brady has stopped trying to reinvent himself so he has become complacent. I am not sure what the issue is.

    – Amazingly enough the Pats are pretty healthy on both sides of the ball and they still played like crap. On defense, I find it interesting that they are playing with no aggressiveness. None. They are waiting for the play to come to them. Would it be that crazy to throw in a corner blitz once in a while. How about bringing the linebackers down hill instead of having them play laterally. I could write a book on how unhappy I was with the play of the front 7. If losing Silva Silaga is this big an issue then they should cut Vince next year and not pay him.

    – The pats have always played bend don’t break but usually they can tackle. This is the second game this year where there is no tackling. So BB will on Monday afternoon tell us they are refocusing on the fundamentals. Here is a concept…let’s dumb down both the offensive and defensive play books so that ALL the players can play without thinking. Then maybe they will remember the fundamentals.

    – I might be in the minority here but I think Revis is playing very well…especially considering they are asking him to play off the line so often. There might have been 4 balls thrown his way last night. If one is caught we see it over and over. When they weren’t it was not emphasized. The issue is not the DB’s or Revis. It is the front 7 and how passive they are playing.

    – I think they bounce back. Cincy is a nightmare matchup for them. But the Pats have no real options other than figuring it out. Might be wishful thinking…might be Tom Curran’s comment “They often win games they don’t look like they should be in”.

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    1. Can’t really call it The Big Show UNFILTERED anymore. Not that I need cursing and the like all the time, but it’s fun to hear Pete get all worked up and let it fly sometimes.

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      1. Well, you have to think they knew this going in. I miss the unfiltered because I don’t mind some edge to language but it’s not an absolute prerequisite to having an enjoyable show. Their goal was obviously to be bigger than “Podcast in Glenn’s attic”. Dan Patrick started his show the same exact way.

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  3. As painful as it is to say it, Brady may be done a lot sooner than any of us would have expected. I can only hope that this is injury related in someway, or that we’ll see a big improvement if the offensive line and play calling can get it together. I think this team can still put it together on defense and does have some decent offensive talent, but we’re now through 4 games of dreadful offensive performances.

    Play calling has been quite poor on offense throughout the 4 games. Last night they were way too conservative when they had a very close 4th down in KC territory down 14-0, given how easily KC had been moving on them. KC proceeded to gain back all the yards the Pats gained from the punt in 1 or 2 plays. Multiple times players didn’t make the extra effort that really could have made the difference. Tackling on defense was absolutely horrific.

    Thankfully I am away from the Boston area for much of the week and can completely ignore the local radio shows where I’m sure many of the contrarians are as joyful as we have seen in years.

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  4. Bill Belichick will see signs of Brady aging well before anyone. That’s why he used a 2nd round pick on Garoppolo. He knows Brady’s play will slip sooner than later and he’s addressing that potential problem. Pats don’t lose two in a row.

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  5. Tanguay says the Patriots window has closed. So, my faith is completely restored in this team winning the Super Bowl.

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    1. I love this “window” talk. It’s been going on for at least three or four years now, or since Brady hit around age 32 or 33. I, personally, see a lot of young talent on the defensive side of the ball (Collins, McCourty, Hightower, Mayo, Jones), a receiver in his prime (Edelman), an All-World tight end who should be fully recovered from two years worth of injuries in 2015….you get the idea. Even if they do fall apart and go 6-10 this season, we’re still talking about an NFL with free agency and a salary cap, where also-ran and non-playoff teams from one year suddenly churn out 13-3 records the following year after a productive offseason. And, to be honest, if the Pats slump to a losing record and miss the playoffs this year, that does come with one very positive side effect: a VERY rare chance to draft in the top half of the first round next spring, where the draft’s impact players usually reside. I’m not giving up on 2014; it’s way too early and there IS talent on that roster, for sure. However, I’m also not declaring anything to be “over” just because they might — like Green Bay, Pittsburgh, the Giants and other Super Bowl winners of recent vintage that quickly picked themselves off the deck and won championships soon after their bad seasons — end up with a losing record for once.

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  6. Local media today: How dare Bill Belichick only respond to MY questions by saying they’re moving on to their next opponent. He never does that!

    Really, guys? You employing that ‘short term memory’ NFL players do? Maybe he’s less verbose after a bad loss but when is this not business as usual in Foxboro?

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    1. I think it’s about time for the guy in your avatar to come out with another sanctimonious diatribe about how when Belichick does this to the media, he’s really doing it to US, “the fans”; because, you know, media people only do what they do because they want to “serve the public.” Shank plays that b.s. card more often than most of them.

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      1. Maybe some don’t understand but I get why they don’t want to give the media anything to run with. I can’t blame them. During the week, just turn on one of ESPN’s 300 NFL shows or anything there. Anything and everything they can make into a headline becomes one. We’ve heard some dislike this approach but others appreciate it, especially when done.

        The only descent rebuttal to his approach, via Doug Keyd(sp) on ESPNNH today, was that he wished Belichick had taken some accountability for the bad coaching. I can’t blame him there. Otherwise, we know why it’s done.

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        1. The media has taken harmless comments to signify that Tom Brady is demanding a trade, that Revis hates the Pats and wishes he was on the Jets and other various nonsense. Just imagine what it would be like if Belichick or the players said more to the media. It would be pandemonium.

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  7. Does Jackie MacMullan listen to Toucher and RIch?

    http://boston.cbslocal.com/2014/09/30/rajon-rondo-on-toucher-rich-stories-will-always-come-out-no-matter-what/

    “I am amazed, because I haven’t said not one word to anybody,” Rondo said. “Stories are going to come out, rumors are going to happen. The story of me wanting out of Boston, I was actually in China.

    “It wasn’t much, because I had just got back from China. I was trying to get back to a regular time one. … I was still off. It got a lot of buzz around town or around the nation, but I didn’t make much of it.”

    Rondo said he remains in constant communication with Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens, and for as much as the prospect of free agency excites him, he knows what could serve as selling points for free agents to choose Boston.

    “The fans, loyalty, there’s nothing like it. The playoffs are amazing. No other playoff arena can touch Boston,” Rondo said. “The years we were winning, when we had it rolling … it’s electrifying and it’s something to be a part of. And on top of that, I think no other city has the parades that we have.”

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    1. If she does listen I feel sorry for her. That show is putrid. Poor Fred Toucher, thought he was the next Howard Stern when really the show was just Dakota in the Morning with an FM signal.

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  8. Greg Bedard is an enigma to me. Some days I find him biased, agenda driven and in general lock step with his old Globe lackeys. Then there are days like his appearance yesterday on F&M where he is reasoned, insightful, logical, and most importantly leveled headed and clear. For 2 hours he calmly held Felger and Mazz at bay. He had some very good insights into how league rules changing practice times have effected Belichick maybe more than other coaches, how the departure of Pepper Johnson is being overlooked by the fans/media and felt by the front 7 and how the Pats appeared to have met up with a perfect storm of goodness in KC while the Pats performance on second watch had some positives and hope for the future. It was a pretty darn good segment…significantly better than anything 98.5 ever did with Jermaine Wiggins.

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    1. He is an enigma to me as well, but it’s possible that he takes a more reasonable stance when he does his F&M appearances because those two are so completely unhinged all the time. I still chuckle when I think of the promo clip that CSSNE used to show for their F&M simulcasts that featued Mazz excoriating Belichick to “bring in some damn players and win some football games!!” during the 2011 pre-season. The team ended up in the Super Bowl that year and lost basically because Andre Carter, their best pass rusher, was out for the season at that point and Gronk was playing on one leg thanks to that man again, Bernard Pollard. But CSSNE was still showing the Mazz clip all the way into the post-season if I recall. It’s one thing to be unhinged and to have some solid facts to back up your rants; it’s quite another to be unhinged simply for the sake of it, and for ratings.

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