Well, dear readers, that was not how I figured this season would begin. With all of their rotating parts on offense, plus a defense that had shown some poor tendencies recently, it seemed the Patriots would get off to a sluggish, 2017-like start. Instead, they brought some heat in the pass rush, some solid offensive drives, and just enough plays at the end to hang on for a 27-20 win.

This team needs work, no doubt. Now they can get that work done with a 1-0 record as they head down to Jacksonville.

Game/Player Observations

Guess we’ll start with the rough stuff first…

Up Hill Battle: Woe to Jeremy Hill. He’s out for the season after carrying the ball four times for 25 yards (6.3 yard avg.) and blocking a punt. Sad to see, especially on such a fluke play – assisting with a tackle on a fumble return. He looked sharp in limited playing time. Hope he can get back to full health next year.

I’ve said it before and it’s worth repeating. The NFL is a tough business. On that note –

The Real Life Of Riley: Shove it with your Cinderella story. Riley McCarron worked on two different teams’ practice squads for two years. He finally got an opportunity to play regular-season football in the NFL. Now he’s off the team. Ouch. If it’s true that turning over the football puts one in Belichick’s doghouse, McCarron became Marmaduke by Monday.

New England has brought in Corey Coleman and Bennie Fowler to shore up the receiver ranks. ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss offers some perspective on the amount of turnover at the position, listing no fewer than 20 transactions since training camp began. The Patriots also added running back Kenjon Barner to the 53, assuring another punt returner in Foxboro. Tom E. Curran says the Barner signing might end up as the most productive for New England. The multiple-back pronounces his first name KEN-yon, by the way.

Could make an impact. Could get released by Friday. The NFL’s a tough business, man.

Keep Tom And Carry On: I underestimated what Brady would be able to do against Houston. His three-touchdown, 277-yard performance bodes well, especially considering the dearth of available wide receivers available vs. the Texans’ pass rush. Another big test next week at Jacksonville will display a more complete picture.

I mean, it’s not like he’s throwing to anyone who’s especially great oh yeah I almost forgot –

Ra-Ra-Rob: Oh, seven receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown catch that made more use of a corner than the end of “The Blair Witch Project”? Fine. You can argue over Rob Gronkowski’s maybe-non-catch all you like. You can lament his fumble to start the second half. But you can never second-guess Gronk’s effort, ability, or impact on this team. He’s stellar, and on a consistent basis he makes it difficult to disagree.

I Don’t Just Support It, I En-Dorsett: Sooo happy for Phillip Dorsett after his seven catches for 66 yards. Three of those grabs came in the waning seconds of the first half and included his first touchdown catch for New England. Those down-and-outs he hauled in will make future opponents’ defenses react to the sidelines; that means spreading out the defense horizontally, opening up more space in the middle for Gronk and the running backs. Keep in mind, Dorsett had 12 catches in 15 games last year. He’s over one-fifth of the way to eclipsing his 33-catch career high over 15 games with Indianapolis in 2016.

Just glad to see the Patriots using his athletic ability. Hmmm…

Patterson, New Jersey? I’m thinking of getting my hands on a Cordarrelle Patterson jersey, and not just because it’s a family name. The new Patriot with more slashes than an independent filmmaker ran three times for 13 yards and caught one pass for six. He has more potential than a can of gasoline near an open flame. His quickness and size set him apart; some defenders don’t seem too excited to hit him, which is tough to do in itself. Interesting to see him against other defenses and how the coaching staff uses him.

P.S. As my wife will tell you, the city in New Jersey is spelled “Paterson.”

J’Whaun-a Talk About The Rookie? Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley had seven total tackles (tied for the team lead) and stayed on the field more than any other linebacker, demonstrating his ability and the trust he has gained from the defensive staff. He had a couple of stops on the goal line and looked much better in coverage than college scouts seemed to let on this past spring.

And if you want to read about teammate Matthew Slater lavishing praise on Bentley like orange sauce on a duck, check out this Zack Cox piece on NESN.com.

New England’s Hottest Club Is Interception: Oh, Stephon Gilmore. Not only did you tie for the team lead in tackles, offering needed run support, you also picked off a long pass in the end zone by ripping it out of teammate Eric Rowe’s hands. Not a perfect game for Gilmore, as his two holding penalties on Houston’s final TD drive showed, but still strong overall. It’s amazing how the sense of command and performance a player can give off can change so drastically after only a year.

Gang Of Four: Joseph Conrad wrote “We live as we dream, alone,” but it appears that New England’s front four works best in tandem. The Texan offensive line isn’t exactly known as Thermopylae for its difficulty to pass through, but no matter what, watching the Patriots generate pressure on a mobile quarterback using four rushers brought joy to the hearts of those from Westerly to Estcourt Station. According to NFL Matchup on ESPN, the Patriots generated the most pressure on an opposing QB of any defense last week (found this via Reiss). Kudos to Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton, Adam Butler, Keionta Davis, and Malcom Brown for their consistent messing up of Watson’s plans.

Random Observations

Watch Your Tone! Tony! Can’t say that feels good. As usual, I enjoyed most of what Jim Nantz and Tony Romo put into my earholes during the CBS broadcast, with one glaring exception. After the Gronkowski fumble ended New England’s housefly-lifespan-short first possession of the second half, Hill helped on the tackle and ended up on the turf. After a quick mention by Nantz, Romo said during the replay as they went to commercial, “What a play by Jackson to get this ball out!”

What? No. Not now. A player is writhing in pain on the field, and we’re supposed to focus on a football play? Make a mention of it as the replay shows, but temper that enthusiasm, man. You said yourself it didn’t look good.

Replay I Would’ve Liked To See: With 0:27 left in the first half, Dorsett made a leaping, so-good-it-seemed-to-happen-in-slo-mo catch near the sideline to give New England a first down at the 18 and help set up their third (and final) touchdown. Replays of Gronk’s long catch down the middle had priority due to its iffiness, but a break from that for a quick replay of Dorsett’s following derring-do would have been both enjoyable and prophetic because the pass-catcher’s next two grabs got them a) down to the four-yard line and b) into the end zone.

Not to get overexcited, but Dorsett has the potential to be as explosive as an Acme product.

Best Line: Romo, commenting on Watson’s Clouseau-level handoff attempt that led to Houston’s opening fumble, said, “Watson’s a little bit flustered initially ’cause he doesn’t know, ‘Should I keep it? Should I give it?’ And he ends up doing a little bit of both.”

Watt Happened? Fun fact of the day: J. J. Watt was offsides on his sack. Looked like he just got a good jump on the snap, but film showed otherwise. Not a stellar day for the officials on both sides.

Helmet Rules: This seemed unsung this week, but what the hell happened to all the “lowering the helmet” calls from the preseason? Patterson lowered his head and almost knocked a guy out. Gronk got dinged by d-backs’ domes on multiple occasions. It’s as if what had become a preseason dog and pony show suddenly forbade animals on the stage. As spelled out by Kevin Seifert on ESPN.com, this past week’s action (not including Monday night) saw only one flag for the new helmet rule, waaay down from an average of 1.55 called per game in the first couple of weeks of the preseason.

So the rule kinda/sorta changed, maybe, like we’re not supposed to notice? Is the NFL John Candy and we’re all Cruiser? It’s difficult to think of a business that deals with fewer consequences for its ineptitude than this league. One of these seasons I’m just going to focus on American Ninja Warrior.

Netflix Note Of The Week: Good Heavens, “Ozark” takes a lot out of me. Great show, but Season Two has a higher body count than Gallipoli.

I’m Walking, Yes Indeed: My two pet peeves for “Fear The Walking Dead” this week include the fact that, were an alligator to consume a human body (zombie or no), it could survive on that meal for weeks and would not continue hunting. Also, these dead people breathe more loudly than an overexerted pug with a head cold, yet somehow they consistently manage to creep up silently on living, hearing people for sneak attacks?

I tell you, I have got to stop watching this show. You are both warned, AMC and the NFL!

WEEI-I-I-I-I-I Where Do We Go Now? By God, listening to Boston sports radio feels like getting cussed out by an inept boss in front of a room full of your co-worker friends. It just embarrasses me and fills me with feckless, frustration-based hate. On WEEI around 8 a.m. on Monday, the crew spent a couple of segments calling announcer Jim Tessatore a bad father for tweeting about missing his son’s first college football game, then went into a point-by-point analysis of how ESPN baseball’s Jessica Mendoza remains unfamiliar with Fenway Park.

Jesus Christ, you guys. You’ve spent the past year breaking down the relationship between New England’s QB and coach, and once we finally get real football, the Pats’ opening win doesn’t garner a full four hours? Boston sports fans deserve better. At least, I hope they do.

The Patriots travel to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars next Sunday afternoon at 4:25. I predicted they’d lose that one, too. Here’s hoping I’m just as wrong.

Chris Warner writes words that eventually appear online. He enjoys sports. @cwarn89 on Twitter.


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