By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
In one of their most uninspiring performances from the last two decades, the Patriots fell to the Denver Broncos on Sunday, 18-12. As rough as it looked at times, there were a few bright spots, so lets revisit those before we get into some of the struggles.
CB Jonathan Jones. Jones was targeted early and often by Broncos quarterback Drew Lock, and more often than not he rose to the occasion. Early in the game, he broke up two passes in the end zone to keep things close and hold the Broncos to field goals. Then in the fourth quarter, he picked off a deep pass that likely would have ended the game. Instead, the Patriots got a shot to drive for the go-ahead score in the final minutes (a drive that, of course, was unsuccessful). The secondary as a whole really had an outstanding day - they were the best position group on the field by far - but Jones stood out as the best of the best.
LB Ja'Whaun Bentley. After a few tough games against the run, Bentley was much improved on Sunday. It wasn't perfect, but he was patient closing off holes, and then finishing tackles (he led the team with 12). He also recorded his first career (half) sack in the third quarter. The Patriots will need similar growth and production from him moving forwards, especially against a strong running team in the San Francisco 49ers next week.
K Nick Folk. Yup. We're going to include the kicker as an up after he made two field goals. It was that kind of game. But in all seriousness, Folk hit from 38 and 41 yards out - a distance that has not been automatic for him. Given how flat the Patriots' offense looked today, it could come in handy to expand the field goal range a bit.
The offensive line. Let's start off with an obvious qualifier. Of course Sunday's game wasn't indicative of the true abilities the Patriots have up front. After Jermaine Eluemunor went out early they had just two Week 1 starters remaining - and both were playing out of position. Still, things were ugly pretty much from start to finish. When you remove Cam Newton's scrambles, the Patriots vaunted rushing attack managed just 2.73 yards per carry on 15 carries. Things weren't much better in the passing game, with Cam Newton having to take four sacks and rushing another handful of throws. Between COVID, injuries, and lack of practices, this unit had everything going against them, and it showed.
WR Julian Edelman. Edelman seemed to be non-existent on Sunday, despite the fact he was the Patriots second-most targeted player and most targeted receiver in the game. Still, he managed just eight yards on two catches. When Cam Newton really needed him to get open - third downs and late in the game - he didn't seem to get any separation. He didn't look like himself at all.
Situational awareness. The Patriots seemed to make a number of questionable decisions throughout the game. None of them were major, but it was very uncharacteristic to see them get so many little things wrong. Of course, the example that sticks out is not challenging the James White third down run that was pretty clearly a first down but marked short. That wasn't the only instance of shortsightedness either. In the first half, Gunner Olszewski repeatedly ran kicks out from deep in the end zone. Maybe the coaches saw something on tape and gave him the green light, but it cost the team valuable yards early. There was also the timeout they called when the Broncos lined up to go for it on fourth down late in the game in a seemingly obvious bluff situation. Finally, of course, there were the three turnovers, which is highly uncharacteristic of a Bill Belichick-coached team.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at [email protected].