With Tom Brady watching from Robert Kraft’s luxury box, the Patriots looked anything like the team from the dynasty days gone by in New England early in Sunday evening’s season opener against the Eagles. But Bill Belichick’s team shook off the ugly, turnover-filled start to make a game of it before falling short on the comeback in the 25-20 loss.
Bill Belichick on what went wrong in loss to Eagles
The defending NFC champions had a 16-0 lead early thanks to an efficient opening drive that preceded a pick-6 interception by Darrius Slay and then a short-field touchdown drive after a New England fumble.
But Mac Jones got hot in the second quarter and the defense more than did its job to send the game to the halftime ceremony honoring Brady at 16-14.
Philly did just enough on both sides of the ball in the second half to leave Gillette Stadium with the opening victory, even with Jones adding a nice touchdown drive the fourth quarter.
“We did enough things to make it competitive, but not enough to win,” Belichick concluded afterwards.
Before turning the page to next week and the Sunday night affair with the Dolphins in Foxborough, here are some of the highs and lows from what ended up being a hard-fought loss.
Offensive line – Despite playing with two rookies and a guy making his Patriots’ debut after missing the entire summer on NFI, Mac Jones’ line didn’t allow the Eagles to hit him until midway through the third quarter. It wasn’t perfect. There was some pressure. Rhamondre Stevenson struggled to find room to run. But going against one of the best defensive fronts in football, a team that led the NFL in sacks a year ago with the third-most in the history of the league, the Patriots makeshift offensive line of Trent Brown, Atonio Mafi, David Andrews, Sidy Sow and Calvin Anderson was more than competitive enough.
Defense – New England’s supposed to have a strong defense and if Sunday’s test against the Eagles is any indication that’s very much the case. From Matthew Judon’s sack to force an opening drive field goal to three straight three-and-outs to give the offense a chance to get its footing and begin the comeback, the Patriots defense more than carried its weight against the Eagles. The kind of performance it had against Philly on opening day will lead to victories and dominance against theoretically lesser foes down the road.
Christian Gonzalez – The need for New England’s No. 1 pick to hit the ground running on his NFL career was only magnified when Jack Jones was placed on injured reserve this week. Gonzalez was a key part of the overall defensive effort that made life very difficult on Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith in a tough career-opening matchup. Gonzalez wasn’t shutdown. Didn’t win the game, even though he did have a key first-career sack of Hurts in the fourth quarter. He then had a nice tackle on Brown crossing to force a field goal late and then broke up a fourth-down throw to Smith in the final two minutes to get the ball back. Gonzalez certainly wasn’t out of place or getting picked on by one of the best receiver combos the NFL has to offer.
Hunter Henry – The veteran tight end seemed to have a rapport with Jones in their first season together in 2021 and that relationship was rekindled this summer on the practice field. It then carried over to the season opener against Philly. Henry opened up the scoring for the season with a 9-yard touchdown on a nice out-and-up in the second quarter. He had a couple key catches on a drive just before halftime, consecutive 13-yard gains, on the way to another score. He then made a highlight reel one-handed catch for a first down on fourth-and-8 in the fourth quarter with New England down one score. The newly-elected captain Henry finished with five catches for 56 yards and the score.
Bill O’Brien – The returning offensive coordinator didn’t throw a pick. He didn’t fumble. And when his Patriots’ players stopped doing those things the offense began to move the ball and dig out of its early hole.
Jones got as hot in the second quarter as maybe he’s ever been in a Patriots uniform, completing 11 straight passes on two scoring drives. O’Brien has indeed brought competency and experienced execution back to the Patriots offense.
Kendrick Bourne – Bourne was a part of the early struggle, including a drop and not hauling in Jones’ off-target pass on the pick-6. After that Bourne got hot as part of the comeback and Jones’ success. Bourne shook free down the middle for a 19-yard touchdown in the second quarter. He then capped a late comeback attempt with an 11-yard score in the back of the end zone in the fourth quarter. Bourne, who had career highs working with Jones in their shared first season in New England in 2021, finished with 6 catches for 64 yards and the two scores.
Mac Jones early – With TB12 looking down on him Jones was less than perfect early in the opener, his first work under O’Brien. His throw to Bourne was behind the target to the inside in wet conditions, greatly contributing to the deflection that resulted in the Slay 70-yard interception return for the score. He had another couple early throws that were off the mark as he tried to settle in behind a young, makeshift offensive line. He missed an open Bourne on a deep ball that floated long enough for Slay to nearly get another pick. Jones and the offense had two turnovers and two three-and-outs on its first four possessions before the third-year passer got hot. Jones got hot and vanished completing 35-of-54 passes in the rain for 316 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He was also part of a late delay of game penalty that was really ugly.
Early/late execution – Jones’ bad throw led to a pick. Deatrich Wise had a bad offsides penalty to extend the Eagles opening scoring drive. Kyle Dugger had a hold to help Philly out. And Ezekiel Elliott had an ugly fumble on his first reception as a Patriot. Those are game-losing plays, the kind New England made too many of the last couple years. And they put the 2023 Patriots in an early hole. They couldn’t dig out of it in part because of more poor execution. Belichick chose not to kick a short field goal that would have changed the rest of the game. The offense took a delay of game penalty on fourth down. There was a fourth-down route short of the sticks that Henry dropped. Poor early execution – the turnovers – and late execution cost the Patriots the possible opening day upset.
Health – While Jack Jones landing on IR had been processed and accepted by game time, the health issues on the offensive line were worse than most presumed when Cole Strange (knee) and Mike Onwenu (ankle) were both inactive for the opener after they both missed most of the summer to the injuries. Offensive line and cornerback are two of the positions on the Patriots’ roster that lack proven depth, and they’re both being tested to open the year. The good news is both spots held their own despite tough matchups against Philly.
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