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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Thu May 16 - 02:00 PM | Tue May 21 - 11:55 AM

View from Above: A familiar feel, but a similar ending?

Been here, and they've done that...nitpicks as thick as Cape Cod fog...and JR says quitting is one thing, abandoning is another...


Well, that certainly didn't go as planned.  

Every fear, most every fallacy and flaw within these Patriots came to fruition Sunday afternoon in hot, steamy Jacksonville, Florida. But you'll pardon me for just a moment if I crack a YAWN here?

Wasn't there something about this game, being played at this early time of the season, that became oh-too-familiar as it progressed? Haven't we seen this unfold before?

Last year, the Patriots laid an egg in their season and home opener to the Kansas City Chiefs.  

Week Four of the 2016 season at Gillette, there was a shut-out stinker to the Buffalo Bills. 2014 dealt a double-dose of early misery - with an opening loss at Miami and the now-infamous Week Four "they're not good anymore" road loss to Kansas City.

Please. When will we learn? Hey, leave me out of it. When will YOU learn?

In each of the above-mentioned seasons, the Patriots laid early eggs yet managed to reach the AFC Championship game and win it. There were Super Bowls to celebrate in 2014 and in 2016, and very nearly another one last season. Of course, this does not mean you can plug-and-play this team into another championship scenario for 2018.

But you can't rule them out, either. And that's the point.

Bill Belichick will tell you there was a lot left to be desired out on that field in Florida Sunday, the warmest (hottest) regular season game in team history. "There's a lot of things we could have done better today," he told the media in the aftermath of Sunday's 31-20 debacle. "There's a long, long list."

And every item on that list is in plain view for all of us to see, to comment on, and to worry over. We'll nitpick on a few choice items in a moment. Physically, the offensive line was overpowered at times - most notably in the 4th quarter when LaAdrian Waddle was whipped and Tom Brady strip-sacked of the ball as the Patriots were mounting what appeared to be another in a long line of possible comebacks.

On the other side of the line, an improved defensive front couldn't generate the least little bit of pressure on Blake Bortles. Bortles, at times, made Houston's Deshaun Watson look almost pedestrian by comparison. Was Michael Vick-in-his-prime making a comeback?

On top of the physical evidence, there was also the look of an ill-conceived game plan, too. I mean, has this team ever seen an opposing offense run a crossing route? Jacksonville was a thorough aggressor throughout, something they were not in the AFC title game last January.  

Sunday, they exacted a measure of revenge. But in reality, it's a Week Two regular season win for the Jags. Nothing more, nothing less. Kudos to them.

Spare me the 'setting a tone' or setting an example for the rest of the league. There's a long, long way to go - 15 more weeks - before coming to any accurate conclusions. Based on recent history, the Patriots have figured out a way to improve from early disappointments to become competitive. More than competitive, really.  

One game does not a season make. We should know that by now. And thank goodness for it, too.

Feeling the Heat

A lot was made over "this is the hottest game in the NFL in 15 years." So we were told by the CBS television crew. 97 degrees at kickoff, felt like 107.  

To the Patriots, the game time temperature should have meant absolutely nothing. But you wonder if the heat was a factor? The Jaguars reportedly had thermometers installed on the sidelines, including New England's, and the Patriots reportedly took theirs down, not wanting the heat to become a distraction.

Oh, those guys and distractions. You know how they like to dismiss them before they ever become a thing.

But when you consider the game time temperature was the hottest home game in Jacksonville history, the hottest game in New England football history - and that a Tom Brady-led team had lost four of the previous five warmest games the Patriots have ever played - well, is that just a coincidence?

Or was Jacksonville's imposing their offensive will on a Patriot defense that couldn't get off the field on 3rd down only making matters worse?  

Get Off the Field

Speaking of imposing offensive will on someone, the Jaguars' ability to convert on 3rd downs (8 of the first 10, 10-of-14 overall) was a monstrous factor in the game. The heat on top of that certainly couldn't have helped matters.  

Sucking wind is one thing. But missing assignments, playing soft, lacking coverage and applying little-to-no pressure is another thing, entirely. There's a reason for allowing 10-of-14 on 3rd down, and 7-of-10 on 3rd and 6...or more.  

You didn't make plays.

The middle of the defense was soft, and the Jags continually pounded it like you pound a pillow before going to sleep. No Leonard Fournette? No problem. T.J. Yeldon, Dede Westbrook, Donte Moncrief and Corey Grant all did a great job at attacking the middle in running and receiving. Short stuff, like a boxers' jab, was most effective.

And when guys like Keelan Cole make catches like the one-handed grab in the 1st quarter over Eric Rowe, well, there just wasn't much else Rowe could have done. Sometimes, you simply applaud the play of your opponent.

But at least make a few yourself, too, and get off the field on 3rd down if you want to stay in the game.

Think, before you act

As miserably as the day progressed for the most part, opportunity still presented itself to the Patriots in the 4th quarter. Down by 11 points after fumbling away a chance to pull within one possession early, on 4th and short from the NE 18, the Jags jumped at the line.

The Pats didn't flinch. Had they created contact with the offending defender, there would have been an automatic first down for New England, and still a chance to pull within one score/possession with eight minutes remaining.

Say what you will about not going for it on 4th and less than one, with the best-ever at the QB sneak under your center. But the lack of awareness by the punt team in failing to take advantage of a clear Jacksonville mistake - one they got away with - isn't excusable.

I'll wager it didn't go unnoticed in the film room this week.

He buffaloed the Bills

Usually when a player retires from the game, there isn't much fanfare to go along with it. A few huzzahs, attaboys and congrats are thrown out, but few leave an impression like the one left by Buffalo's Vontae Davis this weekend.

At halftime of what would become a 31-20 Bills' loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, Davis apparently decided he'd had enough. Not just enough of the game, but enough of football. He dressed into his street clothes and left the stadium, telling a few teammates he was through.

He quit? Just like that? That's not quitting. That's abandonment. And for a veteran player who was in his 10th year of suiting up in the NFL, competing and playing next to his brothers-in-arms, it is singularly one of the most selfish acts a pro athlete has committed in some time.  

Maybe ever.

Forget that he said afterward he felt like he physically didn't belong out on the field, or that he didn't mean any disrespect to his teammates - which he did.  He disrespected them, in the middle of a game and not after a practice or in a film session. He could have prepared his coaches prior to his decision, too, so they wouldn't be left short-handed. But he didn't, leaving his team in a personnel bind with only three healthy cornerbacks to play in the second half.

You've heard the term "man up" before? It doesn't apply to Vontae Davis. He manned down. Hope he can live with that, because now...he'll have to.

For whom the Bell tolls

LeVeon Bell is still holding out from the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Steelers are off to an 0-1-1 start without him. His decision not to report to the team and not sign his franchise tag, however, is sneaky smart.

Why? For a player who values himself highly, it's clear the Steelers only value him to a certain degree. Knowing full well his body will take an immediate pounding once he returns, he's playing by the rules established before him - he could wait until Week 11 to report, and still gain credit for a full season of playing time.  

He's saving his body, while he can. He can push pedal-to-the-metal when he returns (think he'll be welcomed back?) and possibly set himself up for a bigger free agent payday next season.  

Bell is forfeiting more than $855K per game he misses this season. Over 10 games, do the math, it's a pretty penny. So why is he not being selfish, like Vontae Davis in his abandonment, or, retirement this weekend?  

Because he's not under contract to play for anyone until he signs his tender. He's smart. This is business, and a little self-preservation. He's not quitting anything.  

He's just waiting for the right time to re-enter the game, without needlessly damaging the merchandise.

John Rooke, an author and award-winning broadcaster, is in his 26th season as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for more than 30 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.

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