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

View from Above: The next 'Game of the Year'

The next big one is upon us...nitpicking through another win...and JR says misery is loving some company in the NFL right about now...


Up next, the Game of the Year. Until the next one comes along.

But that's life in the National Football League, and life (as we currently know it) as fans and followers of the New England Patriots. Every team wants a shot at the King of the Hill, and the Kansas City Chiefs have the next opportunity. With the Patriots coming off of a tough stretch, and with recent documented success of their own against New England, KC is in a pretty good place.

Which is certainly understood at Gillette Stadium. Eventually, while you might not agree with every move made or every strategy employed by your team - you might start to think a little like the head honcho does.

And this one will be a challenge.

"Honestly, it takes you a couple of days to get your feet back on the ground after a game like that (against Indianapolis) just because you put so much into the Monday through Thursday, there's no chance at all after the game to have any kind of catch-your-breath," Bill Belichick told the media post-game Thursday night.  

"You just get right off the treadmill and jump onto another one and it's already going pretty fast."

You're aware of the current whirlwind? Two games in five days - and three in 12 - puts a generous amount of mental and physical stress on an NFL roster. But everyone in the league goes through it, playing on a Thursday. Style points rarely matter at any point in a season, but they mean even less when all you're trying to do is survive the schedule.

When the coach says it's good to win any way you can, even if things weren't perfect, and that the team knows what it needs to work on - don't you tend to believe him?

"In the short amount of time that we had to prepare, I thought our players were focused and did a good job on it," Belichick explained. "Were we as well-prepared as we would've been on a Sunday game? No. Was Indianapolis? No. It is what it is."

And he added after the 38-24 win over the Colts, "we're definitely aware of our tendencies every week and where our production is good and where it's not as good and do we need to change something or get rid of something or add more of something that's being productive for us. 

"We know that our opponents are studying our tendencies every week, so we don't want to go into a game and have an obvious tendency that we're not aware of."

Which takes us into this week for the Sunday meeting with the NFL's Flavor of the Month, those Kansas City Chiefs. Yeah, these guys get after it on offense, and put on a show. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has a rubber-band slingshot for a right arm, plus he can make plays with his legs, too. And he has weapons at running back (Kareem Hunt), receiver (Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins) and tight end (Travis Kelce) that is as good an offensive arsenal as anyone has south of Foxboro.

The Chiefs also know the Patriots have struggled defensively to start the season. They've shown a nasty tendency with difficulty defending speed over the middle, and in struggling to get off the field on 3rd down.  

Perhaps Kansas City is even licking their chops at the thought of playing here, especially having had recent success against New England (two wins in the last three tries) and winning 42-27 in the 2017 opener at Gillette Stadium, for instance?

Maybe. But for the Patriots, this is just more of the same. Tired or not, tough times or not, in New England it's business as usual in the NFL.  

And the next 'Game of the Year.'

An unexpected drop

The 'game within the game' Thursday night undoubtedly featured Julian Edelman's return to the playing field after missing more than a year due (405 days, to be exact) to injury and suspension.

Edelman played 50 of the 71 offensive snaps taken by the team, caught seven passes for 57 yards, and signaled his return to the game with a nine-yard grab of Tom Brady's first pass (on the first offensive snap) of the night.

But the one that 'got away' might have been the biggest grab of the night, on a 3rd and five from the Colts' 44-yard line. He had it for big yards, wide open...and dropped it.  

Drops happen to the best of receivers. And no player is perfect every time out, especially one who has spent the better part of the last year on the outside looking in. It's hard to be completely critical of human error.

But even Jules would tell you, he shoulda had that one.

Getting out of the gate

While it's always important to move the ball early to put pressure on an opponent, the Patriots' penchant for deferring the opening possession to the start of the second half means putting pressure on yourself.

Especially when you have a defense that has been having difficulties defending, and getting off the field in a timely, non-detrimental manner so far this season.

While there has been some improvement after two sub-par stops in Jacksonville and Detroit, there's still work to do in this department. Specifically, after scoring then holding the Colts to three-and-out on Indy's opening possession, on the next possession the defense allowed plenty of cushion during four straight first-downs before a stop at the 20-yard line resulted in a gift 'doink' from Adam Vinatieri.

We get the deferment method at the start of the game. But just remember when you defer, you put the pressure squarely on a part of the team that could use a little assist right about now.

Still seeing too much yellow

Seven accepted penalties for 50 yards might not seem like much of a problem to you, unless you consider the context of where penalties occur. The mistakes made against the Colts weren't egregious, but an illegal block by J.C. Jackson on a punt return cost the team precious field position late in the second quarter. Ultimately, they did score.

A false start on Rob Gronkowski just before the end of the first half nearly cost the offense a chance at scoring, even though Stephen Gostkowski did hit a 45-yard field goal.

There was also a holding call on David Andrews in the 3rd quarter that bumped the Patriots back after holding great field position, eventually leading to a Brady interception that killed a scoring chance which could have put the Colts in an early ice bath.

The second half of the game was sloppy, with little attention paid to detail. A byproduct of the busy schedule? Yes, perhaps. But could the Patriots get away with this against, oh, say, the Chiefs?

Giving their offense another chance to strike or taking away a chance for your own offense to score, could definitely prove problematic.

In the 'no matter how bad' department

A couple of good ones in the 'no matter how bad you have it, someone else has it worse' storybook for Week 5:

Consider the plight of the defending Super Bowl champ Philadelphia Eagles, who fell to 2-3 on the season after a 23-21 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Committing turnovers, penalties and generally making life tough on themselves (just 91 yards of offense in the 1st half Sunday), the Eagles look anything but the part of a champion trying to assert itself once again.

What about the 1-4 New York Giants? Odell Beckham, Jr. called out his teammates for having a lack of energy and heart prior to kicking off against Carolina. He had a private meeting with Eli Manning, his coach Pat Shurmur, and later tried to explain himself to his teammates.

Sunday, while his team actually fought valiantly, they lost in overtime thanks to a 63-yard Graham Gano field goal. Looks like the (side) show on Broadway isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Oh, and the one-time AFC East-leading Miami Dolphins? They managed to blow a 17-0 2nd half lead in losing 27-17 to the Cincinnati Bengals. Miami is now 3-2 on the season - not bad, and still technically tied for first in the division - but they've lost a hold on 1st thanks to their 38-7 loss to the Patriots two weeks ago.

There's a long way to go, still. But some things, they never change. And in the NFL, someone always has it worse than you do.

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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