By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots lost to the Chiefs in a game that feels like it took place five years ago. Any residual panic surrounding the fourth-quarter face-plant has surely subsided by now. (If it hasn’t, please consult a physician.)
Since then, we’ve seen a dozen more games played, with two more to come on Monday night, and we’ve learned some things. And here in New England, it’s officially time to look ahead.
In that regard, the Patriots have a seemingly tall task ahead of them with a trip to the Superdome in New Orleans, the site of one of the single ugliest Patriots losses in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era back in 2009. That game — which the Saints won 38-17 as Brady threw two picks and the New England defense was shredded to pieces — is remembered most for its appearance in the special “A Football Life” on Bill Belichick that aired years later, with Belichick telling Brady “I just can’t get this team to play the way we need to play. I just can’t do it. It’s so [expletive] frustrating].” The game also left us with this visual of Brady:
An image which is not all that dissimilar to the one from the famed 2014 Kansas City loss:
Which was a position he assumed once again in the most recent Kansas City loss:
(It speaks to the Patriots’ success that you can count on one hand the really bad regular-season losses over the course of a decade.)
Yet that 2009 game happened eight years ago and won’t have any relevance come Sunday afternoon.
And in fact, while the Patriots opened up a whole lot of question marks last week, there are five reasons to feel good about their chances heading into Week 2.
1. The Saints Haven’t Been Great At Home. In Fact, They’ve Been Bad
The Superdome might have an aura around it to anybody hung up on that ’09 blowout. But the fact is that the Saints have been a bad home team for three years running.
The Saints went just 4-4 at home in each of the past two seasons, and in 2014, they went 3-5 on their home turf.
Taking it a step further, they went 2-4 last year at home against teams that finished with a record better than .500. In 2015, they hosted just one team that finished with a record better than .500, and they lost. And in 2014, they went 1-2 against teams that finished better than .500.
The Patriots are currently a sub-.500 team, technically speaking. But suffice it to say, they’ll be winning at least nine games this year. And teams like that have gone 7-3 in New Orleans over the past three years.
2. The Saints Are On A Short Week
Somewhat uncharacteristically, we heard Belichick mention multiple times — almost to the point of complaining — about how crammed the summer was for the coaching staff in getting ready for Week 1. With the new roster rules to have one cutdown day the Saturday before the season, Belichick lamented the time crunch of having to evaluate players in the preseason finale just seven days before the start of the regular season, whereas other teams had a 10-day gap before kicking off their seasons.
Of course, Belichick and his staff still had plenty of time to devise a game plan that could have prevented Alex Smith from throwing deep balls all over Foxboro, but the comments from the coach remain relevant.
And in terms of preparation for Week 2, the tables have flipped for the Patriots. They’re the ones with the extra time to prepare, while the Saints will be rushing to get in their work on a short week, thanks to their season opener taking place on Monday Night Football.
It’s a small thing, maybe. But as the Saints take on the Vikings on Monday night, the Patriots will be four full days removed from their last game. In terms of rest and recovery, and in coaching preparation, the Patriots figure to have an upper hand this week.
3. The Saints Were Also Forced To Deal With Losing A Key Receiver Just Before The Season
If the Patriots offense seemed out of sorts without Julian Edelman, then the Saints might be in for a similarly shaky debut without Willie Snead.
Snead was suspended three games for a DUI arrest back in June, and the suspension wasn’t announced until Sept. 1. Whether or not the Saints were preparing for time without Snead, the fact of the matter is that the Saints offense will look very different to start the year.
They’ll be without Brandin Cooks and Snead, two receivers who accounted for 221 of the 391 (56.5 percent) wide receiver targets last year. The duo accounted for 2,065 of the 3,559 (58 percent) receiving yards for wide receivers, and they accounted for 12 of the 24 wide receiver touchdowns last season.
To help offset their loss of Cooks, the Saints brought in Ted Ginn, who is not the answer. They also added Patriots preseason sensation Austin Carr.
The Saints had all summer to prepare for life without Cooks. But life without Cooks and Snead might be choppy.
4. The Saints’ Defense Is … Not Exactly The Chiefs’ Defense
Last year is last year, of course, but for now, it’s all we’ve got. And going by last year’s performance, the Saints aren’t even on the same planet as the Chiefs when it comes to defense.
Here’s how the two teams ranked in some crucial defensive categories last year:
POINTS ALLOWED PER GAME
KC: 19.4, 7th
NO: 28.4, 31st
PASS YARDS PER GAME
KC: 247.4, 18th
NO: 273.8, 32nd
KC: 18, T-1st
NO: 9, T-27th
There are other areas where the teams performed similarly, and the Saints had a better run defense last year. But overall, the Patriots offense should see more opportunities against the Saints than they did against the Chiefs, who had a fully healthy Eric Berry, Justin Houston, Marcus Peters and Derrick Johnson last week.
For the Saints, adding a player like Marshon Lattimore via the draft might help, but you don’t see too many impact rookies at the cornerback position who can drive the change for an entire defense.
5. AFC Contenders Didn’t Cover Themselves In Glory In Week 1
The best team in the AFC thus far is Kansas City. Despite that outburst, though, nobody’s expecting Andy Reid and Alex Smith to go on a Super Bowl run.
The Raiders looked pretty good, if not overwhelming while handling the Titans. The Steelers looked rough in barely beating the Browns. The Texans looked flat-out terrible. The Ravens looked all right, but that was largely in part to how awful the Bengals looked on the other side. The Colts look cooked even if Andrew Luck can play.
In the Patriots’ division, the Jets and Bills looked like the Jets and Bills.
So, the Patriots looked out of sorts in Week 1. But a glance around the league on Sunday showed that few teams — outside of the non-contending Jaguars, maybe — were able to hit the ground running to start the season.