By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It was clear to anyone with an understanding of Julian Edelman’s importance to the Patriots offense that Tom Brady and the Pats would have a slow start as they adjust without No. 11. It turns out that the early-season adjustment period could be even harder than expected, thanks to a glut of new faces on the field. They will eventually adjust and play to its usual elite level, but it could take some time.
And in light of the Patriots’ poor defensive performance against the Chiefs, the urgency for the offense to turn it around just intensified to possibly critical levels.
In the long run, it’s clear that the real issue for the Patriots is on defense. They seriously lack depth behind Dont’a Hightower, who thankfully avoided a serious injury, and probably won’t have the personnel to generate a consistent pass rush. But that only means that it’s become even more important for Brady and the offense to carry the team as the defense rounds into whatever form it ultimately takes.
The offense may do just that. They have the talent to do so in the second half of the season. But as the Chiefs proved on Thursday night, the Patriots are not as far ahead of the rest of the league as many believed – and it’s reasonable to assume that other upcoming opponents are in Kansas City’s class.
As confident as you should be that the Patriots will bounce back big-time in Week 2 against the Saints (they will), suddenly it looks like Brady may have to match Drew Brees throw-for-throw in New Orleans. Week 3 against Houston’s stout defensive front will be as tough, if not tougher than the Chiefs for Brady to handle. Week 4 against the Panthers won’t necessarily be a cakewalk, as Brady will have to navigate around All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly while the Patriots’ beleaguered front-seven could have real issues containing Cam Newton. Week 5 against the Buccaneers, a short-week road game against a solid defense and dynamic passing attack led by a rising star quarterback in Jameis Winston, is a bigger crapshoot than it may appear.
It’s obviously possible that the Patriots swat all these opponents aside, get out to a 4-1 start, and the loss to the Chiefs becomes a distant memory. But the 0-1 start, and how the team looked getting there, means that a 3-2 start really shouldn’t shock anyone. The schedule won’t get any easier from there.
A start as “bad” as 3-2 or 4-3 could mean the difference between the Patriots hosting the AFC Championship Game and playing it on the road. You can’t possibly argue that it wouldn’t matter. The Patriots are just 3-4 in road playoff games in the Brady-Belichick era (three of the four losses were in Denver), and haven’t won since their positively gut-wrenching, how-the-hell-did-they-pull-that-off win in San Diego in the 2006 AFC Divisional Playoff.
This is a long way of saying that the Patriots will almost certainly figure things out on both sides of the ball by Thanksgiving, which is usually when they start rolling through their opponents regardless of the circumstances. But they didn’t look ready on Thursday night and it’s hard to believe they will have everything ready to go within 10 days, especially on defense.
In fairness, the Saints are not the Chiefs when it comes to their own defensive personnel. Kenny Vaccaro is a pretty good safety, but he’s no Eric Berry. Their best cornerback may be a rookie, first-round pick Marshon Lattimore. Cameron Jordan … is actually really good off the edge, but the Patriots could key on him without worrying about anyone else in the front-seven causing serious problems.
There’s also the distinct possibility that Brees and the Saints also look out of sync on offense to start the season. They are without wideout Willie Snead due to a suspension and signed Ted Ginn to replace Brandin Cooks. So the Patriots may have actually found an ideal opponent for a bounce-back game.
But that bounce-back better happen quickly with Brady and the offense, because for the defense the turn-around could take much longer.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @Dolloff985 and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.