By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It is a standard human condition for people to get hyper-focused on their own problems. It’s just the way we are programmed. So occasionally, we lose sight of some matters that may be taking place in far-off lands. It happens.
And with the Patriots at 1-2 to start the year, coming off a brutally painful 26-10 loss in Detroit, the locals are a bit perturbed. Understandably so.
Yet while much work will have to be done for the Patriots to patch up some weaknesses across the roster and in the game plan, everyone can at least take solace in the fact that the Patriots are far from the only team to get off to an unexpectedly choppy start.
You can first look over to the other top contender to win the AFC, the Pittsburgh Steelers. They’re still without a win, having tied the Cleveland Browns — yes, those Cleveland Browns — and lost to the Chiefs. One of their two best players is riding jet skis instead of going to work, and the other one of their best players was a no-call no-show last week at the facility because he was mad about losing. He later told the media, “We suck.”
Things are going swimmingly in Pittsburgh.
Considered the third-best team in the conference this summer, the Jacksonville Jaguars were collectively on cloud nine after trouncing the Patriots in Week 2 on a steamy day in Florida. Unfortunately that Week 2 victory didn’t really lead to any success in Week 3. At home, against the Titans, the Jaguars could score just six points. Facing a quarterback in Marcus Mariota who couldn’t feel his hand, the Jaguars lost. The score was 9-6.
A dud with a thud.
There is admittedly one team in the AFC that has reason to feel supremely confident, and that’s of course the 3-0 Kansas City Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes looks unstoppable, and the Chiefs can’t do anything wrong. There’s no reason to feel poorly about the Chiefs. (But you should perhaps remember that the Chiefs started last year 5-0. They ended up being 6-6 in a hurry.)
The Miami Dolphins are the AFC’s only other team that’s yet to lose, as they are owners of a tidy 3-0 record. But their wins have come against three teams that are a combined 3-6, and their real, true test will come Sunday in Foxboro. Losing by 20 points to Bill Belichick’s team will set the Dolphins right back to where they started this season.
The Cincinnati Bengals got off to a great start … then they lost by 10 to the Panthers. The Houston Texans had some high hopes this summer; they’re now 0-3. The Los Angeles Chargers received their annual, undeserved praise and hype; they’re 1-2. The Indianapolis Colts were excited to get Andrew Luck back on the field. They’re off to a 1-2 start.
You look around the AFC, and while the Chiefs are far and away the best team, it’d be difficult to say the Patriots are in a much worse position than anybody else. (That is, of course, provided they can hold serve against the Dolphins on Sunday. If they can’t …. we’ll have to revisit this matter.)
Over in the NFC, it’s fairly similar. There is one dominant force — the Los Angeles Rams — that looks unbeatable at the moment. They’re off to the start they need, to be sure. But they also just lost Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters to injuries. One might say such a turn of events might impact the defense. They’ve got Minnesota next, followed by three straight road games in Seattle, Denver, and San Francisco. Then there’s a home date with the Packers and then a trip to New Orleans. They’ll be busy in the coming month-plus.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got off to a Fitzmagical start, which has been one of the more fun stories in the league this year. But Ryan Fitzpatrick has been in the NFL since 2005. Consistency has never been his calling card. That bubble will almost certainly burst sooner or later.
The defending-champion Philadelphia Eagles are 2-1, a solid if not overwhelming start to the year. Meanwhile the Minnesota Vikings, who made it to the NFC title game last year and were expected to be a real Super Bowl contender in 2018, just lost. At home. To the Buffalo Bills. By 21 points. In a game where they were favored by 17 points. That’s going to leave a mark. The Vikings are now 1-1-1.
Aaron Rodgers and his always-mighty** Green Bay Packers are off to a terribly disappointing 1-1-1 start after tying the Vikings in Week 2 and then getting blown out in Washington this past weekend.
(**Is it weird that we always talk about the Packers like they’re perennial Super Bowl contenders? They’ve won one Super Bowl this century, and they’ve made it to just two other conference title games in the past decade. I suppose it speaks to Aaron Rodgers’ unbelievable talent that we always consider the Packers to be a contender, almost as a birthright. But … well … they’re 1-1-1 right now.)
The Atlanta Falcons are hoping to climb back to that mountain and reach another Super Bowl. But they’re 1-2 and they lost their two starting safeties to season-ending injuries. The San Francisco 49ers invested tens of millions of dollars in quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, hoping he would be the franchise savior. He suffered a torn ACL on Sunday and his season is over.
A few teams — the Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, Washington Redskins, Carolina Panthers — are probably happy to be 2-1. Still, none at this point would be considered to be a powerhouse.
Perhaps there is an element or two of truth to this sentiment:
You get the idea. Things are bad in New England at the moment. Bill Belichick the GM is under attack. Bill Belichick the coach has lost in consecutive weeks to Doug Marrone and a previously winless Matt Patricia. Tom Brady looks ordinary. Rob Gronkowski is getting neutralized. Dont’a Hightower can’t run properly. Sony Michel doesn’t look like a first rounder. Stephon Gilmore and the secondary makes life too easy for opponents. Blake Bortles ABSOLUTELY DESTROYED them. Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson and Phillip Dorsett have been non-factors. The defensive line is getting pushed around. Ditto for the offensive line.
It’s been ugly!
And yet … perhaps more applicable than the Patriots’ own slow starts in 2014 and 2017 (and a little bit in 2016) … would be the Patriots’ relation to the rest of the Preseason Favorites™. That might offer more encouragement that in the end, things may turn out OK for the local football team. There are currently two, maaaaybe three NFL teams right now that can both feel excellent about their current state and supremely confident in their future. And as we learned in Week 3, even those teams can be just one bad half of football away from getting slapped in the face.
The rest of the league? The rest of the league is trying to figure things out. The Patriots may not be atop the league like they are expected to be, but the worst thing you can say about them right now is that they’re mostly just like everybody else.