We are now ten games into the season, which is typically when Bill Belichick expects his team to be firing on all cylinders. The 1–2 start for New England was not uncommon, as they have found themselves sitting at 2–2 through the first four games many times during the Brady-Belichick era. Belichick has often said he views September as an extension of the preseason, so he understands if they lose a game or two as long as he sees improvement. Sure enough, New England went on a six game winning streak in which they defeated the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs, putting to bed the early concerns about the team.
However, the Patriots played their tenth game of the season in Nashville as they took on the mediocre Tennessee Titans. The Titans are coached by Mike Vrabel, a former Patriot who played under coach Belichick. It was obvious that Vrabel had a strong understanding of the Patriots’ tendencies, as his defense was able to put a lot of pressure on Brady. Tennessee went on to win 34–10, which is the worst loss that the Patriots have suffered in the second half of a season in the Brady-Belichick era. The offense could not get anything going, they constantly had to punt and hand things over to the defense. Marcus Mariota was excellent and torched New England’s defense as he was able to find wide open receivers throughout the game. Could this be the start of a downfall, or was it just a bad game?
There is no doubt that this game gives us many reasons to have cause for concern. Brady did not seem himself, the defense seemed uninterested, and the Titans just appeared to be the more prepared team. As bad as that all sounds, there is always going to be a hiccup or two throughout a season. The Patriots had won six straight games and things were going great; this was a tough spot against a coach who is very familiar with the Patriots. Perhaps even more importantly, Rob Gronkowski has been injured and has not been healthy enough to play. Even if he is unable to get himself back to 100 percent, as long as he can be on the field it will open things up. Opposing defenses have to respect his ability and double team him, creating a lot of extra space for Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon to get open. If defenses think Gronk is still hurt and decide not to double team him, then Brady will simply throw the ball to him until defenses realize they need to stop him.
Coming off of a brutal loss is the perfect time for the Patriots to be entering their bye week, since it will give Belichick and the rest of the team a lot more time to make necessary adjustments. Their next game will be against the New York Jets who are one of the worst teams in the NFL. They then will take on the Minnesota Vikings, which is going to be one of the biggest tests of the year. The key during this bye week is for everyone to get as healthy as possible before they hit the home stretch. Of course, it is reasonable to be a bit concerned after such a blowout, but look for the Patriots to return from the bye week ready to go.