The New England Patriots didn’t play their best football Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens, but the loss could be a good thing in the long run.
This is right around the time every year that New England Patriots fans start showing off their knowledge of the classic European folk tale “Henny Penny” by both thinking and saying out loud its most famous catchphrase, over and over and over again, both alone to themselves and to anyone within earshot in small groups and large crowds alike.
Of course, in America this story is better known by its alternative name, “Chicken Little.” The classic idiom remains the same though on either continent: “The sky is falling! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”
And all because a little acorn fell on the head of a farmyard bird.
Certainly what Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens did to the New England Patriots on Sunday night qualifies as a bit more concerning and significant than an itty-bitty acorn falling off a tree branch, but you get the picture. It was a disappointing road loss for the defending champs no matter how you want to spin it… but let’s also keep things in perspective.
The Ravens, now 6-2 on the season, are a very good football team. Jackson has made plenty of defenses this year look like they’re playing in quicksand against him. Baltimore coaches and players acknowledged afterward that this game meant a little something extra to them, so it’s probably a safe assumption that the Ravens simply wanted the win more than the Patriots did.
All of that can be true, and it doesn’t mean that New England’s hopes of a seventh Super Bowl title just evaporated into the aether like a wisp of thin smoke.
The Patriots are also a very good football team. They may not have looked the part at times on Sunday night, but there was also a lot to like in certain aspects of their execution – particularly on offense. The Pats also showed plenty of heart and tenacity in battling back from an early 17-point hole, twice closing the margin to just four points.
As pointless as it is to play the “what if?” game, who’s to say the outcome of the game isn’t dramatically different if Julian Edelman manages to hold onto the ball during that opening drive of the third quarter? New England looked like they were primed to score a touchdown and take the lead, Baltimore’s defense was on its heels, and the entire pendulum of momentum might have swung the other way if not for Marlon Humphrey’s fumble return touchdown right then and there.
Is there room for improvement? Resoundingly, yes.
One of the many wonderful benefits of having Bill Belichick as your team’s head coach is you know that win or lose, he’s going to have plenty to dissect and teach his team the week after a game. The Patriots could lose by 17 points like they did against the Ravens or they could win by three touchdowns… it doesn’t matter. Belichick is too good of a football coach to let his players get complacent, and he knows better than anyone that there’s always more work to be done.
That’s why the Pats have been so dominant for so long. They’re never content to rest on their laurels, gaze backwards wistfully, and reminisce on their own greatness. Belichick is forever telling members of the press that last year is last year, and that there’s no point in comparing or contrasting previous iterations of the teams he’s coached and managed. At the end of the day, all that matters is the present… the here and now.
Tom Brady gets it too. In a recent interview with Westwood One Radio’s Jim Gray, Brady dismissed all the speculation about his playing future, reiterating once again that he’s solely focused on the job he has to do every individual week: winning a football game.
Here’s what he said, via NESN’s Zack Cox:
“I don’t know why it’s being brought up. I had a good quote that came to mind — someone told me, ‘The past and future are in the mind. I’m in the now.’ And I think that’s a great way to live life. So I’m not thinking about many things beyond this week.”
The next team the Patriots face after their bye this week is the same team that beat them in the Super Bowl two years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles will also be coming off their bye, they’ll be playing at home, and they’ll presumably give New England their very best shot, just like the Ravens did in Week 9.
Cornerback Orlando Scandrick was recently released by Philly, and he used the opportunity to take some parting shots at his team on the way out, per ESPN’s Tim McManus. While it’s certainly not unusual for a player to be bitter in that type of situation, one of the comments he made about his former teammates and coaches stood out:
“Let’s just say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. That locker room is different. I’d tell guys when I came there that I felt like they were still living off that Super Bowl high. It’s over. They’re living in the past.”
Scandrick’s opinion on the matter is obviously nuanced by his current lack of employment, but it’s still an interesting take nonetheless.
If there’s any truth to his assertion and the Eagles are still living in the past, it only further illustrates the ideological differences between the Philadelphia and New England franchises. The Patriots couldn’t care less that they’re the defending Super Bowl champions or that they’ve won three of the last five Lombardi Trophies – all that matters to them is winning enough games this season to make it down to Miami this February so they can play for another title.
And despite what happened to them on the road against the Ravens last weekend, they are still primed to do exactly that. The Patriots are more of a lock to win their division and make the playoffs than any other team in the NFL, and it’d be a surprise if they finished as anything other than the No. 1 seed in the conference by the end of the year.
Is there still plenty of work to be done and improvements to be made? Of course. But the sky is not falling for these Patriots just yet, so fans should take a deep breath or two, calm their nerves, and trust the process.
It’s worked for New England before, and there’s no reason to think it can’t work for them again.