What it Means:
After the Cardinals fumbled in New England territory with under one minute remaining in the game and a two-point lead, the Patriots had all but stolen a win in their home opener. A holding penalty on a potential game winning touchdown and missed field goal later and New England is now facing the possibility of falling to 1-2 heading into Baltimore next weekend. That is how quick things can change in this league, and that is the reality this team will have to face. The lesson learned from the loss will most likely be more valuable for this young Patriots team than if they had snuck out a win that they did not deserve. The fact that the Patriots also appear to have lost their star tight end, Aaron Hernandez, for the next few weeks changes the outlook for the foreseeable future, as the roles of players like Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd will certainly increase in the offensive game plan. This was the first home-opening loss for the Patriots since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002.
Hernandez Injury Changes Tempo:
After Aaron Hernandez went down with an apparent ankle injury in the 1st quarter, the offense never adjusted throughout the rest of the game. They could not convert on short 3rd down plays, where Hernandez would be a main target, and this changed the complexity of the game. It appears Hernandez will miss the next 4-6 weeks, so the offensive game plan will surely change in his absence. Expect Deion Branch to potentially return to the team to provide another option that Brady is comfortable with until Hernandez returns.
It is unclear if Tom Brady was uncomfortable due to Aaron Hernandez’ absence, but if that was not the case the pressure Arizona asserted on Brady throughout the game surely played a big role in the matter. This pressure contributed to why the Patriots lacked any sort of rhythm until their late touchdown in the 4th quarter. This problem will have to be fixed quickly this week if New England wants any chance of winning in Baltimore next weekend.
Defense Not to Blame:
Unlike last year, the defense was not to blame for the Patriots trailing for most of the game today. They were actually the main reason why New England even had a shot to win the game in the end. Chandler Jones looked very explosive for a second straight week, as he had pressure on Kevin Kolb all game and even forced a fumble in the 2nd quarter. Thanks to the other fumble New England recovered with just under a minute remaining in regulation, Stephen Gostkowski had a chance to be the hero. Although the kick missed well left, credit the defense for keeping the Patriots in this game.
Brady and Lloyd Still Off:
Tom Brady connected with Brandon Lloyd for a few out routes, one of which was a great catch by Lloyd, but the new deep-threat wide receiver also dropped a couple easy passes throughout the game. These two have yet to create the chemistry they will need if New England wants to go far this year, as was evident by Brady “chewing out” Lloyd on the sideline after he mis-ran a route early in the game. Expect a couple shots deep from Brady to Lloyd next week, as they will try to continue to work on their chemistry.
Gostkowski Great Game, But..:
winner for New England from 42 yards out. While Gostkowski has been one of the best kickers in the league over the past few years, he has rarely found himself in “must-make” last second field goal situations like today. This may haunt him when his next field goal chance arises in the closing minutes of a game.
Top Note - Wes Welker passed Troy Brown, who was honored at halftime for his induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame, for most receptions in Patriots history (558).
Up next – The Patriots head to Baltimore next weekend to take on the Ravens in an early challenge for New England. Kickoff is Sunday night at 8:20 PM.
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