If there was any doubt before, Sunday night sure erased it: the reigning-champion Patriots are contenders again. On the night they unveiled their Super Bowl 53 banner they played like champions. New England handled the Pittsburgh Steelers 33-3 in a game they dominated from start to finish.
I mean literally until the very end, as Bill Belichick was calling timeouts in the final seconds to keep Pittsburg out of the endzone. That’s what I call playing, and coaching, a full 60 minutes of football.
Oh, and the NFL’s most productive receiver over the past five years will soon be joining them.
Rewatching the Film
After trading punts on the opening possessions, the Patriots were able to gain a few first downs to get things rolling. That’s when offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels reached into his bag of tricks. Julian Edelman‘s double pass to James White caught the Steelers off guard for a huge gain, followed up by Josh Gordon bullying his way through some helpless defensive backs to score the Patriot’s first points of the season. They never looked back.
It was a night where everyone got to touch the ball. Undrafted rookie receiver Jakobi Meyers got in the box score with a long catch in the second quarter. This came with major contributions from Edelman and Phillip Dorsett as well (more from him later). Along with steady ground game support, this Patriots had three more scoring drives before the break to lead 20-0.
The only positive for the Steelers came in the opening drive of the second half when they pushed all the way to the goal line only to settle for a field goal. You really have to question why Mike Tomlin didn’t go for a touchdown during a frustrating night for his team. However, following that drive, Tom Brady took it upon himself to show the Steelers how to reach the endzone by virtue of a 58-yard bomb to Dorsett. It was just one of those nights for Brady and the boys.
Devin McCourty intercepted a pass in the final quarter to give the defense a well-earned celebration. They collectively played stiflingly all night, smothering the Pittsburgh offense. They completely shut down the Steelers running game, allowing just 32 yards in that category. Ben Roethlisberger had a night to forget. Some notable numbers were an 18.2 QBR, a measly 5.9 yards per attempt, and a 57.4% completion rate. Those stats are a testament to the Patriots’ secondary and pass rush who were harassing Big Ben all night.
In perfect Patriot fashion, the night was not only a celebration of last year’s championship but also signifies that there may be more to come.
There’s a lot of players who shined on the field, but the game ball goes to the guy who scored off the field on Sunday. Kyle Van Noy missed the opener to witness the birth of his first child, Trae Legend Van Noy. Credit to him for putting his family first in this cutthroat NFL business, and credit to the Patriots organization for supporting. Even Belichick himself FaceTimed Van Noy post-game in the locker room so the team could congratulate him. It was a truly special moment.
Updates from Outside the Uprights
Perhaps the biggest story currently out of Foxborough is the talented but controversial receiver Antonio Brown will be joining the already loaded Patriot roster. Brady will now have the 7x Pro Bowler at his disposal on the field and off it, as he will be living with Brady as he gets situated in Foxborough. This game-breaker comes with its risks but could provide an almost unfair advantage to the Patriot’s offense. The only question is if he can keep it together off the field.
The offensive boost comes at a needed time too, as starting right tackle Marcus Cannon is expected to miss some time. Cannon left Sunday’s game early with a shoulder injury. Though a timetable has not yet been set, it’s not expected to be serious. This comes shortly after starting center David Andrews was put on IR due to blood clots in his lungs. What was previously considered among the league’s top offensive lines, this unit could quickly become an area of concern. The Patriots will now likely expect more from first-year starter Isaiah Wynn, playing at left tackle.
In response to signing AB, the Patriots have traded Demaryius Thomas to the Jets for a sixth-round pick. This didn’t come as a surprise as they had a surplus of wide receivers. Thomas was already on the cusp of the roster, so this move gave New England some value for him. With his declining play compared to some young players they already have at the receiver, this move makes a lot of sense.
Next Man Up: @ Miami Dolphins
Despite recent struggles in Miami, this is a game that should look a lot like last week’s. The Dolphins, who were heavily doubted before the season, promptly got embarrassed by the Ravens, losing 59-10 on Sunday. It was former Patriot’s coach Brian Flores debut, and he’ll have to rally his new team to face his old one, something Belichick’s coaching disciples don’t often do. The Patriots bring more firepower than the Ravens, and even they found the endzone six times before halftime. Mix that with some lingering anger from last year’s “Miami Miracle”, business should be booming for the Patriots.