It’s been almost two full days now. Everybody has had a chance to breathe, soak in the reality of what happened on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium, and look forward to the — get ready to yawn — Jacksonville Jaguars.
Their was definitely some fallout to the 41-34 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The Patriots probably won’t get a bye and probably will play some combination of Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Denver and Houston before even sniffing some NFC power and a fourth Lombardi Trophy.
But there were also some good things, in fact 10 good things, emanating as the silver lining from the loss:
1. Brady won’t win MVP.
This is good news? Yes. With Tom Brady having his first double-interception game, in a loss, the MVP momentum immediately shifted to Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and his quest for Eric Dickerson’s season rushing record of 2,105 yards in 1984. Patriots fans seems to worry too much about statistics and awards. It’s not worth the energy.
2. Pats didn’t quit.
What happened when the Patriots led the Texans by three touchdowns eight days ago? They decided they didn’t want to participate in the competition any more and they finished the game getting pummeled. To the Patriots credit, despite being outcoached and outplayed, they played their best football. It’s a great a sign going forward.
3. Brady figured it out.
While it hasn’t happened often — usually on the road in “hostile” territory — how many times have we seen Brady and the offense get shut down completely and decisively by a very good defense? Maybe a once or twice a year. Well, it happened Sunday night and the Patriots and Brady figured it out. Again, after some lackluster playoff performances on offense, this was a welcome sight.
4. Gronk will be back soon.
Finally, Rob Gronkowski was conspicuous by his absence. The Patriots finally felt the implications of his not playing. Well, that’s about to end. Remember, Gronkowski’s strength to the offense is his ability to run the “seam route” down the middle of the field, usually with a linebacker running after him. He is a matchup nightmare. Also, when he’s around, Wes Welker will be single-covered.
5. Belichick will be prepared.
The most striking aspect of the loss to the 49ers was the way the guests took it to the Patriots on both sides of the ball. They basically out-Belichicked coach Bill Belichick. The first three plays of the game were all quick passes for first downs, catching the Pats defense off guard. They pushed the pace of the game and got the important two-touchdown lead, forcing the Patriots on their heels. Heck, the fake punt was embarrassing. The point is Belichick was not ready for it. My guess is that will never happen again.
6. Pats are underdogs again.
This might be the best thing to come out of the loss. The Patriots get to be hunters again. Slowly over the last month, they worked their way from the upper tier to the “best team in the NFL.” It was starting to feel a lot like the undefeated season, in which they appeared invincible. This is a more comfortable place to be. The Patriots get to hear about Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos, the Houston Texans and then San Francisco, Green Bay or the N.Y. Giants if they can pull off a magical run. Belichick will play this card often.
7. Gore was kept under wraps.
This is an unsung silver lining. Frank Gore is one of the best running backs in the league. He is very tough and once he gets going, he’s second only to Peterson in Minnesota. The 49ers have a way of holding onto leads in the fourth quarter by pounding Gore for clinching first downs. That didn’t happen here as the 49ers tried to put the Patriots away. He tallied 71 yards in the first half and ended the game with only 83 yards. He was stopped five times with no gain or a loss. That’s decent “grit” on the Patriots defensive side.
8. Lloyd is alive.
While it took three and a half months, Brandon Lloyd, the Patriots shifty wide receiver, finally had a breakout game. He became the go-to receiver with Welker being doubled and Aaron Hernandez getting roughed up. His 190 receiving yards (10 receptions) was more than any back-to-back games he played as a Patriot. He had two nice receptions on go-routes down the sidelines, which means he could be finally stretching the field (keeping safeties back deep) and opening passing lanes up to Welker, Hernandez and Gronk. His hands have not been a problem. His getting open deep has.
9. Wakeup call.
When you win as often (seven straight) and as convincingly (four of those wins by three touchdowns or more), human instincts can take over, which means you believe you are slightly greater than you really are. That might be the case here. The Patriots were beaten in every aspect of the game and could pay a big price. But the most important thing is for this team to forget about records and stats, and focus on beating the next opponent. After laying an egg after a some recent first-round byes, there is nothing wrong with having to do it the hard way.
10. Pats are tough.
The biggest issue with losing on Sunday night wasn’t the actual “L,” but the ramifications. The Patriots road is not a yellow brick road any more. But from Day 1 this season, the Patriots have been tougher on both sides of the ball than they’ve been since probably their last Super Bowl champion from the 2004 season. Well, that toughness is still intact after the loss. Don’t discount this characteristic. Talent isn’t enough in January. Toughness is every bit as important.
You can email Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.