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.