New England Patriots do about-face from Week 1 loss to Kansas City Chiefs

By The Sports Xchange  |  Sept. 19, 2017 at 3:03 AM
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Ironically, winning a game under the roof of the Superdome was all it took to prove to New England Patriots fans that the sky was not falling in Patriot Nation following the shocking opening-night loss in Foxborough to the Chiefs.

Quarterback Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champions got off to a fast start against the Saints' sub-par pass defense, putting up a trio of first-quarter touchdowns in New Orleans on the way to the 36-20 victory in Week 2.

Much like Sam Bradford and the Vikings had done to Sean Payton's defense a week earlier, Brady carved up the Saints young, ripe-for-the-taking secondary. Brady completed 30 of his 39 throws for 447 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 139.6 passer rating.

And though New England allowed Drew Brees to throw for 356 yards, the Patriots held New Orleans to just 13 points until what was essentially a garbage-time touchdown to tight end Coby Fleener in the final few minutes.

So, a week after Brady was left questioning the "attitude and competitiveness" of his team following a fourth-quarter collapse against Kansas City, the New England leader took to the postgame podium with a 1-1 record and a far more positive outlook in New Orleans.

"The NFL's tough, man," Brady said. "Every game is tough, every quarter is tough, every play is tough, and you can't take it for granted. In order to win, you've got to go out and compete as hard as you can on every play. We did a good job of that today."

After a night to sleep on the win, Brady made his point even more clear in his weekly appearance on WEEI Radio in Boston.

Critiques of his team were replaced with post-win praise.

"I thought it was four quarters of really tough, competitive football," Brady told WEEI. "That is what we talked about. I think one thing coming out of the previous week was just understanding four quarters of football is what it takes to win. That is what we needed yesterday and we got it from the start.

"We hadn't won a game in a long time, since February. I think to get that feeling of winning again felt good for everybody. It was a fun flight home and now it's quickly evaluating the film and getting on to Houston."

While beating up on the hapless Saints' defense left Brady in a better mood, he and his banged-up receiving corps face a tougher challenge this week at home against the Texans.

With Julian Edelman (ACL) and Malcolm Mitchell (knee) already on injured reserve, Danny Amendola (concussion/knee) missed Sunday's win in New Orleans.

Sunday, two of the Patriots' three healthy receivers got dinged themselves as Phillip Dorsett suffered a knee injury while Chris Hogan was left hobbling off the field with an undisclosed injury, leaving Brandin Cooks as the only healthy body at the position.

Tight Rob Gronkowski also left the win for good in the third quarter with what was announced as a groin injury after he put up more than 100 yards receiving in little more than a half.

Losing players to injury aside, for Brady and Co. Sunday's victory was a true win in New Orleans. It avoided a dreaded, unprecedented 0-2 start in the future Hall of Famer's career.

And it eased the pressure both inside and outside the New England locker room, even for a team that prides itself in its ability to "ignore the noise" from the outside.

"We have to put together another good week and be ready for the Texans," head coach Bill Belichick said. "But it's good to be 1-1."

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Tight end Rob Gronkowski left the Week 2 win in New Orleans in the third quarter with what was announced as a groin injury and did not return. Gronkowski was in the midst of a big day when he gestured for the training staff after being tackled by two Saints defenders on what would be his final catch of the day. After a quiet opener against Kansas City, Gronkowski had six catches for 116 yards, including a 53-yard catch-and-run touchdown before leaving because of the injury in New Orleans.

After the game Gronkowski declined to speak to reporters other than telling them he was a "no-go" media wise before smiling, offering a thumbs up and saying, "But I'm good."

A day later, to no one's surprise, head coach Bill Belichick offered no update on his key pass-catcher.

"No, I don't have any updates," Belichick said. "We'll put the injury report out on Wednesday like we always do and follow the procedures that are outlined by the league."

On Monday afternoon, Gronkowski spoke with reporters in the Gillette Stadium locker room and confirmed the groin injury.

"It's nothing serious and I'm just day-to-day," Gronkowski said, making it clear he had no concerns about his back, which required season-ending surgery last December.

Asked if he might play on Sunday against the Texans, Gronkowski went into full Patriots mode.

"Day-to-day," he said with a smile. "I feel good. It's nothing serious."

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Cornerback Malcolm Butler started all 16 games for the Patriots over each of the last two seasons, establishing himself as the team's No. 1 Pro Bowl cornerback. But Sunday afternoon in New Orleans, Butler was utilized in a reserve role with Eric Rowe getting the starting nod opposite $65 million offseason addition Stephon Gilmore.

Butler did end up playing 49 of 65 defensive snaps against the Saints, at least in part due to Rowe leaving with a groin injury. Still, it was strange to see Butler, who actually made a restricted free-agent visit to New Orleans this offseason after New England signed Gilmore, as anything other than a starter.

Butler declined to speak with the media after the New England win, saying he wanted to spend time with family that was in New Orleans. And Belichick offered little explanation a day after the game regarding the new-look starting lineup.

"There are a lot of things that go into it, but that's what we decided to do," Belichick said of starting Rowe over Butler.

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Linebacker Dont'a Hightower (knee) was inactive for the Week 2 win in New Orleans. The Pro Bowler and captain suffered the injury on opening night against the Chiefs and missed all three days of practice last week.

Given Hightower's recent history of missing a handful of games each season to knee and shoulder injuries - he's missed at least three games in each of the last three seasons - and the fact that he sat out the preseason to a knee injury, it's probably not too stunning that he's already missing time.

But, a report from ESPN Boston over the weekend painted what was initially reported as a sprain in a bit more concerning light. ESPN reported that Hightower "sought a second opinion" from noted orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews last week.

NFL Network followed that report by saying the injury was diagnosed as the "2-3 week variety" and that Hightower could return as early as the Week 3 battle with the Texans.

Still, given Hightower's importance to a New England defense that struggled with communication and in allowing too many big plays in the first two weeks, the injury situation bears watching.

NOTES: LB Dont'a Hightower (knee) was ruled out before the trip to New Orleans, missing the game with what has been reported as a minor MCL sprain suffered in the opener against K.C. Hightower has missed at least three games in each of the last three seasons to knee and shoulder issues and also sat out the preseason after opening the summer on PUP due to a knee problem. ... WR Danny Amendola (concussion/knee) was ruled out on Friday after missing the entire week of practice for the Week 2 trip to New Orleans. Amendola left the opener against the Chiefs in the third quarter with a head injury. ... WR Matthew Slater (hamstring) was ruled out for the Saints game after missing practice all last week to the injury that dates to the early practice action of training camp. Slater had returned to the practice field on a limited basis prior to the season opener, but seemingly suffered a setback at some point. ... DT Vincent Valentine (ankle) was ruled out last Friday prior to the trip to New Orleans. It's the second straight week the second-year player has been inactive, despite practicing on a limited basis on Thursday. He did not practice on either Wednesday or Friday.

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S Nate Ebner (shoulder) was inactive against the Saints, being downgraded when New England traveled to New Orleans on Saturday. Ebner also sat out the opener to the injury, though he did practice on a limited basis last week. ... T LaAdrian Waddle was a healthy scratch in New Orleans. The veteran backup was a healthy scratch for 14 of 16 games last season. ... OL Cole Croston, an undrafted rookie who made the roster as a backup at both guard and tackle, was a healthy scratch for the second straight week. ... --OL Willie Beavers was released from the Patriots practice squad Sept. 16. The former 2016 sixth-round pick of the Vikings had joined the New England practice squad Sept. 5. ... TE Rob Gronkowski left the Saints game in the third quarter with what was reported as a groin injury and did not return. Gronkowski remained in the bench area the rest of the afternoon and spent some time riding the stationary bike. ... CB Eric Rowe left the Saints game with a groin injury in the third quarter and did not return. ... WR Phillip Dorsett was attended to by trainers late in the win in New Orleans for a knee injury. ... RB Rex Burkhead left the win over the Saints in the first half because of a rib injury and did not return. ... WR Chris Hogan appeared to be dealing with a right leg injury in the second half in New Orleans. The receiver was limping around and had the right knee/thigh area wrapped on the sideline.

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