Week 9 saw the Patriots’ first loss, the Browns continue to disappoint, and the entire NFC North lose on the same day. There is a whole lot to unpack, for most every team in the league.
We cannot cover every single big story, so let’s overreact to three of the biggest stories.
The Pats’ loss will only make them stronger
The Patriots’ schedule through eight weeks was truly pathetic. They played zero 2018 playoff teams.
Five of the eight teams they played are either actively tanking or in the midst of a rebuild (MIA, NYJ twice, WAS, NYG). Two of the remaining three games were played against teams who were supposed to be good, but have proven to be mediocre to bad (PIT and CLE).
All in all, they played one good team, Buffalo, who gave them their only scare of the season. New England won that game 16-10, where a special teams touchdown proved to be the difference.
Their real challenge began on Sunday Night Football against Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. Their previously historic defense, recently nicknamed “The Boogeymen,” was exposed immediately as the Ravens jumped out to a 17-0 lead.
As teams often do against the Patriots, for one reason or another, the Ravens made mistakes and gifted the them two free possessions. One due to a muffed punt that turned into a touchdown, the other due to an Ingram fumble that was converted into a field goal.
In the end, though the margin of victory was still 17, as the Ravens pulled out a 37-20 win, handing New England their first loss of the season.
For Patriots detractors, that is all well and good. But Patriots fans know something very important, which is that these same Ravens will likely be a team they will have to face in the playoffs. It goes without saying that Belichick will be much more prepared for that possible second matchup.
Not only will New England have tape on the way Baltimore plays against them, specifically, but also have all 16 games worth of tape to study ahead of the playoff game.
The Patriots have two more legitimate threats in the AFC; The Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs. New England plays both of those teams in the regular season. Losing to these teams would have the exact same silver lining as losing to Baltimore.
The fact that the Patriots play their biggest roadblocks on the way to another Super Bowl is absolutely massive. A coaching staff as good as this one is will learn from each and every mistake they make against all three of those teams. That will likely translate to wins in the playoffs.
New England’s record may get worse, but the team is only going to be more prepared because of it. The schedule could not have worked out more perfectly for them.
The Chargers provided the blueprint to beat the Packers
Green Bay’s first loss came against a Philadelphia Eagles team whose backs were against the wall. Add on to that, the Packers abandoned the running game in favor of hopeful Rodgers heroics. They stood a good chance of winning, when a bad coaching decision led to a goal line interception that sealed the game for Philly.
Their Week 9 loss was completely different. They essentially were completely defeated midway through the third quarter. This was due to near perfect game planning by the Chargers.
Los Angeles ate up eight minutes on their opening drive. Even though it only led to a field goal, it put a sense of panic and urgency into the Packers immediately. Green Bay’s Swiss army knife back, Aaron Jones carried the ball only eight times. Jamaal Williams rushed only twice.
This meant Rodgers dropped back to throw way too much. A one-dimensional offense translated to the Chargers’ pass-rushing tag team of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram feasting on Green Bay’s offensive line constantly. They each collected 1.5 sacks, which were the only three sacks on the day for LA. The sacks were not the story, though. It was the non-stop pressure that caused Rodgers to rush his throws that prevented him from making big plays.
It has never been a secret that keeping Rodgers off the field is a huge key to beating Green Bay. That should be the plan against every great quarterback. But the perfection to which the Chargers implemented this strategy spelled doom for the Packers. Even while the Packers defense were holding them to field goals.
Not every team has a pass-rushing tandem like the Chargers. But two teams inside the NFC North can create pressure in Minnesota and Chicago. Rest assured they will watch this game on repeat before their rematches this season.
Rodgers will not always be kept in check. He still is one of the best to ever play the game. But if a team can get out in front and neutralize Aaron Jones, their chances of winning are much better. The Packers have a lot of work to do, and a lot to worry about after being held to only 11 points in Week 9.
The Browns’ season is done, and so is Freddie Kitchens
Cleveland were hyped as legitimate Super Bowl contenders before the season began. Oh, how the (presumably) mighty have fallen.
Their loss to the mediocre-at-best Denver Broncos pushed the Browns to 2-6 on the season. This game was supposed to be their turnaround after a bad start to the season. It turned out to only magnify the problems this team has.
Disciplinary issues continue to haunt the Browns. They had no turnovers in this game, which is good, but bad penalties reared their head again. Also, off-the-field discipline issues led to safety Jermaine Whitehead being cut on Monday.
The biggest takeaway was the big plays that sunk the Browns. Noah Fant ripped off a 75-yard touchdown catch and run, during which he ran straight through Whitehead. Phillip Lindsay also had a 30-yard touchdown rush that was due to more bad tackling by Cleveland. That was not his only big play of the game, either.
Missed opportunities also abounded. Too often the Browns settled for field goals when they were well within touchdown territory. With the wealth of talent on the offense, these missed opportunities have to be chalked up to the coaching staff this time. Again, there were no Cleveland turnovers, so that erases any blame that could be placed on Mayfield and company.
These disciplinary issues and bad play calling fall on Kitchens, plain and simple. There have been some questionable decisions in the past eight games, as well. See the bizarre 4th-and-9 draw play late in the game against the Rams.
At 2-6 and with the powerhouse Ravens proving on Sunday night that they can play with the best teams in the league by handing the Pats their first loss, it is time to declare this season dead in Cleveland. The best they can and should do is keep everyone healthy and start the head coaching search. ASAP.
Featured Image courtesy of Associated Press
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