Let the overreaction begin. It is how fandom operates in the National Football League, that once-a-week train wreck we all criticize ruthlessly but from which we can’t look away.

Eight days ago, both real and bandwagon followers of the New England Patriots were obsessed with the meaningless goal of running the regular-season table. Ridiculously meaningless, since most of us ought to be old enough to remember and recognize that 16-0 only matters when it doesn’t end in 18-1.

Right now most of us would take 13-3, or 12-4. Suddenly the foregone conclusions of another AFC East title and a first-round bye are back in play. I’m probably in the minority — OK, I’m positive that I’m in the minority after hearing out the angry, frazzled masses on social media — but I would argue it’s for the best.

Perfection came crashing down via fall-from-ahead loss in Denver against somebody named Brock Osweiler, who has since been hailed as the next Otto Graham for his ability to make handoffs and complete passes through the snow while the opponent’s defensive ends are being mugged.

That felt like a relative picnic on a 50-degree day in December compared to Sunday’s desperate, disjointed and downright embarrassing home loss to Philadelphia. Yes, the same Eagles who couldn’t have shown less interest in showing up for a Thanksgiving Day woodshedding in Detroit.

They’re a bad team with some exceptional but badly utilized individual talent. Credit the Patriots for making a game of it in the fourth quarter instead of having a Kansas City moment, but a 35-28 loss to a team that had given every indication of mailing in the season is no moral victory.

New England jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the second quarter and panicked, no question. The rugby kickoff by Nate Ebner couldn’t have been a greater sign of desperation if it came off the foot of Buddy Ebsen.

Why take that gamble, you ask? With Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Dion Lewis and Dont’a Hightower (am I forgetting anyone?) all in street clothes, the only wonder is that Bill Belichick didn’t try it on the opening kickoff.

The Patriots’ sense of desperation from that point forward was more predictable than the pegged-to-11 playing of “Your Love” by The Outfield when the game grew tighter than it should have been in the fourth quarter.

Too many JV receivers running wrong routes. The Patriots’ need to run the cute-put-painful throwback from Danny Amendola to Tom Brady was underscored when Brady threw a fair-catchable pick on the play.

Too many cases of Brady trying to squeeze eight pounds of fertilizer into a five-pound bag, one of which led to an end-to-end pick-six. They’re the mistakes even the legends of the game make when it’s all on them, and not since the year of that one-and-only championship game loss to Peyton Manning’s Colts has so much been on No. 12’s shoulders.

Now, the good news.

Amendola returned Sunday. Not the best hands we’ve seen out of him, but his knee held up well enough to make an outstanding touchdown catch and help us all exhale. Jamie Collins was back after his mystery illness (do grownups get mono?), and we can assume he will only get stronger with restored body weight and regular repetitions.

Edelman (broken foot), Gronkowski (sprained and bruised knee) and Hightower (knee, ribs, shoulder, some combination thereof, and who the heck really knows) will reappear one-by-one in the weeks to come.

Losing at home to an inferior opponent, all things being equal, is no fun. Having to suffer the fools who revel in every reminder of the Patriots’ humanity, even less so. But Patriots’ peeps may secure their psychological stability that the team of January is more likely to resemble that of the September/October revenge tour than the November/December let’s not get killed strategy. Even an extra playoff game for that restored car to get its engine cranked up might not be the worst thing.

New England now goes to Houston in a Sunday night flexed game that feels like another set-up. Road trips to the Jets and Dolphins at the end may spell the end of any hopes of home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Time heals, though. The Eagles will be home watching a much healthier Patriots team play games at the beginning of 2016. Console yourself with that.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @oaksie72 or like his fan page at www.facebook.com/kalleoakes.sj.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: