The eyes of the football world will be on the New England Patriots, specifically their defense, tonight when they visit Tampa Bay to kick off Week 5 of the NFL’s 2017 season against the Buccaneers. Many wondered if the Atlanta Falcons, who blew a 25-point deficit in the Super Bowl against the Patriots, would be the ones who would have a very difficult time mentally overcoming that game. While that remains to be seen, it seems that New England’s defensive unit appears to have become, if nothing else, a bit complacent, following the Patriots’ historic comeback victory last February.
New England is coming off a loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, during which it surrendered 33 points, 444 yards, and 28 first downs. Through four games this season, the Patriots have given up 128 points and 1,827 yards — their worst numbers through four games in 18 seasons under coach Bill Belichick. New England has given up more total yards and more passing yards than any team in the NFL this season after being the toughest defense to score against during the 2016 campaign.
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower rejoined his struggling teammates on the field this past Sunday after missing two games with a knee injury, but the return of the former Alabama All-American wasn’t enough to cure whatever ails the New England Patriots’ defense this season.
Hightower told reporters gathered around his locker the day after the Carolina debacle that he still feels strongly that the Patriots could get the situation with their defense straightened out.
“It’s just accountability. It’s something that I, myself, as well as the other 10 guys, 11, 12, whatever guys are out there, it’s on them to do. It’s on all us, and we’ve got to hold each other to a higher standard than that, and that starts today…The time’s now. There’s no more next week or any other (expletive), so we have to get going.”
Hightower spoke a great deal about the importance of paying attention to detail and not taking things for granted.
“That’s where it starts: The small things matter. The big plays and all that stuff, obviously, it’s easy for guys to see that. But it’s the small things that happen — getting that little bit of extra pressure on the quarterback, that extra knockback on the line of scrimmage, that extra knockback on the center or the quick jam at the line of scrimmage — all the little things matter right now. I think what we need to do and what we’re going to start doing is going at that. Don’t take things for granted, you know? Appreciate every little thing and be knowledgeable of each small detail. I think we’ll start from there and see where it goes.”
Coming off of such an emotional high as a Super Bowl win, and one that was executed in such dramatic fashion no less, could easily cause the group that was victorious to not work as hard as they did before, begin paying more attention to off the field ventures, and lose their sense of hunger and urgency. Granted, we are just four games into the season, but the sloppy mistakes made by New England’s defense this past Sunday against Cam Newton’s squad were alarming.
The Patriots players and coaches on the defensive side of the ball fully understand that these problems are correctable with more film and playbook study and perhaps a little more practice. Bill Belichick’s track record, in handling these matters, speaks for itself and a lot of people will be surprised if this situation does not get resolved. Perhaps, the real solution to the problem, though, is for the New England defense, as a whole, to look within themselves and figure out if they still want to win as badly as they did last year.
[Featured Image by Winslow Townson/AP Images]