David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

One of Patriots' biggest advantages remains the ineptitude of their competition

Alex Reimer
September 10, 2018 - 11:56 am

It took less than two minutes of game time Sunday to be reminded of the X-Factor that presides over every Patriots’ season. On Houston’s first play from scrimmage, Deshaun Watson fumbled while attempting to hand the ball to running back Lamar Miller. The Patriots recovered on the Texans’ 19-yard line, and Tom Brady connected with Rob Gronkowski three plays later for a score. 

New England never looked back. 

Much was made this offseason of the apparent turmoil inside Patriot Place, from Brady’s reported rift with Bill Belichick to Gronk’s public flirtation with retirement. But as my esteemed colleague John Tomase writes, the Patriots are united where it matters –– on the field. While they weren’t perfect in the opener, they were far better than the ill-equipped Texans, who were a sexy preseason Super Bowl pick. Watson looked uncomfortable in the pocket and Bill O'Brien had an atrocious coaching performance. Houston looks like it's a long ways away from making a championship run. 

One of the biggest advantages for the Patriots is the ineptitude of their competition. This was on display across the AFC Sunday, most notably with the Steelers, a perennial summer Super Bowl contender that can’t seem to get out of their own way. In case you missed it, star running back Le’Veon Bell is still holding out, and his teammates have turned against him. Offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey and Ramon Foster accused Bell last week of being selfish for not accepting the Steelers’ franchise tag. 

On the field, Pittsburgh tied the lowly Browns, blowing a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter. Ben Roethlisberger, who completed just 56 percent of his passes, was strip-sacked by Myles Garrett and failed to put Cleveland away. 

It was not the start the Steelers were looking for, especially since the Jaguars embarrassed them on their home field during last season’s Divisional Round. Ex-offensive coordinator Todd Haley, fresh off a disastrous coaching performance in the aforementioned defeat, was calling plays for the Browns Sunday.

Speaking of the Jaguars, they did squeak by the Giants 20-15 Sunday, thanks to a pick-six from linebacker Myles Jack. But Blake Bortles went 18-of-33 for just 176 yards, expunging any optimism that he’s improved from the puddle he’s been for the entirety of his NFL career.

There were some bright spots for the Patriots’ competition, such as Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ four-touchdown performance in San Diego. But the odds aren’t great that a second-year quarterback and Andy Reid, who’s already famously fumbled the clock in Foxboro, would be able to avoid throwing up all over themselves against the Patriots in a big spot. That may sound arrogant, but the Patriots have shown time and time again their biggest advantage is often just showing up. 

The Texans’ pathetic performance Sunday is a reminder of that. After a tumultuous offseason, order has been restored.