The Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans has been a place of memories – some good and some heartbreaking – for New England Patriots fans, over the years.
It was the site where the 1985 Chicago Bears ran all over the Patriots in Super Bowl XX. It was where the Bill Parcells-Drew Bledsoe-led 1996 contingent made the mistake of kicking the ball to Desmond Howard in Super Bowl XXXI against Green Bay, and a young secondary coached by some guy named Bill Belichick let Brett Favre stretch the field too times too many.
But, on a happier note, it’s where Tom Brady and Bill Belichick made John Madden eat his “They should play overtime” words in Super Bowl XXXVI, and launched one of the greatest dynasties in professional sports history.
On Sunday, Brady, Belichick and Co. returned to New Orleans and delivered an efficient, Patriot-like performance in pasting the Saints, 36-20.
Brady threw three first-quarter touchdowns, silencing any notion that the Patriots’ offense was in trouble after they were stuck in neutral in a surprising Week 1 loss to Kansas City.
All-world tight end Rob Gronkowski looked like Gronk again, recording six catches for 119 yards and a touchdown. Nine different Patriots caught a pass from Brady, who had an outstanding 139.6 passer rating while marching up and down the Superdome turf like tourists bar-hopping Bourbon Street.
Even though it’s just one win, I hope it makes Patriot Nation relax a little bit after the sky seemed to be falling after the loss to the Chiefs.
Then again, with the expectations this team has year in and year out, the sky always seems to be tumbling.
That was the case in October 2014 when the Patriots were manhandled at Arrowhead Stadium, Trent Dilfer claimed that Brady’s greatness was a thing of the past and Belichick scowled at questions about his legendary quarterback.
We all know what happened next. It was “On To Cincinnati,” 10 wins over 12 regular-season games and a Super Bowl championship.
When it’s all said and done, the Saints’ game could very well be this team’s “On To Cincinnati” moment. But, the Pats can’t afford to lose any more skill-position guys offensively, and hopefully, Danny Amendola will return soon from his concussion.
The defense remains a work in progress. Drew Brees was able to establish a few drives on Sunday, but the prototypical “bend but don’t break” that we’ve grown accustomed to over the years showed, and they made plays when they needed to.
The Patriots also got some great news that linebacker Donta Hightower will return from a knee injury either this Sunday against Houston or the following week against Carolina.
These next few weeks give the Pats’ D some great chances to come together, with the next four games – Texans, Panthers, Buccaneers, Jets – not exactly providing a murderer’s row of quarterbacks.
Houston’s Deshaun Watson had a storybook run at Clemson, but the rookie will learn that a Belichick defense is far more challenging than the Boston Colleges and Florida States of the world. Cam Newton is an exceptional talent, but the Panthers only put up nine points on the hapless Buffalo Bills in Week 2. Jameis Winston is talented but young, and has yet to face a Belichick defense. And the Jets? Joe Namath is not walking through that door.
Bottom line is this team is going to be just fine. A Belichick defense typically peaks in November and December, so that’s what we want to see.