At the risk of sounding like Trent Dilfer, I’m going to say what’s been on my mind: The Patriots might not be good anymore.
Well, no, they’ll probably still be good. I’ll be shocked if they don’t make the playoffs. But I’m worried that this team isn’t great enough to contend for a Super Bowl.
Yes, the Patriots have been in this position before and they always do seem to fall subject to sluggish Septembers. In 2012, the Patriots started 1-2. In 2014, the Patriots started 2-2 and a Monday night game in Kansas City served as a preemptive funeral. But this year it feels different. This is the first time the Patriots have lost back-to-back games by double digits since 2002 and at points it felt like both losses might have been by triple digits.
This summer, I felt I was the only person in New England not willing to write the Patriots into the Super Bowl again. I said to anybody that would listen that I was worried about the way the roster was constructed and potential locker room issues. Belichick didn’t find replacements for departures like Malcolm Butler, Nate Solder and Danny Amendola. In addition to subtle signs of unhappiness from Brady and Gronk, I didn’t think Butler’s benching in the Super Bowl was just going to be swept under the rug. The Seattle Seahawks still haven’t recovered from Pete Carroll’s decision to throw the ball on the goal line in the Super Bowl and Belickick’s refusal to put in Butler is much more egregious.
I felt that this very easily could be a 2009-esque year. In a year plagued by locker room issues and gutless defense, the Pats finished 10-6 and lost in the divisional round at home. In other words: a disaster of a year for a franchise that considers anything short of a championship a disappointment. Jerod Mayo, a captain on the team, acknowledges the problems in the locker room. Randy Moss, their star offensive talent, was displaying signs of unhappiness and was involved in trade rumors (that eventually did come to pass). They started a bunch of talentless hacks on defense including, but not limited to Shawn Springs, Leigh Bodden and Brandon McGowan. Is this starting to seem familiar?
And that’s ultimately the key difference between this year’s team and Patriots’ teams of the past that started slow. Those teams all had all the room in the world to improve. We knew another level was untapped. What level does this team have?
In 2014, future Hall of Famer Darrelle Revis had only played in four games under the Patriots’ system before everyone declared them dead. Not to mention the other starting corner, Brandon Browner was serving a suspension and had still yet to suit up. In 2012, the Patriots’ two losses were both in the first three weeks and were also the first three games by first round picks/future Pro-Bowlers Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones.
The ceiling of the 2018 Patriots defense is very low. Pro Bowlers like Stephon Gilmore and Devin McCourty have been fine but Hightower looks like a shell of himself. The pass rush is non-existent. Eric Rowe and JC Jackson are expected to be contributors in the secondary. There’s no hall of famer getting adjusted. There’s no first round talent left to develop. I don’t see a huge leap this defense can take. This is the same defense that let up 538 yards against Nick Foles in the Super Bowl. Actually, they might even be worse.
Even the offense is a mess. Brady and company were stifled on offense against a Lions defense that gave up 300 yards passing each of the two previous weeks. I see a lot of people expecting Edelman to make a huge difference but the honest truth is that Edelman is 32 and a receiver that relies on lateral quickness coming back from an ACL injury. It would honestly be stunning if he is anything close to his previous form. If the Browns didn’t decide to move on from Gordon, it looks like the plan was for Brady to throw it to Gronkowski in double coverage every single time while all the other receivers were jammed at the line of scrimmage. They also tried to trade our Hall of Fame tight end in the offseason.
This was the worst roster construction by Belichick in a near decade and it could have even been worse if he actually did succeed in trading Gronk and didn’t swing a trade for Gordon.
Because they’re the Patriots I expect them to be in the playoffs. But I’m not holding my breath for a fourth Super Bowl appearance in five years.
Brady is in his 40s and showing more gray hair every game. The Patriots are in a win-now position. And I’m not sure this team will be winning much of anything come January.
Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.