“Do your job,” has become the mantra for the present-day New England Patriots.
You don’t need a history lesson from me. We all know the success that the organization has had over the past two decades. It’s been the best run in NFL history and among the best runs in the history of sports.
The reason? Of course there are many, but in my opinion the greatest reason has been focus … an uncanny focus.
Whether it be Spygate, Aaron Hernandez, Deflategate, or simply the day-to-day grind that the organization has gone through in the Bill Belichick- Tom Brady era, no team in the league has been able to stay zeroed in on winning and has been able to eliminate distractions the way the Patriots have. Neither scandal or personal interests have been able to derail the Patriots … until now.
For the first time in almost 20 years, I am genuinely concerned as a Pats fan heading into training camp.
Between the Belichick-Brady feud over Alex Guerrero, the Belichick- Robert Kraft feud over personnel decisions, and the roster seeming to be below average compared to years past, there seems to be a different feel than what we’re used to seeing.
Luckily for New England, the Patriots can roll out of bed and walk their way to the playoffs thanks to a putrid AFC East. After that though? Let’s just say their prospects look shaky at best.
Once the team gets into the swing of things I have total confidence that Belichick and Brady will be able to put their personal, let’s just say issues, aside. But, that doesn’t mean that they will be as focused as they typically are.
For the first time in his career, Brady acknowledged that retirement is on his mind during his fluffy interview with Oprah. It’s not like he declared that 2018 would be his final year, but the fact that he is publicly admitting that it is on his brain is disturbing.
There have also been countless reports that Belichick is inching closer to retirement, especially since his last hope at another sustained run was shipped out the door to San Francisco in Jimmy Garoppolo. I don’t think the Krafts begging Josh McDaniels to stick around was simply based on his ability as an offensive coordinator … if you catch my drift.
When you have the best head coach and quarterback in the history of the league, it will take more than a lack of focus to keep them from having success. However, Belichick and Brady enter 2018 with many holes and question marks in the lineup, and any sort of decline could spell a rocky season and an early playoff exit.
I know, I have become a spoiled brat. How many teams can consider a 10-6 season and an early playoff exit a “rocky season?”
That’s the expectation that the team brings into every year though, and I feel that this could very well be a rocky season … for New England standards at least.
The drama and ego in the Patriots locker room seems to finally, after 18 years, be affecting Belichick and Brady. Once again, I expect them to be among the best at their respective positions this season, but I am almost expecting some of the edge to be taken off. That’s a huge issue considering the rest of the blemishes in this roster.
Let’s dig in.
First off, the Patriots offense is far from perfect even with Brady.
Julian Edelman is suspended for the first four games. Even when he returns he will be a 32-year-old coming off of a brutal knee injury. Not to mention that he will no longer be able to use his cutting-edge “methods” that landed him the suspension in the first place. Remember what happened to Rodney Harrison and Rob Ninkovich when they returned from PED suspensions? They were never the same.
The Pats also lost Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks, and are preparing to part ways with Malcolm Mitchell. Leading the receiving corps heading into training camp are oft-injured Chris Hogan, 2017 letdown Jordan Matthews, veteran afterthought Kenny Britt, and the first-round draft bust Philip Dorsett. The Pats also have sixth-round draft pick Braxton Berrios and Riley McCarron from the practice squad.
Would it shock me if 2-3 of those guys produce? No. But it does concern me that there is so much uncertainty at that position.
The offensive line is also a big question mark after the departure of left tackle Nate Solder.
The Pats drafted Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn in the first round, but he has been almost unanimously doubted by scouts as an NFL tackle and has instead been considered a better prospect at guard. The Pats also brought in 6-foot-8, 350-pound Trent Brown from San Fran … who has had issues staying in shape and already had trouble catching on during the spring OTA’s.
The offense has a mediocre group of receivers and holes to fill on the line. Sounds like a recipe for disaster for a 41-year-old quarterback.
Remember the Super Bowl? When backup quarterback Nick Foles and the Eagles offense dropped 538 yards and a 40-burger on the New England defense?
You’d think that would lead to a total defensive makeover, right? Nope, the Pats return largely the same group this season.
The Patriots had an atrocious pass rush last year. Fans are giddy over the Adrian Clayborn signing and his 9.5 sacks in 2017. No one mentions that six of those came in one game against Dallas though, and the most he’s ever had before last season was 7.5.
Fans are also excited to see safety Devin McCourty welcome his twin brother Jason to the backfield. Remember though, he was brought in to replace Malcolm Butler who is a better player overall.
On top of that, the Patriots had possibly the worst group of linebackers in the league last season in Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy. Sure, Dont’a Hightower is returning. Remember that he has played a full season just once in his career though.
Overall, this is going to be a good team, a playoff team, purely based on the fact that Belichick and Brady are still on the roster.
However, between personal issues that have finally reared their way into the locker room, the questions concerning the offense, and the below-average defense, not to mention a tough schedule, Patriots fans should prepare for the first-ever decline in the Brady-Belichick era.
I’m not counting them out, but I’m certainly not buying in.