By: Rajan Nanavati
We’re not going to play the “is the dynasty over?” game with the New England Patriots. We do this every time they lose, convincing ourselves that “this time it’s for real,” only to look foolish after a few weeks again and again.
But after New England’s 28-14 loss to the Tennessee Titans last Sunday, it’s time to provide another thought that’s closer to the cold-hard truth than a hot take: this New England team isn’t nearly as good as most people think.
Between being a fan of good football in general, and as someone with a tangential vested interest in New England’s success (I have way too many guys from New England on my fantasy football team), I’ve spent a lot of time watching the Patriots.
I’ve seen the turd-in-the-punchbowl they laid against Jacksonville and Detroit earlier in the year, and I saw the decisive win against Kansas City almost exactly a month ago. And with both of those perspectives in mind, I can safely say the following: if a team doesn’t beat themselves, then presuming that New England will go out and beat their opponents anyway is far from a foregone conclusion.
On offense, it’s not any secret that this is the least capable supporting cast that’s surrounded Tom Brady over the past decade. Their best receiver is a boom-or-bust reclamation project in Josh Gordon. Brady’s two security valves – Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski – have seen their abilities greatly diminished because of injuries. It is very safe to question whether either of those players will ever be the same again, considering they’ll both be on the wrong side of 30 next spring.
The offensive line is average at best (though their offensive tackles are probably below average). The two bright spots on offense have been rookie Sony Michel (who’s missed much of the season due to injury) and James White (who’s basically a shorter wide receiver masquerading as a running back).
But the real dirty secret is the one that’s plainly evident, even though nobody wants to admit it: Brady is rapidly showing his age. To be fair, he’s still one of the five best quarterbacks in the NFL, but he’s starting to look a lot more like the Washington Wizards’ version of Michael Jordan versus the Chicago Bulls’ version of Jordan. There are WAY too many footballs being thrown either three yards off target (a rarity for someone with Brady’s pinpoint accuracy), or just flat out short of the receiver. For all of his newfangled diet and training methods, he can’t stave off father time when the latter is ready to come for him, no matter how many more years Brady thinks he can play in the NFL.
It’s ironic that for a team coached by one of the greatest defensive minds in the history of football, the Patriots have become an offense-first team. Being generous, New England has maybe three players on defense that would start for more than half the teams in the NFL (Devin McCourty, Stephone Gillmore, and Dont’a Hightower), otherwise this group is an older and slower unit that can get by on savvy and guile, but can’t actually go out and win the game for you.
As long as the Patriots are coached by Bill Belichick, this is still the most well-run organization in football, and the ability of his coaching staff to prepare New England for any team they play against is second to none.
But at some point, all the game planning in the world won’t mean anything if the guys on the field are starting to show less and less ability to go out and execute the plan.