Damage Control for Fans of the New England Patriotsby Mike Sullivan December 3, 2019 0 comments
Patriots Nation has been spoiled beyond belief for the last 20 years. Title after title. Record after record. Success has been engrained into the very fabric of our fandom. And it’s because of that constant success that the wins are taken for granted and the losses hurt more than they should.
But for the last few years, there’s a troubling habit that’s been forming, despite the team’s consistent success.
Every loss means the sky is falling. It’s the end of the road that the Kraft-Belichick-Brady trifecta started us on. The greatness has faded into black and there’s nothing but doom and gloom ahead. Brady has had all his talent sucked from him like he was Superman being exposed to Kryptonite, and all we’re left with is that nonathletic, lanky Clark Kent who every team passed on coming out of college and ran the slowest 40-yard dash in history.
Instead of looking at each loss for what it is and having rational thoughts, everyone loses their collective minds. All of a sudden, their heads get infested with false narratives being pushed by the Shannon Sharpes, Rob Parkers and Nick Wrights of the world.
"Tom Brady is a major concern. Skip loves QBR, well Tom is 19th in QBR. He's 26th in yards per attempt and 29th in competition percentage. If you tell me that that's the same guy, you're fooling yourself." — @ShannonSharpe pic.twitter.com/YS44KPFm7M
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) December 2, 2019
Tom Brady in the first 7 drives vs. Texans:
30 passer rating
3.6 yards per pass
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) December 2, 2019
“He’s not any good right now.”
If anyone is saying that based on Sunday night’s game, or this season, you either haven’t been paying attention or your mind is so convoluted with hate and envy that you’re incapable of thinking straight.
Tom Brady has not had a statistically great season. He had a rough game Sunday night and threw an ill-timed pick. Those are facts. Tom Brady has also had a revolving door of receivers due to injury or roster movement the entire year. That’s also a fact, but most pundits disregard it or barely discuss it.
With an offense that relies so much on timing, reads and being in the right place, it’s tough to reach your full potential when there’s been so little time to develop that much needed chemistry. And this is not a “woe is me” argument, either. Every team deals with injuries. The Patriots do every single year and yet they still soldier on.
This year is no different. So, what’s taking so long?
Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry are both rookie wide receivers that have had too little time to work on that chemistry with Brady. Harry got a very late start due to his preseason injury and Meyers, who was often pushed to the backburner for more established options, has faltered at times when his number is called to produce more than he has. That’s not because of skill. Rather, it’s because he and his quarterback are not fully on the same page yet.
Jakobi Meyers has a quick out here from the slot. Turns into a scramble-drill situation. Brady expects Meyers to turn up the field once the play is off schedule. He doesn’t.
Meyers said after the game he tried to push up and come back to Brady. “Just on different pages.” pic.twitter.com/sKzUwOjXTr
— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) December 2, 2019
Brady very clearly points for Meyers to turn upfield here. How many times has Brady done this same thing with the likes of Edelman, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski or James White and it results in a big play? The reason it didn’t work here is because he and Meyers aren’t quite on that same wavelength that Brady and his previous teammates were.
Again, it’s not an issue of skill or play design, but an issue of chemistry.
Another one of the narratives that’s being pushed this year is the “Well, Brady used to be able to win games with three guys from Dorchester playing at receiver so why is he struggling this year? He must be in decline!” argument. That’s such a lazy take that it hurts to even type.
First, watching the game Sunday night, it’s clear Brady’s skills haven’t deteriorated to the point where he’s this lifeless, motionless shell of a G.O.A.T. that talking heads want you to believe he is.
— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) December 2, 2019
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 2, 2019
Second, Brady was never this football Rumplestiltskin who turned every receiver he met into gold. If that was the case, players like Chad Ochocinco, Reggie Wayne, Donte Stallworth, Reche Caldwell, or Joey Galloway should’ve paid dividends for the team. Instead, none lasted more than a few seasons because they either weren’t able or willing to understand the playbook. It’s tough for Brady to spin his offense of gold when his receivers aren’t cooperating.
There is no perfect formula to find a player that will definitively work in this offense, but if you give Brady someone that he can guide and teach, more often than not, the result will be productive. Iff you need proof, look at the careers of Jabar Gaffney, Reche Caldwell or Brandon Lafell. These are all players who bought into the system and played well above their skill level with Brady but fell off when they went elsewhere.
Those receivers worked, not because of talent, but because they picked up and understood the offense that Brady has already mastered. The fact that he is having a tougher time bringing these new receivers into the fold has nothing to do with his age or skills. It has everything to do with time put in and the capability for the newcomers to adapt to this offense as quickly as possible.
Tom Brady himself understands where this offense is and the potential they have.
Tom Brady, on @TheGregHillShow Monday morning, says multiple times, “We have to figure out how to be more consistent.” He also notes the struggles in red zone. “We’re learning as we go,” he says, before going big picture and adding: “We’re not 2-10. We’re 10-2.”
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) December 2, 2019
Tom Brady on @TheGregHillShow: "I think the expectations for our team often are at a very, very, very high level and I understand that, but at the same time I think there are realistic expectations with our circumstances incorporating different elements and players and injuries."
— Ryan Hannable (@RyanHannable) December 2, 2019
As frustrating as it is, this entire offense has yet to reach its full potential and round into form. Imagine a caterpillar who has yet to turn into a butterfly. If the caterpillar is taking longer than usual to spin its cocoon and evolve, you don’t give up on it and kill it, do you? Of course not. You give it time and understand that, while it may take longer than usual, better things are still to come. This Patriots’ offense is in its cocoon right now. By the playoffs, it’ll be a beautiful butterfly.
Harry and Meyers will continue to get more and more comfortable with the intricacies of a Brady-led attack. Edelman and Dorsett are still the reliable options that Brady will be able to fall back to when needed. Sanu seems to be grasping the playbook just fine; all he needs is more reps. The offensive line is finally the healthiest it has been, which has already given a boost to the running game. All is not lost.
When it comes to the defense, the answer is pretty clear: stop playing so much zone coverage. It was obvious that when the Patriots played man-to-man coverage as they have most of the year, their defense was successful. Whenever they inexplicably switched to zone, the Texans gained chunk play after chunk play. That has been the case the entire season, and that continued Sunday night. Zone coverage is bad. Man coverage is good.
The Patriots have lost two games this year to worthy opponents. Last year, they lost back-to-back games in December, unheard of under Belichick, to teams that didn’t even make the playoffs. Some of the wins have been ugly, sure, but luckily for New England, the standings don’t take into account how you win. You are what your record says you are, and the Patriots are the No. 2 seed in the AFC with a first round bye at the moment. This team has never been interested in the optics of their success, just that the success continues.
The Pats are always going to be judged more harshly than anyone else. They’ve earned that curse by dominating the league for the last two decades. Heavy lies the head. But just because the criticism gets louder and louder each season doesn’t mean it’s all valid. Fans and “experts” have grown so accustomed to a certain level of success in New England that the second it seems like this team stumbles, they figure it has to be a sign of the end.
To take a quote from Alfred Pennyworth, “Why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
Strap in. The season is just getting started.