Sullivan: Analyzing the 2019 New England Patriots from a Fan’s Perspectiveby Mike Sullivan January 10, 2020 1 comment
What a season.
And I don’t mean that in a particularly good way.
But I don’t think I mean that in a bad way, either? Normally when recapping a team’s season, things get broken down into the good, bad, and ugly. But that’s the problem with this year. The entire 2019 season was a strange concoction of highs and lows with a dash of questionable decisions all thrown into a giant pot, set to boil, stirred around and served to Patriots Nation in a cracked, leaking bowl.
And everyone ate it up, chewing past the tough parts or the pieces that left a bad taste in mouths because they knew just how good this meal has been in the past. They still got a few tastes of that greatness as the season carried on but at the end of the day, when the meal was finally finished, fans realized there was just something off about this particular serving. That’s not something fans can quite put their finger on, but they knew that something about what they were just served was different from what they’ve been given before.
So, let’s pick apart the ingredients and see what happened to the 2019 New England Patriots.
You can’t talk about this season without addressing the 42-year-old elephant in the room who goes by the name of Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, Jr.
Tom Brady finished his 2019 regular season with a 60.8 completion percentage, 4,057 yards, 24 scores and eight interceptions. At this point in his career, Brady is really only being compared to his younger self, so how do those numbers match up to the rest of his career when starting all 16 games? Not so great.
He tallied the sixth-lowest total passing yards in his career, tied for the third-lowest completion percentage in his career, and had his second-worst season when it came to touchdown passes. His eight interceptions, though, are something he’s done four separate times and is tied for the third-fewest he’s ever thrown. Oh, and if quarterback rating is something that tickles your fancy, this was Brady’s worst year with a 52.5 rating.
While statistics never spell out the whole story, they do at least tell a few chapters. Tom Brady is not what he used to be. That’s a fact. But he also hasn’t fallen so far down that he’s now a determent to his team. There has to be a middle ground that exists between the two extremes.
But Brady needs to have faith in the weapons he’s using. And that faith, that trust, just wasn’t there this year.
Other than Julian Edelman and James White, who else on this offense could Brady trust to be in the right place at the right time and fight for the ball? The cast of characters Brady had to work with had talent, but talent that was extremely inconsistent and just not on the same page. That leads into another narrative this season where people were saying, “Belichick hasn’t given Brady anything to work with! He has no weapons!”
That is flat-out wrong.
To start the season, Belichick saddled Brady with Antonio Brown, Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas and rookies N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers. That, on paper, is more than enough for this offense to compete. But due to a plethora of reasons, this offense just didn’t work out.
Julian Edelman was the only consistent rock for Brady to throw to, but even he had his trials and tribulations throughout the year. The receiver basically crawled to the finish line fighting through a litany of injuries while also leading the league in drops.
Phillip Dorsett, after snapping a team-record 26 straight catches on passes thrown his way, disappeared. Some of it was the play-calling but a lot of it was Dorsett not fighting for the ball as much anymore and getting less separation than he normally does.
Josh Gordon eventually got released and was then suspended yet again by the league weeks later. Even if the team kept him, he was on borrowed time.
N’Keal Harry has tremendous potential but a preseason injury stunted his growth this year. As his season went along though, you could see that the talent is there, he just needs more time to perfect his skills.
Jakobi Meyers, while having an impressive preseason, seemingly forgot how to catch the ball as the season went on.
Demaryius Thomas was traded when a crowded receiver room got even more stuffed with the addition of another talented wideout.
That brings us to the Antonio Brown Experiment.
Belichick saw an opportunity to get arguably the best receiver in the league and jumped on it. Brown tallied a quartet of catches for 56 yards and a touchdown in his first game. No one could have assumed that Brown would go so far off the deep end and be exiled 11 days after signing with the team.
Starting the season with what seemed like a doable receiving corps, Brady was left with a banged-up Edelman and Dorsett, a rookie, and a few running backs. Belichick saw this and decided to part ways with a second-round pick for Mohamed Sanu from the Atlanta Falcons. Sanu was a solid No. 2 in Atlanta so this seemed like a move that made all the sense in the world at the time.
After a great double-digit catch game to start his tenure, he caught a severe case of the “drops” and dealt with that ailment all season long.
Where Belichick can definitely catch his fair amount of criticism is at the tight end position. The team didn’t do much to leave the monstrous hole left by future Hall of Famer, Rob Gronkowski. Ben Watson, Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse were never going to fill that hole.
So, when people say that Belichick didn’t give Brady weapons, that argument is laughable. Moves were made and calculated risks were taken that just didn’t quite pan out the way the team wanted. That doesn’t mean that the effort wasn’t there to rectify the situation.
Belichick was also most likely going to rely on a strong running game to supplement any struggle that the offense may have passing the ball. But when fullback James Devlin went out for the season, another wrench was thrown at this team. There are few offenses who rely on the use of the fullback as much as the Patriots and that injury, above all else, was a crucial blow to the offense’s overall success.
Look at last season’s Super Bowl run as proof. Heading into the playoffs, Sony Michel and the running game was finally finding its stride and that success led them to yet another championship. This year, that cog in the machine was missing and it slowed down the entire operation.
But not everything was a negative this season. The Patriots touted an elite defense that, looking at the numbers, rivaled that of the vaunted 2013 Legion of Boom the Seattle Seahawks had.
Of course, there are players like Devin McCourty and Kyle Van Noy that have decisions to make, but this defense is still in the position to be great next year.
The main takeaway here is that, while this season ended on a whimper, there is still light at the end of the tunnel that was the 2019 season.
Now, please don’t mistake my optimism for happiness. Fans are extremely frustrated with how this season ended, especially given all the writing on the wall concerning a certain G.O.A.T. possibly calling it quits. But is Brady really leaving the Patriots?
Brady wants to stay. That’s obvious. And if Bill Belichick were going to move on from Brady, he’d want a viable back-up to step in his place. That such player doesn’t exist right now. Belichick not bringing back Brady would make his team worse. And since when is Belichick in the business of doing that?
Every Patriots fan knows that there is an expiration date on this Dynasty and that date is rapidly approaching. Each loss stings a little bit more because it signals one step closer to the end of an era.
So, whatever coping mechanism you use in order to get yourself ready for next season, do it now and do it fast. The offseason has started a little early this year, sure, but there is a lot to be optimistic about going into 2020.
When you come at the King, you best not miss. That doesn’t mean the King doesn’t get hit or knocked down from time to time. When you’re on top for 20 years, you take your goat share of bumps and bruises. That just means that when you get your shot, you better make it count. Because if you don’t take the King out for good, the fight is far from over.
See you next season.