It has been a strange year to be a New England Patriots fan. Coming into the season, we really did not know what to expect, especially since the past several seasons have ended in a rather disappointing manner. Last season, Rex Ryan and the rival Jets stunned Bill Belichick’s squad and the year prior, Ray Rice scampered 80 yards on the first play from scrimmage, setting the tone for a long day. Both games were in friendly Foxboro. The year before that Tom Brady went down in the first game of the season and the Matt Cassell led Pats missed out on the playoffs via a tiebreaker. If you forget what happened the season before that, crawl out from under the rock where you have been living and turn on ESPN or the NFL Network ( I was at the game and still cannot listen to a Tom Petty song even though he is one of my favorite musicians).
Back in September, the feeling was the Patriots’ defense would be quite vulnerable but would gel and come together by season’s end. The fact the team had a perceived soft schedule fed into this notion. They may lose a couple games along the way, but the schedule and division were both weak so the team would make the playoffs and by season’s end, the defense would be playoff-ready.
It is pretty funny to hearken back and remember the biggest story once training camp opened was Chad Ochocinco looking for a roommate who owned a Wii console a requisite to apply (which ruled me out). That said, why do I think he is going to catch a TD in the Super Bowl?
The season progressed according to plan, as the defense indeed showed some growth, but injuries tempered their effectiveness. Actually, it can be argued that the team’s name should be the New Englan Patriots, since they really don’t have a D.
But yet, next weekend, they will be playing one more game.
The main reason is Belichick is zagging while everyone else is zigging. The present rules really favor a team with multiple speedy receivers as defensive backs can barely make contact in coverage and heaven forbid a defensive lineman sack the quarterback without making sure there was no flag for an illegal hit. The thing is, instead of building an offense with talented wideouts, Belichick has opted to deploy two tight ends and a diminutive slot receiver. Most weeks, teams have to game plan a means to thwart multiple deep threats. When facing the Patriots, teams need to figure out a way to take away a couple of tight ends with extraordinary physical skills in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez while hoping Wes Welker and Brady are somehow not on the same page. Thus far, not too many have been successful.
The regular season went as expected, though the loss of emerging pass rusher Andre Carter really dampened things. It was appearing as though the defense was beginning to resemble a typical Belichick group, one which could take advantage of the opposition playing from behind. Additionally, injuries to the secondary forced Julian Edelman to do his best Troy Brown impression and play defensive back.
After avoiding wild card weekend, New England was blessed with a gift from heaven as they got to face Tim Tebow, I mean the Denver Broncos again instead of a Pittsburgh Steeler team that was a more difficult matchup. If the Pats win, we fans should thank Rashard Mendenhall for missing the wild card game. Denver proved to be no match as after all, when Tebow thanks the Lord, Belichick says “you’re welcome.”
Last week, the Patriots enjoyed some serious luck, not only on the missed field goal by Billy Cundiff but also on the near game-winning touchdown pass to Lee Evans. I am honestly surprised there has not been more of an uproar whether or not that was a touchdown. It sure looked to me like he had it long enough, but then, what is a touchdown and what is not is more complicated than the new overtime rules.
Right now, the Patriots are about a field goal favorite. I personally see the game as more of a pick ‘em. This assumes Gronkowski is able to play and Edelman is not tasked with checking the likes of Victor Cruz or Mario Manningham. If Gronk is not 100 percent or injuries force Edelman into pass coverage, the edge goes to Eli Manning and the New York football Giants. If this is the case, it will take a near perfect performance from Brady and some breaks from the Patriots ‘efense to avenge ruining the perfect season.
Hmm, I just realized something. This little essay is a microcosm of the Pats’ season. When I decided to write on the topic, I was not sure where it would go. Though this is supposed to be a stream of conscious type column, giving me some leeway to go in any direction, it never quite materialized as I had hoped. I mean, at the end of the day, it got the job done and accomplished its ultimate goal, but it seems empty. There should have been more funny one-liners or descriptive stories designed to emote a reaction. There is nothing wrong with workmanlike, but just like entertaining puts butts in the seasons, it also puts eyeballs on the monitor.
Here’s hoping that next week’s column is engaging, thrilling and concludes with an exciting finish.