Patriots getting hard dose of reality after misleading start to year

Ryan Hannable
December 03, 2019 - 6:00 am
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Playing quarterback in the NFL for 20 years, with six Super Bowls along the way, Tom Brady knows a thing or two about what it takes to win.

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Despite the Patriots starting the year 8-0, Brady was visibly frustrated over the first few months of the season. This included a comment during the NBC production meeting prior to Week 9’s meeting with the Ravens where he said he was the most miserable 8-0 quarterback in the history of the NFL.

Well, now 12 games into the season, we have a good idea why.

This Patriots offense just doesn’t have what it takes to be able to beat good teams and perform when it matters most.

“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,” Brady said Monday on The Greg Hill Show. “We’re just trying to do the best we can do.”

This was a very telling quote as it was an admission from Brady that the team, mostly the offense, isn’t what it’s been in the past and it should not be expected to perform like some of the units in recent years.

The Patriots started the year 8-0 and were 10-1 prior to Sunday’s loss to the Texans because of their special teams and defense. These two units were able to make up for the offense’s deficiencies. 

Two defensive touchdowns against the Dolphins in Week 2, a blocked punt returned for a touchdown in Week 3 against the Bills, a blocked punt returned for a touchdown and a fumble returned for a touchdown in Week 6 against the Giants, two fumble recoveries against the Jets in Week 6, another fumble returned for a touchdown in Week 8 against the Browns and a third blocked punt of the year against Dallas in Week 12 setting up a short field have all helped offset a below average offense this season.

New England started counting on these things to happen in games, and Sunday night against the Texans was a perfect example of what can happen when they don’t. It was the first game all year the team did not force a turnover. If the Patriots defense or special teams were to have recorded a touchdown, or even made a big play, who knows what would have happened.

Offensive issues are easy to look over when the team is still scoring 30-plus points, but Brady knew what was happening. The 42-year-old has been around long enough to know that all those defensive and special teams plays wouldn’t happen in every game and the offense would need to get it going at some point.

It was also the competition that gave some false hope.

Following Week 13, the Patriots have played the fourth-easiest schedule in the entire league and have a strength of victory of .400. The only teams below that in the AFC playoff picture are the Bills (.306) and Steelers (.321), and those are supposedly the Patriots’ best wins of the year.

Granted, you can only play who is on your schedule, but the Patriots have barely been tested this season and when they have (Baltimore and Houston), they haven't responded.

Even though the defense allowed 37 points and 28 points in the two losses, the offense is the troublesome unit. Brady simply does not have anyone he can trust besides Julian Edelman and James White, and teams are now figuring out all they need to do is take those two players away.

Edelman and White combined for nearly two-thirds of the yards against the Texans, and for the year they have totaled 45 percent of the 3,173 passing yards. Besides these two, it’s been a revolving door of options for Brady in the passing game, including players no longer in the picture — Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon — and then players with little to no experience in the system — N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers and Mohamed Sanu.

“Guys are doing the best they can do in my belief,” Brady said on The Greg Hill Show. “We’re working hard and trying to do the right thing, and sometimes it’s been good. Other times, we obviously still have work we still have to do. That is just part of playing football. Sometimes people have it figured out early and some people, we’re trying to figure it out as we go. That’s just part of it. That is just part of what we’re dealing with.”

So, where do the Patriots go from here?

Fortunately, they are still in a good spot to earn a first-round bye and host at least one playoff game. They also have four regular-season games to try and figure things out. While it’s clear this team is different from the one a year ago that found its offensive identity in December on the way to a Super Bowl, it can truly never be counted 100 percent out because of Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and Brady.

The best way to win games moving forward may be taking a page out of the 2018 Patriots book and relying on the run game. 

The offense is coming off back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, including a season-high 145 yards against Houston. It will be easier said than done with an offensive line still finding its way with Isaiah Wynn playing just two games after being activated off injured reserve and now likely a third-string center following Ted Karras’ injury and David Andrews being lost for the season before it began.

Long, sustained drives to keep the scoring down appears to be the best way to win, as it seems clear the offense simply doesn’t have what it takes to score even 24 points anymore.

As easy as it is to point to past teams, like last year, when it comes to figuring things out and turning things around, it may be time to take a hint from the quarterback and come to grips that the 2019 Patriots just aren’t all that great.

Related: Bill Belichick on OMF addresses N'Keal Harry's playing time after interception vs. Texans