Tomase: Count out the Patriots? Are you kidding? Despite flaws, they're not dead yet

John Tomase
December 17, 2018 - 12:14 pm
Tom Brady

Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports

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Watching the Patriots do un-Patriots-like things for three hours on Sunday -- how many times could Trent Brown flinch, Julian Edelman clang, and Tom Brady bail? -- I still found two words running through my head.

"And yet."

They played horribly . . . and yet still had four cracks at forcing overtime in the final minute. They dropped to the third seed in the AFC . . . and yet need only for Nick Foles and the resurgent Eagles to knock off the Texans to reclaim a first-round bye. They look nothing like a Super Bowl contender . . . and yet there isn't an AFC team, with the exception of San Diego, that feels like it's trending in the right direction at the moment.

After two straight losses, the Patriots have given plenty of reasonable people plenty of reasons to declare this isn't their year. And it's hard to argue. Self-inflicted wounds uncharacteristically cost them Sunday's game in Pittsburgh as much as anything Ben Roethlisberger and Co. managed on their own.

At the risk of glossing over some very real issues -- their Hall of Fame coach failed them in Miami when he stuck a lumbering tight end at safety, and their Hall of Fame quarterback failed them on Sunday by scoring only 10 points -- it still feels like a path remains to one last Super Bowl.

The Patriots have already beaten the top two seeds in the AFC (albeit in Foxboro), so it's not like Kansas City and Houston represent insurmountable obstacles.

The Steelers are beatable. The Ravens start a rookie quarterback who runs the option and throws like he's winging a paper airplane. The Chargers might not even reach the AFC title game as a wild card.

Despite his mystifying faults -- terrible in the red area, mediocre on third down, overwhelmed in the face of pressure -- Tom Brady remains far and away the most battle-tested quarterback ever. Bet on Lamar Jackson against him if you want. Or DeShaun Watson. Or even Patrick Mahomes. None of them has any idea how to win in the playoffs, and we've seen the Chiefs falter on the big stage three times this season. Even Philip Rivers, for all his 2018 greatness, has only prevailed once in eight tries against Brady, including 0-2 in the playoffs.

Despite Belichick's occasional failings -- Gronk shouldn't have been put in a position to be Desperado'd, and anytime another team commits 14 penalties, we blame it on a lack of discipline that starts at the top -- he's still the greatest coach in NFL history. I do not trust Andy Reid to beat him in a game that matters, no I do not. Baltimore's John Harbaugh has proven himself a worthy adversary, but Bill O'Brien is 0-5 against his former boss in Houston. Meanwhile, Sunday's victory improved Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin to 3-7 vs. Belichick, while the next playoff game Chargers head man Anthony Lynn coaches will be his first.

Those are two major checkmarks for the Patriots in any postseason matchup, when the game undeniably changes. It doesn't make the Patriots automatic, and it doesn't mean they can't lose. Their flaws are real, and the Eagles rode an unproven coach/QB combo to a Super Bowl last year.

But even in the face of two demoralizing losses and what's already their worst regular season since 2009, we'd be crazy to write off the Patriots now.

They lack cohesion. They make too many mistakes. They're missing playmakers on both sides of the ball. Brady's game is legitimately slipping. Gronk isn't the same. Edelman isn't the same. Josh Gordon isn't consistent. The offense can't match Kansas City's firepower. The defense can't change a game like Baltimore's. Even their special teams kinda stink.

And yet.

And yet.

And yet, I just can't count them out. All they need to do is get their bleep together against a flawed AFC for a couple of weeks in January, and we'll be spending another two weeks at the Super Bowl, wondering how they pulled off perhaps one last miracle to bookend the Brady-Belichick Era.

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