Strange Times in New England

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers
Brady and Big Ben following Week 15 last season (Credit: Justin Berl/Getty Images North America)

It’s getting painful for this Patriots die hard fan, and it’s time to start getting brutally honest.  I held out saying this following the Miami game, because I liked what I saw there.  Sure, the Miami Miracle was horrible, but Brady played his best game of the season, Gronk looked like his old self, and Edelman was making great plays.  After today, I cannot defend this team for what we expect it to be: a Super Bowl contender; that alone means something is wrong, and at 9-5, assuring we will not win at least 12 games for the first time since 2009, it’s officially time to say something is wrong.

Shades of 2009

https://twitter.com/ftbeard_17/status/1074461778916986880

I saw this tweet following the game today, and my response?

“Eerie”

This video is from the 2009 season, during a game where the Patriots were in the midst of getting annihilated by the eventual Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints.  Bill tells Brady point blank: we have no mental toughness.

“We go on the road, and we have no mental toughness.”

In 2009, the Patriots went 2-6 on the road, losing to the Jets (finished 9-7), Broncos (McDaniels game, finished 8-8), Colts (finished 14-2), Saints (finished 13-3), Dolphins (finished 7-9) and Texans (finished 9-7).  If you’re keeping track at home, that’s 3 playoff teams, and the two teams that faced off in Super Bowl XLIV.

The Patriots finished their road schedule this season following the game against Pittsburgh, going 3-5.

As written before, New England has had some of its worst losses since 2005 in terms of points.  However, since then, the type of games the Patriots win with superior mental toughness and smart play, they’re losing.  A characteristic a championship team needs, New England simply does not have this season.

Sloppy Football

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMpvPlSPhO4

Missed kicks, taking a sack with no timeouts, costly penalties.  This is what put New England in a position to lose versus Miami.  The Patriots gave 4 points due to Gostkowski misses, and possibly 3 more points by Brady taking a sack on third and goal with no timeouts and little time left, versus throwing it away.

New England lost by 5.  Games are won and lost by the margins, and although they were not the only mistakes, they speak volumes to why New England did not beat Miami (and win the division) in Week 14.

The Patriots had 14 penalties for a total of 106 yards against the Steelers, according to NFL Penalty Tracker.

Julian Edelman made a key drop that stalled a possession.  Josh Gordon dropped a pass on 3rd and 5 that would have been good for a first down.

Most alarming for me: the Patriots made the red zone twice in the 4th quarter, and scored 0 points.

The first drive they did, they made 7 plays in the red zone, which included 2 penalties by offensive lineman (false start by Trent Brown, holding by Marcus Cannon), and an uncharacteristic interception by Brady.

The second drive (and final drive of the game), they had 2 plays in the red zone.  This included being at the 11 before a costly holding penalty by Shaq Mason on 2nd and 5, which put the Pats at the 21. Suddenly New England needed to get 15 yards for a first, on top of trying to tie the game, with less than 35 seconds left, and zero timeouts.  As we know, they could not do this.

In a game where Pittsburgh was no less sloppy, and left you plenty of chances to come back, the offense could not come up clutch when the going got tough.  3 penalties, a costly INT, and zero points.  So close, yet nothing to show for it… except a second straight loss.

AFC Championship - Jacksonville Jaguars v New England Patriots
Credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America

Now there’s plenty of blame to go around.  GM Bill is using a strategy that is great when your franchise QB is 32 and you can build for more prolonged period of time, but when he’s 41, maybe you should go all-in (long discussion on this after the season is over).  Coach Bill knows he has an undisciplined team, one lacking mental toughness, and with two weeks left in the regular season, there’s not a lot you can do about that (and he deserves blame for it getting this far).  Josh McDaniels should be putting Brady in better situations; James White has been non-existent the past few weeks, you could argue Gordon should be used more, and maybe TRY to get Gronk involved.  The defense looked awful against Miami, but shows you enough in games against Minnesota and Pittsburgh to give you hope, but it’s not consistent enough.

All of this, and 12 has not been put in the best situation to win.  At 41, it’s not fair to expect him to be peak Brady and to carry you through every rough patch.  He has not been awful this season, he’s had good games, but he’s made uncharacteristic plays in the clutch, and had to be forced to make awful plays at other times because his team digs him into too deep of a hole.  He does not deserve all the blame, but if you aren’t giving him some after these past two weeks (not ultimate blame, but SOME), then you are not watching.

Looking Forward

Image result for patriots bills
Credit: Patriots Wire

Between Week 7 and Week 15, the Patriots played 6 road games (8 games total), but will wrap up the season with two games at home.

New England will play Buffalo (5-9) next week, and their regular season finale will be against the Jets (4-10).

The Patriots (9-5), are currently the 3 seed in the AFC, with Houston (10-4) and Kansas City (11-3) ahead of them.  New England still needs to win one more game (or have Miami lose one more game) to clinch the AFC East for the 10th straight season.

New England controls their own destiny for the 3 seed, and if Houston loses just one game (with New England winning both of their remaining games), the Patriots can get a first round bye week for the ninth straight year.  The Texans play a 7-7 Eagles team still fighting for their own playoff hopes, and a Jags team with nothing to lose; you can’t make this stuff up.

If we’re being honest, 2009 Bill Belichick is probably saying exactly what 2018 Bill Belichick is after today.  However, the best case scenario for this team is that they get the 2 seed, Houston beats the 6 seed in the Wild Card Round, and the Chargers/Chiefs beat the winner of the AFC North; this would mean the Pats play Houston at Gillette, and the Chargers and Chiefs face each other (it’s looking like one will win the conference, while the other gets the 5th seed).  If the road team (lets say the Chargers) win, and the Pats win their home game, bam, home game in the AFC Championship; New England is 6-1 at home in the AFC Championship since 2001.

But I think we all know that might be being too generous for this Patriots team.

We can talk more about the playoffs after the regular season is over (and we have to clinch a playoff birth first), but with if the season ended today, New England would face Baltimore at Gillette in the Wild Card Round.

The exact same scenario as 2009.  And how did that game end?

33-14 Ravens.

For the sake of this writer’s sanity, lets hope the parallels stop there.


Follow Nick on Twitter (@Nick_Collins14)

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