Well that was a contrasting two weeks of football now, wasn’t it? After week one everyone was ready to crown the Patriots AFC champs and have them facing the 49ers in the Super Bowl. Funny thing happened; they lost at home to an underrated Cardinals team in week two, and in a league without a lot of predictability, the most predictable team in the league lost their first ever home opener in Gillette Stadium. This game reminded me why I don’t gamble. I have bet on one game in my life, and Napoleon Kaufman ran all over the Broncos for 230 yards and cost me a large sum. I swore that day to never trust the NFL again.
I am here to calm down the fearful but also point out the opportunities, but first things first, I have a ref rant to get off my chest and then I’ll keep quiet about the subject. I am not happy about the current situation and I am horrified that they called the hold on Gronk Sunday to take a win off the board. That call was awful. OK, that is it, back to what the Patriots can control.
The offense is in the midst of a change that I, ahem, predicted, and we are seeing the growing pains that are coming with it. All I can say is this- please be patient, because what they are trying to do will work and give them a better chance to win when it matters- January and February. The Patriots are a unique team simply because Tom Brady’s excellence allows them to be flexible. If they decide that they want to spread a team out and throw all game, they can still do that because Brady is great, but that isn’t what that want to do for 20 weeks.
In the playoffs, this simply doesn’t work. It may work for a series, but not for entire playoffs. Sooner or later there is going to be a street fight and the team that knows how to play physical and has a quarterback to make plays wins Super Bowls. Teams cannot just decide to become physical, it just isn’t possible. Establishing this mindset early is a must, and the Patriots have made the decision to go this route. Brady is going to adapt to this offense and once again become DEADLY in the play action, an underrated NFL weapon that keeps defenders off your quarterback and off balance. Even the best defenses can be beaten if they can’t anticipate and the play is dictated to them, and this year’s offensive edition of Patriots will be able to accomplish this mission come playoff time.
On the defensive side of the ball, well, that is just fun to watch right now. Chandler Jones is a threat for Rookie of the Year and looks like a certified franchise defensive end. His handwork and footwork is five-year veteran level stuff and he has a motor; those two factors and the Patriots obvious recognition of these skills are allowing Chandler to have the biggest defensive rookie impact since Richard Seymour. The linebacking core is second to none, and the main reason is the addition of Donta Hightower. He has had a lot thrown at him in his first two weeks, and he has come through with flying colors.
Veterans Brandon Spikes and Devin McCourty have also played fantastic football over the last two weeks, a trend that is crucial to the success of this defense. Spikes needs to stay healthy and McCourty needs his confidence to continue to grow. This may seem like a stretch, but if you think back to week one last year, McCourty got scorched and his season went downhill from there. This season, he got to face his brother for the first time and he had an edge about him that was different from last year. He had a good game and built on it by shutting down Larry Fitzgerald (with plenty of over the top help).
There was a clear special team’s gaffe on the missed field goal, which happens, but the bigger mistake was Nate Ebner’s missed block and the subsequent blocked punt. Protection issues on special teams will be addressed this week and I don’t foresee this being a problem going forward. Stephen Gostkowski is another story altogether. I’m sorry, but I am not sold on him in crunch time. I can think of one playoff game he won (I want to say San Diego. Too lazy to look) but I believe Sunday was his first ever shot to win a regular season game, and he didn’t just miss it, he shanked it.He was reported to be a wreck leading up to Super Bowl XLII, so much so that the Patriots chose to forego a 49 yard field goal attempt and went for it on 4th and 13. The jury is still out on Gostkowski (Josh McDaniels long lost twin brother) and I hope he gets another shot so he can hit it and get some confidence.
Like I said, the sky isn’t falling and the Patriots are going to be just fine.
For those fans who long for the days of shootouts and five wide all season, it’s over, so go buy Madden and run your own offense. The Patriots are the team that sets trends in the NFL and this is just another time when they are ahead of everyone else. Watching this young, athletic defense gel this season is going to be a treat for Patriots fans, so appreciate what you are watching, because BB finally got the guys he needs to make some plays on the defensive side of the ball. If it feels like 2004 all over again, that is a good thing.
3 random thoughts…
1. Stevan Ridley will run for 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns if he stays healthy. He is explosive.
2. Wes Welker is being fazed out of this offense because the Patriots are using athletic tight ends in that spot now. Think two- wide, two-tight that can split to five-wide when they audible. Guys like Gronk, Hernandez and now Kellen “I’m an effing soldier” Winslow playing tight end then shift into slot receiver roles. Defenses don’t know how to defend that and the Patriots plan to attack this way. The writing was on the wall when Hernandez got paid. Wes is a good player, but he is NOT worth franchise player money.
3. I still feel confident about my Patriots pick for the Super Bowl, but the Saints are 0-2. Oops.
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