The New England Patriots have a problem. And it’s not a marijuana problem. It’s an offensive line problem.
As we get closer to the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs that begin on Saturday, this week’s storylines from Foxboro include Bill Belichick’s black eye, Rob Gronkowski’s absence at Tuesday’s practice, and Chandler Jones’ medical visit early Sunday morning.
Since each topic came to light, Belichick had walked through the locker room during media availability with a pair of boxing gloves in his hands, Gronkowski returned to practice, and Jones, well, it’s actually been business as usual for Jones all week. But questions lingered about what he was doing on Saturday night into Sunday morning that led him to an emergency hospital visit.
The most logical report came from The Boston Globe’s Chris Gasper, who said Jones had a bad reaction to synthetic marijuana. The original report from The Boston Herald said that Jones showed up at the Foxboro Police Department at 7:42 a.m. on Sunday seeking medical attention before being transported to Norwood Hospital just after 8 a.m.
Jones was back at practice on Monday. He practiced again on Tuesday. And again on Wednesday. You get the point.
Still, that didn’t deter conspiracy theorists from chiming in with a whole bunch of BS while trying to connect the dots between Jones’ hospital visit, Belichick’s black eye, and Gronkowski’s absence from practice on Tuesday.
The combination of these three storylines would make you believe that the Patriots are dealing with some behind-the-scenes distractions, entering their playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday at Gillette Stadium, with the biggest distraction clearly being one of their best defensive players involved in a drug-related incident during the bye week.
But if it was as big a deal as some have made it out to be, then Jones certainly wouldn’t be practicing all week. And if the NFL really wanted to look into it, a first-time offender for a drug that’s not a PED would result in Jones being placed in the league’s substance-abuse program, opening him up to more drug tests in the future.
In other words, there would be no suspension. Jones is practicing. He’s going to play on Saturday against the Chiefs. And the Patriots are going to rely on his pass rush.
Sure, the team doesn’t need any distractions at this stage of the season. But by the looks of it, this was nothing more than a “you messed up, don’t let this happen again” moment from a 25-year-old on a bye week.
The Patriots can’t control the outside questions or conspiracy theories that come along with it. So, for them, inside their walls, it’s business as usual. And inside those walls, there’s a far greater issue: protecting Tom Brady.
In losing four of their last six games, the Patriots’ offensive line has looked worse and worse, especially in the final two games, losses to the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins. It hasn’t always resulted in a sack, but Brady has spent too much time on the ground and has had too little time in the pocket, as of late.
In order to advance to the AFC Championship, that needs to change, immediately. And if last year’s Week 4 game in Kansas City is any indication, the Patriots have proven they can drastically fix their offensive-line issues from one game to the next.
After the Chiefs whooped the Patriots on Monday Night Football in 2014, it was evident that the O-line needed some serious fixing. Brady threw for only 159 yards. He had one touchdown and two interceptions. His protection was so bad, he was seeing ghosts.
One week later, Brady had all the time in the world and led the Patriots to a 43-17 beatdown over the Cincinnati Bengals. It sparked a seven-game win streak, and eventually led to a Super Bowl championship.
This year’s Patriots team is only asking for a three-game win streak to achieve the ultimate goal. And as they prepare for Saturday’s Divisional Playoff game against Kansas City, as much of a issue as some seem to think this week’s storylines may be, the only thing that will truly affect the Patriots now is a leaky offensive line.
That’s their biggest problem.