Hold on, before I start writing this column, let me put down my ice-cold Solo cup full of Kool-Aid. That’s what you’re going to convince me of drinking once you’re finished reading. I’m sure of it.
Several weeks ago, before a Week 9 game against the Redskins at Gillette Stadium, I told you that I’m “on to Denver” in Week 12.
Well, here we are. Thanksgiving week, and the Patriots are 10-0, preparing for their Sunday Night Football battle with the 8-2 Broncos.
It’s not the same Broncos team I had expected. Peyton Manning is no longer their starting quarterback. And they’re no longer undefeated. Instead, Brock Osweiler is under center, and the Broncos have lost two of their last three games.
But the question I’m asking remains the same. Can anyone defeat the Patriots this season? My answer also remains the same. If anyone can do it, it’s the Broncos. They have the best pass defense in football, and depending on defensive end DeMarcus Ware’s availability, they will pose the toughest challenge yet for a now-depleted Patriots offense. Especially in Denver.
That doesn’t mean I’m picking the Broncos to win. It just means that, after Week 12, the road to an undefeated regular season is pretty damn smooth. Because the Patriots finish the year against the Eagles, Texans, Titans, Jets, and Dolphins. Not exactly murderer’s row.
But with so many injuries to the aforementioned Patriots offense — add Danny Amendola to the list after leaving Monday night’s win over the Bills with an apparent knee injury — some are wondering just how New England can sustain its success.
Sounds blasphemous, if you ask me. Because after all, Tom Brady is still the quarterback.
Part of the problem is protecting him. The Patriots’ offensive line is anything but stable these days. But if there’s a “glass half full” approach here, it’s that Bryan Stork was put back at his usual center position on Monday night. His presence at that spot last year helped fix most of the chaos at the line of scrimmage.Last year’s Patriots proved that offensive line issues can be fixed during the season. After that, the problem turns to the banged-up receiving corp. Dion Lewis is no longer around to catch passes out of the backfield. Julian Edelman is out until at least the Divisional Round of the playoffs. And now, we’ll have to wait and see on Amendola’s status moving forward.
I’ve heard some people panic. Not me. I’ve seen it too many times. I’ve watched the Patriots thrive under the “next man up” approach. I’ve witnessed Bill Belichick and Tom Brady turn water into wine.
Exhibit A would be none other than Edelman. A seventh-round pick in 2009, sometimes I think people forget that he was a quarterback in college who began his professional career as both a wide receiver and a defensive back in New England. His fifth year in the league, in 2013, he caught 105 passes for 1,056 yards. Now, he’s irreplaceable. And his absence has caused some to panic.Again, not me. Because even if you have to add Amendola to the injury report, I’ll have my eyes on undrafted rookie receiver Chris Harper, who declared for the NFL early, after his junior season out of Cal. He was signed last week from the practice squad, and certainly has the talent and athleticism to become an important target for Brady down the stretch. Not just that, but his story is almost too perfect when it comes to the “Patriot Way.” Kid gambles on himself by leaving school early. Everybody in the league passes on him. Belichick scoops him up. Adds him to the 53-man roster in late November.There’s no doubt he’ll be motivated. And if he can combine his skill with that mindset, the Patriots may once again be able to turn water into wine. At least, that’s what I’ll put my money on until Edelman’s expected return in the playoffs.
Whatever happens in Denver, it looks like the Pats have the No. 1 seed in the AFC locked up, even with so many injuries to their offense.
And it looks like there’s plenty of Kool-Aid left. Drink up, while it lasts.