Even if the Patriots lose this Thursday at the Buccaneers (2-1), lose in three weeks at home to the revenge-filled Falcons (3-1), lose on Nov. 12 at Denver (3-1), and lose to the Raiders (2-2) on Nov. 19 in Mexico City (all of which is VERY possible) – the Pats will still be considered Super Bowl contenders at 4-6 going into Thanksgiving weekend. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are that good, and have built up enough trust over the years for everyone to realize it’s never over ’till it’s over with the Pats dynasty.
Unlike in the aftermath of that brutal Monday night loss in Kansas City three years ago, however, this particular “sky is falling” period in New England feels real. Like, very real.
That old idea of “no one goes into Foxboro and beats the Patriots” has become a complete joke. Consider that the Pats only lost two games last season (Bills, Seahawks) and they’ve already lost two games this season (Chiefs, Panthers). Interestingly enough, all four of those games came at Gillette Stadium.
Now, there was a common cry amongst die-hard fans and even players after the first title period window of the Patriots (say, 2006-10) that the people who attended games at Gillete were of the wine and cheese variety. These people didn’t know enough to make noise when the Pats were on defense, and many would often leave late in the third quarter to beat the Route 1 traffic. That sort of, kind of, went away when the Pats went through a 10 year Super Bowl title “drought” – but even during that time period Gillette didn’t exactly sound like Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City or CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
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Could the fans in Foxboro be louder? Yes. Would a bonkers crowd have made a difference in the losses to the Chiefs and Panthers this year? Absolutely not.
The totality of the blame for this mediocre season so far lies with the Patriots’ defense and the defense alone.
This was a until that was supposed to have the best secondary in the NFL this season – with Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler and Devin McCourty all owning Pro Bowl talent. But the stats and the eyeballs have shown quite the contrary. Instead, the Pats currently have the worst secondary in football, giving up a league worst 324 passing yards per game. Their linebacking corps is the worst in the league when it comes to pass defense (wouldn’t it be nice to have Jamie Collins right about now?) and their pass-rush is non-existent (Pats are 26th in the NFL in sacks).
Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston – who is basically Deshaun Watson on steroids and a healthier version of Cam Newton – is no doubt licking his chops when it comes to this Thursday’s matchup with the Pats. There is absolutely no reason to expect Winston to struggle in this one.
Perhaps we should have seen all this coming. The Pats – even while winning two of the last three Super Bowls – haven’t had a truly elite defense since the early 2000s. It was in 2009 that Belichick famously went for it on 4th and 2 from his own 28 late in a game against the Colts because he didn’t trust his defense, and that ushered in the era of “bend but don’t break” in New England.
Truth be told, that method worked very well. The Pats averaged a league-best 15.6 points allowed per game last season and in their Super Bowl winning season of 2014 they were eighth in the NFL in points allowed per game (19.6).
But if Patriots fans are being honest with themselves, they know full well that they haven’t had a take-no-prisoners defense like the current Broncos have or the early 2010s Seahawks had or the late 2000s Ravens had in quite some time.
Even look at last season’s playoff run. The second half of this past February’s Super Bowl masked what was a downright ugly first half for the Pats defense in the biggest game of the year. Matt Ryan had his way with that defense and Devonta Freeman ran wild. Even in the first half of a divisional round win over the Texans, the Pats defense made Brock Osweiler look decent.
In other words, this has absolutely become a trend.
It would be sad if Tom Brady’s career fizzles out with losses because of his own team’s defensive ineptitude rather than an opposing NFL defense finally figuring him out, but right now – that’s the way it’s certainly headed.