To reach the pantheon of pro football, and in doing so regain an aura of invincibility, the Patriots will need more than a flawless Tom Brady in 2013.
The goal is always the same in these parts: win the Super Bowl or bust. It’s what the Patriots expect of themselves.
This is Bill Belichick’s 14th season in New England as head coach. It’s Brady’s 14th season. The fantastic duo needs much more than a breezy schedule and a playoff bye to claim their fourth Lombardi Trophy. What the Patriots need, more than anything else, is playmaking in the postseason.
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In revamping the wide receiving corps, the Patriots lost the veteran sage Wes Welker, the dependable Danny Woodhead, and the cantankerous but productive Brandon Lloyd. Aaron Hernandez, charged with first-degree murder, has been released and shunned.
Virtually all that’s left from 2012’s fourth-ranked passing offense is Brady and the magnificent Rob Gronkowski.
Last season, hampered by a forearm injury that required multiple surgeries and cost him six games, Gronk was still able to contribute significantly. He caught 55 passes for 790 yards and 11 touchdowns. Most coaches would kill for that kind of productivity. But for the second year in a row, the big playmaker was unavailable for key postseason games as the Patriots were shelved by the Super Bowl-bound Ravens. (Gronkowski was a shell of himself in Super Bowl XLVI a year earlier after suffering an ankle injury.)
Without Gronk to exploit the middle of the field, the Patriots’ wide spread and fast-paced passing attack crumbled. Despite throwing 54 passes in the AFC Championship game, Brady managed only 29 completions for 320 yards, a meager 5.92 yards per attempt. The Patriots put up 13 points, a far cry from their league-leading 34.8 points per game during the regular season.
This is why playmakers are so crucial to this season.
Danny Amendola, much like Welker, cannot easily be bottled up. But he also has the ability to explode past defenders at any given moment. At 27, he’s considered an upgrade.
Rookies Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, and Kenbrell Thompkins each bring their own explosiveness to this offense as well. Dobson has the rare ability to make circus catches in the air and enough juice to run right past defenders. Boyce is arguably the team’s fastest player, running as low as a 4.3 40-yard dash. And Thompkins, who fell in the draft because of his troubled background, has the capacity to shake man-to-man coverage at the line before speeding away from opponents.
If you had to boil it down, this offense got faster.
While familiarity and trust were the hallmarks of 2012, this newness and explosiveness should mark 2013. And if Brady can develop the same rapport he had with Welker for six years, a Duck Boat parade is not far-fetched. For Brady, patience is key.
“Yeah, I’m not the most patient guy to begin with,” Brady said on Wednesday, “so that’s something that I’m working on.
Flashback No. 1
Got a good laugh during the NFL’s season opener as the Denver Broncos hosted the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens. Peyton Manning showed off his doctoral degree, surgically dismantling the new Baltimore secondary for an NFL-record-tying seven touchdowns and 462 yards passing as the Broncos won, 49-27. But that wasn’t nearly as entertaining as Denver linebacker Danny Trevathan’s pick-6 turned touchback. The rookie intercepted a Joe Flacco pass and had a clear path to the end zone. But like DeSean Jackson and Leon Lett before him, Trevathan celebrated a little too early, dropping the ball before reaching paydirt. Now he’ll join those two on endless highlight reels while we all giggle madly.
“It’s going to be on the Not Top Ten,” Trevathan told the Denver Post. “I’ll grow from it. First game.”
It turns out, new Patriots receiver Aaron Dobson did the same thing at Marshall, except he got away with it. (H/T to @Kevin__OConnor.)
Flashback No. 2
The Patriots beat the Bills, 52-28, in their first meeting of the 2012 season. The game was marked by the Patriots’ dominant running game, featuring a twin bill of 100-yard efforts by Stevan Ridley (106) and Brandon Bolden (137). Bolden’s 137 yards were a career high.
Earlier this week, I posted my first installment of NFL picks. A lot of readers pointed out that my previous year’s record picking games, 169-83-1, was too good to be true. Yes, that’s very much the case. Last year, instead of picking against the spread, I picked straight-up winners.
Read this, link that
The Boston Globe NFL preview section dropped today. In looking at this season, I took a closer look at the new cast of Patriots wide receivers.
Also, if you haven’t had an opportunity, check out my 10 most important Patriots not named Brady. And in the category of ridiculous, I try and predict the outcome of every single Patriots game this season. You can find the Boston.com sports staff predictions here.
Tweet of the week
Former Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko landed with the Pittsburgh Steelers this week after losing his job to rookie Ryan Allen. The Patriots host the Steelers Nov. 3.
There will be moments in your life where you will not be able to describe your joy and gratitude. I had one of those today. Go @steelers !!!
— Zoltan Mesko (@ZoltanMesko) September 2, 2013
Boston.com user Theine writes:
Just graft those quotes into every pre-game story for the rest of the season and be done with it. No point in having a press conference. Brady and Belichick own the Boston sports press.
It all sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? Part of the discipline and identity of the Patriots is the team’s ability to stay on message, whether that means praising an opponent that may not be worthy or praising an opponent they actually respect. It’s up to the readers to determine the difference.
What’s to come
– At 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8, the Patriots will open their 2013 regular season at the Buffalo Bills. That’s less than two days from now.
– Just four days after playing the Bills, the Patriots have their home opener, Thursday night, Sept. 12, against the New York Jets. It’s a tough stretch for everyone.
– On Monday, Sept. 16, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard will have his probation-violation hearing in Nebraska after being cited for driving under the influence.
– Also on Sept. 16, Jerod Mayo will host the fourth annual “Mayo Bowl,” a charity event at King’s at the Legacy Place in Dedham. The event will raise money for Boston Medical Center and Pitching in for Kids.
Zuri Berry can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry.