Let’s take a moment, shall we, and harken back to a darker period for these New England Patriots at the point of a seeming crossroad that saw the perennial Super Bowl contenders mired in a 1-2 start to the 2018 season.
The day following a 26-10 loss to the Detroit Lions was particularly brutal.
“Could it be that the Patriots are not very good?” — The Boston Globe
“Patriots will need more than Josh Gordon to fix this mess” — Boston Herald
“Troy Brown says Patriots’ ship is ‘capsizing’” — NBC Sports Boston
I think the analysis we’re looking for here is simple.
Six consecutive wins later, and the Patriots’ struggles of September are but a forgotten bump during the 2018 season which has, indeed, become business as usual. Again.
That frosty relationship between Tom Brady and Bill Belichick? Whatever.
Sony Michel generally being seen as a first-round bust? Meh.
What are they going to do without Malcolm Butler? Uh, nope.
Do they miss Jimmy Garoppolo? Dion Lewis? Nate Solder? No. No. God no.
Is this the end of the line for Rob Gronkowski? Well…
Let’s disregard that last one out of fear for the uncertainty surrounding the tight end’s latest back injury. For these are indeed happier times for a franchise that was not so long ago either suffering through its annual first-month blues, or the extension of an offseason that brought tumultuous possibility to Patriot Place.
“I don’t think anybody’s real happy with where we’re at right now at any part of the football team,” Belichick said on Sept. 24, the morning after the Patriots’ embarrassing loss to Matt (Slouch Police) Patricia and the Lions.
Six weeks later, following a 31-17 win over the Green Bay Packers, Belichick had a more satisfied take on his team’s situation.
“It’s good to be 7-2.”
That’s more like it.
“It’s consistent,” said wide receiver Julian Edelman, who played a role in the scoring Sunday night with a tricky 37-yard pass to James White in the fourth quarter. “Practice is tough and practice is crucial for us to do well. We’ve been stringing good weeks together of practice, and practice execution becomes game reality. It was good to get a win.”
It’s a far cry from the team that began the campaign 1-2, but not really a surprise, either. What else did we really expect even if the quarterback is 41 years old and if his receiving corps consisted of a four-game suspension, a wild card pickup, a tight end with a recurring back problem, and a lacrosse player?
How could a defense that made Blake Bortles and Patricia look like offensive juggernauts in any way rebound into something that might be considered worthy of a first-round bye?
Remember when the Jacksonville Jaguars got their “revenge” on the Patriots for the loss in last year’s AFC Championship game? They’re now 3-5 in the middling AFC South. The Lions are an identical 3-5 in the basement of the NFC North.
Remember the Miami Dolphins, who came to Foxborough the week after the debacle in Detroit with a 3-0 record and the lead in the AFC East? Once again, there was talk about this possibly, maybe, finally, being the year the Dolphins emerged from the rubble of adequacy.
They are 2-4 since then, and Brock Osweiler is on their payroll.
And yet: Every September, it’s the same sort of knee-jerk reaction that hypes the lowly and buries the elite. The Steelers tied the Browns? So much for them. The Saints ran into the high-flying attack of Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Buccaneers? There go their Super Bowl aspirations. Hey, have you caught this kid Sam Darnold yet? When’s the last time the MVP went to a rookie?
Which brings us to November and a soothing sense of football balance.There’s a consensus that what we watch during September is nothing more than an extension of the preseason. It’s difficult to argue with that premise considering how expectations are leveling out deeper into the season.
The Patriots are in the hunt for the top seed in the AFC. The Steelers and Saints have both righted their ships to again be considered Super Bowl favorites. Fitzpatrick’s beard has taken on a fitting pumpkin hue. And the Jets suck.
Everything is under control. Situation normal.
“The Patriots are an absolute mess. That much is certain.”— Yours truly, Sept. 24, 2018