All right, I’ll take the vow. Can’t promise I’m going to keep it if things keep trending upward the way they are for the Patriots into October, November, and December.
But I’ll try to be true to it, to make this marriage of common sense and respect for how difficult it is to win in the NFL on any given Sunday work.
So here you go. I vow not to discuss the chances of the Patriots going undefeated.
I mean, at least until it’s a realistic possibility. Then, well, it might be an irresistible temptation.
No, I’m not already wavering already, honest. It’s a ridiculous, far-off notion right now. The Patriots are 2-0, having throttled what was presumed to be a good Steelers team in Week 1, 33-3, then following up with a 43-0 victory over a Dolphins team that is both genuinely inept and tanking like the 111-loss 2013 Houston Astros. As Peter Gammons astutely pointed out, the Dolphins were outscored by another lousy Florida team Sunday — the Miami Marlins. They play baseball, allegedly.
There’s not a lot of insight or value to be taken away from that win over Miami, other than confirmation of what we already knew: The defending champions are ridiculously stacked on offense and defense, to the point that these have a chance to be the best units they’ve had in the nearly two decades of this dynasty.
We might be doing a disservice to the 2007 Patriots offense — the best there ever has been — in daring to compare this group to it two games into the season. The ’07 Patriots scored 589 points — an average of 36.8 per game — including a stretch in October and November in which they scored at least 48 in four of five games. They ruined defenses and shattered egos, and boy did they enjoy doing it.
The Patriots have had other otherworldly offenses — the 2010, ’11, and ’12 offenses all scored more than 513 points — and they have not finished lower than fourth in points since 2009, when they were sixth.
But ’07 is the benchmark. And I believe that the current Patriots have better depth of quality personnel.
The ’07 Patriots got all-timer seasons out of Randy Moss (23 receiving touchdowns and enough highlights that they could warrant their own full day of NFL Network programming) and the 30-year-old Brady (50 touchdown passes, just eight interceptions). Wes Welker (112 catches) was Mr. Reliable. Other offensive options — leading rusher Laurence Maroney, third receiver Donte’ Stallworth, dependable receiver Jabar Gaffney — were good players, if hardly long-term stars.
This Patriots’ offense has more, on paper, and on the field, so far. Antonio Brown, Josh Gordon, and Julian Edelman theoretically are an unstoppable receiving trio whose immense talent and skills complement each other. There is more depth at running back, with Sony Michel, James White, and the unheralded Rex Burkhead a superior trio to Maroney/Kevin Faulk/Sammy Morris. (And don’t write off rookie Damien Harris, who was inactive Sunday).
And Brady . . . well, he’s 42 and playing as though he were 30.
There is, of course, a long way to go, and many variables will be encountered along the way. As fun as it was to watch Brown make his Patriots debut Sunday, he has an atrocious recent history of personal behavior, one that seems to be revealed further with a new report every few days. He is hardly a certainty to be here for the duration.
Gordon, whose insights after Sunday’s game were a breath of fresh air, is a tremendous player and easy to pull for as a human being. But his long and sad history of substance abuse remains a potential variable in how this season may play out.
And let’s admit it even if Belichick will never change his ways with this: It’s foolish and tempts fate to leave Brady in during the final minutes of blowout victories, especially against teams such as the Dolphins who have nothing left to lose but a bunch more football games, and especially with the offensive line in makeshift mode to some degree.
Drew Brees got hurt Sunday. So did Ben Roethlisberger. It’s simply wise to reduce the number of opportunities when you can for football to play a cruel trick on your fortunes.
Yet as great as the offense looks, it’s the second-best unit on this team right now. The Patriots have not allowed a touchdown since 2:03 remained in the fourth quarter against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game. They held the Rams — who scored 527 points last year — to a pittance of a field goal in Super Bowl LIII.
So far this season, the Patriots have allowed a 19-yard field goal by the Steelers’ Chris Boswell in the third quarter of the opener. An average of 1.5 points per game allowed? That’s pretty good.
The Patriots have led the NFL in fewest points allowed twice during the Brady/Belichick era, in 2003 (238 points) and 2016 (250). But the best defense they’ve had in my opinion is 2004, before Ty Law got hurt against Pittsburgh. They finished second in points allowed that season (260), despite sometimes playing wide receiver Troy Brown as a defensive back.
This defense, if it can avoid the attrition of injuries, is deeper, more versatile, and perhaps even downright better.
The most staggering statistic that confirms the excellence of the Patriots in all phases so far is point differential, which is plus-73. Last year, their point differential over the full season wasn’t that much higher: plus-111. And they’ve had winning seasons in which the final point differential was less than 73, such as in 2005, when it was plus-41.
These Patriots, defending champions and winners of three of the last five Super Bowls, are a juggernaut even by their usual standards. Yes, it’s a long season. The casual brutality of the sport takes a toll on every team. And there are talented players whose reliability is not a certainty for the long haul.
This has a chance — a chance — to be one of their best teams yet. And talk of going 19-0 seems to keep popping up in my inbox and Twitter feed.
I’m not going to participate. It’s early, and we learned in that dazzling, doomed 2007 season how taxing and heavy the pursuit of perfection can be. I’ve made a vow, and I’m taking it one game at a time, just like the Patriots do.
But of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t daydream about it, ponder the schedule and the potential roadblocks, and kick around the possibilities.
I mean, even those of us who have taken a vow of patience can agree, if they can get by the Eagles in Week 11, then the Chiefs in Week 14, well . . .