It’s time, once again, to erroneously bury the Patriots

The Patriots may be a mess. But they probably aren’t.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. –AP

COMMENTARY

It’s not like we haven’t been here before.

If you want to bury the New England Patriots, go right ahead.

I’m out.

Oh, the evidence to the contrary is quite revealing in the face of Sunday night’s problematic loss to the Houston Texans, but we should still recognize the landmarks from being around this block more than a few times over the years.

Maybe all of Tom Brady’s erupting frustrations with his wide receiver corps is worse than the Patriots’ nearly-flawless record managed to cloak.

Maybe Brady’s age (he’s 42, you know) is finally starting show, giving him confirmation that his career is winding down.

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Maybe the NFL’s best defense, so steady throughout most of the first 11 games of the season, finally revealed some glaring weaknesses against a team that qualifies as one of only a few quality opponents on the 2019 schedule.

Maybe it’s all over. Maybe the Patriots are, indeed, cooked. The Baltimore Ravens have the AFC’s No. 1 seed, the Buffalo Bills are only a game behind in the AFC East race (with a late December showdown looming), and the Kansas City Chiefs, seemingly free of the ailments that affected them midseason, seem primed to deliver the unthinkable this weekend: a loss at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots have won 18 straight.

After all, how can a defense that looked that mortal against Deshaun Watson and the Texans possibly contain the best passing offense in the AFC? Is there enough time for Brady to drag N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, and Jakobi Meyers on a midweek retreat somewhere to engage in some healing power? Will Josh McDaniels shed the air of desperation that has him continually abandoning offensive game plans in lieu of whatever the mindset happened to be in Houston?

There’s little denying that the fallout from Sunday’s 28-22 (a farcical final score based on how the game actually played out) is grotesque. Brady has been whining about his lack of tools on offense for weeks (he was, after all, the “most miserable 8-0 quarterback” at one point), but it was hard to take the man seriously as the Patriots kept winning, all while the defense and special teams seemed poised to keep New England afloat. But all the problems were on center stage Sunday night, when both Brady and his receivers had their worst games of the season, with all the frustration caught on national television.

Brady made some awful decisions Sunday night (the cherry on top being the interception while trying to force the ball to Harry), and it seemed, at times, he was putting his young receivers in positions that were borderline impossible to convert. Whether or not Meyers should have fought for more room in the corner of the end zone in the first quarter can be debated. Brady’s pass there was still forced and should have been the first INT of the night.

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Not like this should have been an issue in the first place. The Patriots successfully established the run on their first drive of the game, only to abandon it in favor of ill-advised passes within the five-yard line. Later in the game, on fourth-and-one, McDaniels again elected to pass rather than run up the gut, a costly decision once Mohammed Sanu bobbled and dropped Brady’s pass. Then, there was the whole lining up for a two-point conversion only to give Kai Forbath a deeper extra point after the delay of game penalty, which was sort of like spitting in the wind just to see what would happen.

There was so much garbage being thrown around by the Patriots it was hard to pinpoint any one reason for the costly loss. The rookie wide receivers played like rookie wide receivers. Brady played like a 42-year-old guy who doesn’t want to deal with rookie wide receivers. McDaniels played the game like he was betting the house before even being dealt. Defensive alignments were being consistently abused by the Texans offense, which probably had Patrick Mahomes and friends licking their chops in advance of Sunday.

Woof. The Patriots may be a mess.

But they probably aren’t.

Games like Sunday happen to immediately fire up the cliff-jumpers of the world. “The Patriots just aren’t good anymore.”  Four years later and Trent Dilfer has to be correct at some point, right?

Not here. Sorry.

The Patriots looked like they were done a year ago too. Brady looked like he was on the final hole, turning in some of the worst offensive performances of his career. We know how that all turned out.

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New England rode the run game and its defense all the way back to another Lombardi Trophy.

But can that script be rewritten with an offensive line that has been decimated by injuries all season? With a Sony Michel lacking the burst he showed last January? Who knows? After all, McDaniels abandoned his attempt to figure that out the first chance he could on Sunday.

The result was everything following that first drive was slated for disaster.

Nights like Sunday don’t give a lot of credence to the thought that the Patriots will figure it out over the final month. They might have to play the AFC title game in Baltimore. They might have to play wild card weekend. They could even be a wild card themselves should the Bills make a statement this month.

On the other hand, we’ve watched this team for far too long not to recognize how the rebound usually happens just when it seems like the bottom is set to fall out.

The Patriots, and their dynastic stranglehold on the NFL, may indeed be finished.

If that’s what you think, let me know when you want to start paying attention.