From the very beginning it seemed as though this Patriots team wasn’t meant for anything special. Tom Brady spent his offseason enjoying himself overseas and catching up with his family instead of arriving early in Foxboro to work with his receivers. The core of receivers, a group that lost Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola, seemed like a group that lacked talent and reliable options (reminiscent of the receiving core from 2006).
Defensively, the Patriots let go of Malcolm Butler after Bill Belichick benched him in Super Bowl LII. Butler took his talents to the Tennessee Titans, as did former Patriots running back Dion Lewis (who called his former team “cheap” a few months ago).
Matt Patricia, who helped coach the Patriots to two Super Bowl championships and three appearances (I met him at a bar, he’s a terrific guy) left his role as defensive coordinator and assumed head coaching duties with the Detroit Lions. And if it wasn’t for Robert Kraft stepping in on 4th-and-long to reel Josh McDaniels back to Gillette, McDaniels would be in Indianapolis.
There was a lot to replace with little time to do so and it finally caught up to Belichick. To describe this year’s Patriots team, I’d borrow the words of Dennis Green: “they are who we thought they were.”
The Patriots have followed a similar beat each season in recent years. They get pushed around early in the season (the 2014 Monday night game against Kansas City rings a bell here) and progress as the season continues. An ugly loss to Patricia’s Lions in Week 3 should’ve been the turnaround moment for the Patriots, but it wasn’t. Instead of moving in the right direction and climbing the ladder, they’ve been inconsistent week in and week out. They had no business letting Lewis off the hook for his comment and losing to Tennessee in Week 10. They had the Dolphins on the ropes in Miami (a place that has been unfriendly to Brady) and lost on a miracle play. Last week’s trip to Pittsburgh gave them a chance to make a statement by winning a road game against a playoff team and they let it slip.
They’re 9-5 heading into this week’s game against Buffalo and in three of those losses they’ve scored just 10 points. Perhaps it’s 41-year-old Brady finally showing signs of aging. Perhaps it’s the receiving core that hasn’t given Brady the consistent threats he needs. Maybe the offensive line needs a first-round pick from Georgia to step in and help drive the trenches. It’s probably some sort of combination of all the above. Whatever the issues are, it doesn’t look like they will be fixed in time for the playoffs.
And Josh Gordon’s departure doesn’t help the cause. Gordon announced Thursday morning that he’s stepping away from football to deal with personal issues. The NFL suspended him indefinitely for violating terms of his conditional reinstatement. Gordon was the team’s leading receiver.
The Patriots are moving in the opposite direction at the wrong time. Normally they hit their peak in December, rise to the top of the AFC standings and hold their weight as Super Bowl contenders. Call me negative but this doesn’t look like a team destined for February football. With just as many question marks now as they had in August, the Patriots are in unfamiliar territory. For the first time in three years it looks as though they’ll be watching the big game like the rest of us — from home.
The annual Walter J. Boverini Tournament tips off next Thursday and it has always been one of my favorite events to cover. This year’s tournament will be held at Tech and the school’s girls basketball team re-enters the fold. It’s always tough to pick a favorite on either side and that’s what makes it a joy to cover.
The St. Mary’s girls went 2-0 in their Florida trip and carry the momentum it’ll take to defend their crown. But English has played solid basketball lately. Classical has been tested early in its season and Tech wants to make a statement.
On the boys’ side, English is red-hot at 4-0 with huge wins in each game. Classical is the defending champion, St. Mary’s is also undefeated and Tech’s hoping to give its home fans something to cheer about.
If you’re a high school hoops fan looking for an area Christmas tournament, the Boverini’s the one for you.
Harold Rivera can be reached at [email protected].