Are we witnessing the end of the New England Patriots era of dominance? Are we watching the aura of wonderboy quaterback Tom Brady and future hall of fame coach Bill Belichick diminishing in front of our faces? Are the Patriots, no longer “Must See TV,” and simply now a team of mediocrity? The answer to all of these questions is…yes. Last night’s prime time 41-14 loss versus the Kansas City Chiefs was an all time low point for a New England Patriots fan. This was the teams worst loss since 2003. Yeah teams go through bad losses here and there. Yeah, your team gets blown out every once and awhile. That’s sports. That’s football. But something else was going on last night on Monday Night Football in Arrowhead Stadium. This team, who before the season started was picked by many sports critics to get back to the Super Bowl this year based on their off season moves, looked downright awful on Monday night. Just horrible football on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. And what is startling was how bad they looked the week before in their home opener against the worst team in football, the Oakland Raiders. They barely won that game 16-9. So one would assume that in a prime time matchup on national television where the entire world is watching that they would come out motivated and impress. Nope. None of that happened. It was a blowout from the word go. And to be honest with you, I don’t know how the problem is going to get fixed.
First off, the Pats had 6 healthy scratches last night. Their substitutions in personnel over the first four games this season have been extremely puzzling. Wide receivers Kembrall Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, both were not on the field last night leaving this undermanned receiving core decimated once again. The Patriots were supposed to emphasize the running game last night, seeing that run defense was an area that Kansas City has struggled with this season. But nope, the Pats came out with Brady in shotgun to start the game and tried to dip and dunk their way through their first drive. Didn’t work. The run wasn’t established early enough and Kansas City’s dominant front four started their relentless pursuit of Tom Brady from jump street. The game was a disaster. The score was 27-0 before the Patriots scored their first TD, a 44 yd Brandon Lafell score in the third quarter. Former first round draft pick Nate Soldier was continuously beat all night long. He is their starting left tackle. The Pats can’t beat ANYBODY if they can’t protect Tom Brady. It’s been apparent since the New York Giants dismantled Brady’s psyche in the 2007 Super Bowl that the way to beat the Patriots and to give Brady fits is to apply massive pressure on him. When teams blitz the Pats, Brady is done. He sees ghosts when people aren’t even near him. He gets rattled very easily. And ever since that Super Bowl, a major flaw has been exposed in Brady’s game. Tom Brady, one of the all time great quarterbacks of our generation is slower than a sumo wrestler. He will never take off on his feet. (Prime example was last night on a short third down that Brady could have made with his eyes closed, and didn’t. Yet instead forced a throw to 5 foot 10 inch Julian Edelman who couldn’t hold on to the ball) The Chiefs, like everyone who watches film, knew this, and put the heat on Brady for the whole game.
The major problems with this football team start up front. The 2014-2015 New England Patriots up to this point have showcased a terrible offensive line. I mean they are atrocious. Going into last night’s game, the Patriots were averging 4.3 yards per play. That was the worst in the league. Are u fucking kidding me? This is the New England Patriots we are talking about here. Which gets back to my larger point. The Patriots have been slowly erroding since their last championship in 2004, for ten years. Yes there were some anomolies, like the 18-1 2007 team, and the 2011 Super Bowl team, but for the most part they have been a team with major issues for awhile now, despite winning double digit games, reaching AFC Championship games, and stay in the discussion of teams that are relevant. It is really hard in the era of NFL free agency to keep your team competitive year in and out. And the New England Patriots should be applauded for the great work that they have done. They have been the model of consistency in professional football. But in reality, this team doesn’t scare anyone because they aren’t built well. I will be the first to say that Bill Belichick, for all of his smugness, rudeness, short answered responses, is one hell of a football coach. The dude studied under Bill Parcells, and has been in football for over three decades. He used to be a defensive wizard. He became an excellent coach over time because he’s cut from that cloth. He understands schemes and trends. He very rarely loses back to back games. Even though Bill is an asshole with the media, he is loved by his players and does know the game. I mean there is a reason this guy is 165-63 as a head coach. But Bill Belichick the GM is something to most definitely question. The Patriots won their three Super Bowls in the early to mid 2000’s. At that time, the Patriots were a defensively strong team with playmakers drafted and brought up in the Patriot system such as Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Willie McGinest, Teddy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, and Richard Seymour. Tough, hard nosed, defensive veterans that all bought it to the “Patriot Way.” During that time the team had success with Tom Brady at the helm, a strong running game led by the likes of Antwan Smith, Kevin Faulk, Corey Dillon, and Belichick was able to find success with a handful of pedestrian wide receivers such as Deion Branch, David Givens, David Patten, and Troy Brown, just to name a few. The key piece of terminology at that time was “Team.” And from that moment on, it seemed like Belichick could do no wrong. He could basically put any player into his system and that player would be successful. It is that type of mentality that has caused Bill Belichick to fail as a general manager over time. And I know what you are thinking. You’re over reacting Jonesy. One bad loss doesn’t make the great hoodied one a bad coach. I’ll stand up for Bill Belichick the coach any day of the week. Yeah he had a shitty game yesterday but that doesn’t mean the guy can’t coach. What I do think however is Bill Belichick is a bad GM, and that has been proven even greater throughout the first four games of this season. It’s not so much about their system or structure, but it’s more about a lack of talent.
The Patriots have failed to develop any player of true worth at the wide receiver position for more than a decade. In 2007 the Patriots acquired Randy Moss from the Oakland Raiders and Wes Welker from the Miami Dolphins. Those two players would change the way the Patriots played offensive football. The Patriots have not been successful at developing any wide outs before that time. But in 2007, the Patriots broke league wide passing records that created this new spread offense that has dominated the league ever since. And a major problem why the 2014 Patriots aren’t successful is because they don’t have a deep threat. They haven’t had a deep threat since Moss, and they have struggled mightily in that area since he has left. The Patriots have not drafted a first round wide receiver since 1996, when they drafted Terry Glenn. That is almost 20 years without a first round wideout. This is who the Patriots have drafted at the WR position since 2002: Deion Branch (2nd round, decent career) and David Givens (7th round, role player on back to back championship teams in 2003, 2004,) Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, (both of whom are not in the league) Brandon Tate, (3rd round pick, now a kick off returner for Cincinnati) Taylor Price, (3rd round, not in the league) Juilan Edleman, (who was a 7th round pick in 2009 has beene exceptional) Aaron Dobson, (2nd round in 2013) who has been an injured bust and Josh Boyce (4th round) who isn’t on the team, and signed undrafted and actually decent receiver Kenbrell Thompkins who was a healthy scratch for yesterday’s game and been playing musical chairs in the rotation for weeks. In free agency, the Pats have missed on every wide out they have tried to bring in. Chad Ochocinco, (bust) Joey Galloway, (bust) Danny Amendola, (big bust) and Dante Stallworth (bust). They have struck out tremedously at that position. Until the Patriots get some sort of deep threat that can help stretch the field, teams will continue to bring their safties in and take away the middle of the field, the area the Patriots used to exploit continuously with Welker, now Edleman, and their massive tight ends Rob Gronkowski and the killer, Aaron Hernandez. The Patriots changed the game again by highlighting two strong, athletic tight ends in the 2011 season that were very hard to stop. Those playmaking tight ends created mismatches across the middle of the field and opened up lanes for Welker and Edelmen and other Pats offensive weapons. However things haven’t been so beautiful for the TE position in Foxboro. We know what happened to Hernandez. He started playing Gran Theft Auto in real life and started killing people. (He will never play again) And Rob Gronkowski, the All Pro, party loving TE, has been battling major knee and arm injuries for the past three seasons and is now a shadow of his old self. He’s still not 100% yet. Gronk used to be able to get separation from the linebackers who were covering the middle and now he can’t. He’s constantly doubleteamed. And Brady, who only seems to trust Edelman and Gronkowski, continues to force feed those receivers the ball. It’s frustrating to watch and it’s frustrating for Tom I’m sure. But the funny thing is when the Pats were winning Super Bowls and being dominant, Brady was throwing to a bunch of no-namers, and he was sharp, accurate, and on point. It doesn’t matter how good your receivers are if you can’t pass protect, which goes back to my point that this all starts up front.
The lack of success on the offensive line has led to major woes in the running game. Because the offensive line is so porous, the running backs can’t get any holes to run through. Steven Ridley and Shane Vareen, the two main horses for the Pats are more than capable runners. People keep bringing up the loss of offensive lineman Logan Mankins, who was traded a couple of weeks ago, primarily for salary cap purposes for TE/WR Tim Wright (a talented player who has been rarely used) and a late draft pick, as the major issue with the Patriots line. But newsflash its not. Mankins play has been slipping for years. He’s well into his 30’s now and bottom line, was way to expensive. Belichick is known to cut ties with players with the quickness when he feels that they can’t produce anymore effectively or become to expensive. I understand that the NFL is a business and one of the ways to be successful is to be on the front end of league trends when it comes to player evaluation and dealing with the cap. The Patriots were not wrong with letting Mankins go but they were wrong in not having a stable, sturdy replacement available. The line has been horrendous every game this season. Brady has no time to throw. Minus the Minnesota game in week 2, the line has opened up no running lanes, and it looks like anyone can find success bringing pressure against that offensive line. Belichick keeps playing a complicated game of musical chairs with the guys he does have including Sebastian Vollmer, who is always hurt, Soldier, whose confidence has got to be gone by now, because he is playing down right awful, Marcus Cannon, who is playing too many positions on the line, rookie center Bryan Stork who played decent, rookie guard Cameron Flemming, who looked completely overmatched, and rookie guard Jordan Devey who was benched for playing so shitty last week against Oakland. Sprinkle in veteran Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendall in various positions hasn’t helped either. Bottom line is the line has no continuity and no faith in each other. And there is also a lack of talent on that line. The Patriots have failed to build up strong lineman through the draft and haven’t been major players in the free agent market to address that concern either. The problem with winning every year is it gives you bad draft spots. Some of the best new young interior lineman are guys that get picked within the first 15 picks. The Patriots never pick that high. I guess that’s a good thing. But when they do have opportunities to draft quality lineman in the earlier rounds, they have missed.
And then there is Brady. I love Tom Brady to death. I really do. I think he is one of the best quarterbacks this league has ever seen. But he has lost a step. He isn’t the same guy that he was even two years ago. He is 37 years old and is spending way too much time on his back. He has difficulty throwing the deep ball which is ironic because he has no one to throw it too. He had a 6.0 % sack rate that he carried into last nights game and he was sacked at least 4 times yesterday. The Chiefs forced two fumbles and Brady threw 2 pics. He just isn’t as crisp as he once was. He overthrows receivers, throws a lot of balls in the dirt, and has played poorly in basically every game this season. He has posted his worst first quarter numbers since his rooklie year this season. He completed only 60.9 percent of his passes last night for 159 yards, 1 TD and 2 interceptions. Those aren’t Tom Brady numbers. His stats versus Oakland were just as pedestrian. (1 TD and 234 yards passing) Brady has yet to throw over 250 yards this season. In 2007, Brady threw 50 TD’s and 4,806 yards. 300 plus yard passing days were the norm. But those days are long gone. It was weird to see back up quarterback Jimmy Garroppolo look so sharp and efficent in his mop up duty last night after Brady was benched. Garoppolo went 6 of 7 for 70 yards and a TD on his first drive. He looked like Brady used to look. Listen, there isn’t any quarterback controversy in New England now, but maybe there is more than meets the eye when it comes to Brady. He can’t be elite forever, but this can’t always be about the lack of talent at receiver either.
What this all comes down to is this. This is the end of the illustrious Patriots era. They are not a team to be feared anymore. They still are a good team. They will get this figured out. They play in one of the worst divisions in football. The Jets, Bills, and Dolphins all stink too, so thinking that the Patriots can’t find a way to get 9 wins this year is mind blowing, but if I had to bet on anything, the Patriots will fix things. But their offensive line and wide receiver issues aren’t just going to go away. The Patriots have a personnel problem, and that all starts with Bill Belichick. Until he realizes that he can’t do it all or that someone has to help him with his decision making when it comes to player personnel, the Patriots will continue to under perform. Evaluating talent is a very difficult task and Belichick can’t do it all by himself. The Brady window is closing extremely fast. If the franchise really wants to give this unbelievable talent one last true shot to win a title, they have to start at the line and build the team from up front. They have to seriously address the wide receiver position. And you can’t do that when you over pay for a washed up Darelle Revis. Belichick has got to make logical choices to help improve this team. No one will knock Bill for his coaching pedigree. And no one can take away his 12 double digit win seasons, 11 playoff appearances, 11 division championships. five Super Bowl berths, and three NFL championships. But the Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl title since Spygate. And I don’t think that has to do with Belichick the coach. I think it has to do with Belichick the GM.