This is supposed to be ‘New England Patriots time.’

It’s November and the early-season swoon which seems to plague the patrons of Foxboro is usually set to dissipate.  The Pats had just come off of a big win over the Green Bay Packers, in which they played well on both sides of the ball, as well as special teams. They were riding a six-game winning streak. With an eye on the ‘bye’ (week, that is), the team looked to continue their winning ways in Nashville against the 4-4 Tennessee Titans.

No so fast…

The Titans proved that they are certainly nobody’s afterthought.  In a dominant performance at home, the Titans dismantled the Patriots in all three phases, last Sunday. Tennessee’s defense was faster.  Their secondary provided better coverage. Their offensive skill players performed better than their Patriots’ counterparts. The Pats were out coached.  Lastly, Titans’ quarterback Marcus Mariota out-dueled New England’s Tom Brady.

Smashville Domination
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) is sacked by Tennessee Titans defensive end Jurrell Casey (99) and Tennessee Titans linebacker Harold Landry (58) during Tennessee’s 34-10 win over New England on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (Austin Anthony/Daily News via AP) ORG XMIT: KYBOW209

To the millions (and millions…a la Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) of ’Patriots Haters, ’ Christmas came early in 2018.  The image of a despondent Tom Brady and/or Bill Belichick walking off of the gridiron in defeat is enough to make those, who loathe everything New England, grin with Grinch-like excitement.  In the minds of these ‘millions,’ this is finally the day for which they have been waiting.
With passionate delight, they declare: ‘The Patriots are finished…and so is their quarterback.’ They might as well be singing ‘Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead.’

From fans, this behavior is expected. As a fanatic (from which the word ‘fan’ was derived), a person should be able to cheer, or boo any team for which he, or she pleases (as long as the behavior does not become personal or violent.) Quite honestly, it is one of the very things that makes sports great.  (Imagine where Major League Baseball would be without the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry? )

However, some sects within the national (and even local) media seem to take a bit too much delight in hastening the arrival of the Patriots’ relegation to the NFL’s ‘middle of the pack.’  Most notably, they are a bit too eager to see Tom Brady ride off into the proverbial sunset. Sunday’s loss to the Titans, coupled with Brady’s subpar performance, provided just the right amount of necessary fodder to stoke the flames.

At 7-3, are Brady and the Patriots done?  

These sects will tell you ‘Yes!’

However, this celebratory bravado might just be based on a mere ‘mirage.’

 

Patriots’ running back Sony Michel (cred: USA Today Images)

Drinking the Sand?

There is an old adage about a thirsty wanderer seeking an oasis in an arid desert. In the absence of water, the wanderer begins to imagine a source of sustenance that simply is not there. That figment of imagination is called a mirage. In other words, the wanderer sees what he, or she, chooses to see. Desperate to relieve an unsatiated thirst, the wanderer delusionally ‘drinks the sand.’

For some ‘journalists’ in the national media spotlight, ‘drinking the sand’ is their ticket to relevance. The mere presence of a Patriots sputter triggers a desire to be the first to obtain a copy of the Patriots death certificate.  It is this type of ‘carpetbagger’ mindset that leads to declarations such as:

‘They hate their Coach!’ – Tom Jackson, 2003

’The Patriots just aren’t good anymore.’ – Trent Dilfer, 2014

‘Tom Brady is going to fall off a cliff.‘ – Max Kellerman, 2016

 

Fast forward to 2018…

 

Bill Belichick is still the head coach of the Patriots.  

The Patriots are still among the elite teams in the NFL, and have been for the better part of eighteen years.

Tom Brady is the reigning NFL MVP, at age 41.

As usual, reports of their demise were greatly exaggerated. Still, some choose to take their delusions of grandeur one step further.

JACKSONVILLE, FL. – SEPTEMBER 16: Jacksonville Jaguars Dante Fowler looks on as Malik Jackson and A.J. Bouye tackle New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during the third quarter of the NFL game at TIAA Bank Field on September 16, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/ Boston Herald)

When in doubt, call him the ‘LOAT’

Many attacks on the Patriots are tied to the age and performance of quarterback Tom Brady. One such argument is the repeated and stale prediction that Brady’s demise was certain to occur in 2018, the year in which he turned 41 years of age. Save for the fact that this trend of moronic mumbling began in 2012 (when it was predicted that Brady would never again reach another Super Bowl,)  the sand-drinker persists that this was the year for which the prognostication was truly meant.

(For the record, Brady and the Patriots have since reached three Super Bowls and won two.)

Instead of utilizing facts, statistics or even common sense, this argument relies solely on Brady being the same age as Brett Favre (41) when he began his decline. To the ‘sand-drinker’ this is the deciding evidence needed to support such a claim. However, someone without envy-filled, clouded judgment would know that Brady and Favre are not clones of each other. To call this even circumstantial evidence is a major stretch. Yet, defenders of the argument will claim to have the ‘stats.’

Shall we have a look?

Here are some comparison statistics, courtesy of  Twitter’s @ftbeard_17 (whom every Patriots fan should be following):

At age 41, Tom Brady has a completion percentage of 65.2.  He has passed for 2748 yards, averaging 7.4 per attempt. He has 17 touchdown passes compared to 7 interceptions.  He has a 94.7 passer rating through 10 games.

At age 41, Favre had a completion percentage of 60.6. He passed for 2509 yards, averaging 7.0 per attempt.  He had 11 touchdown passes compared to 19 interceptions. He had a 69.9 passer rating, playing in 13 games.

In three fewer games, Brady eclipsed Favre in every category.  Apparently ‘age’ is the only statistic which the two share in common. While Brady’s numbers are not as impressive as they were last season during his MVP campaign, they are a far cry from preparing him for the rocking chair and shawl. 

Therefore…when the stats no longer make the case, the sand-drinkers turn to personal and infantile attacks against Brady. They take petty pride in calling him the LOAT (the Luckiest of All Time.) They take to social media and make references to Brady being one of the ‘Golden Girls.’ They condescendingly proclaim that Brady is washed up; comparing his arm to ’noodle pasta,’ and his passes to ‘knuckleballs.’ With a gleeful, yet sarcastic smile, they continue to sell their ‘not-so-hot takes’ for no other reason than to feed their own egos. Perhaps they should take a long look in the mirror before calling someone else ’washed-up?’

However, if history is any indicator, the sand-drinker is simply setting the alarm clock to wake the sleeping giant.  

Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) congratulates tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) on a touchdown at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports


Return of the Pats?

To be clear, no one is implying that Brady or the Patriots are above criticism. In fact, it is quite the contrary. The Patriots have looked dismal on several occasions this season. Several Boston-area writers and media personalities have taken their share of chiding at the hands of Patriots fans for being ‘too negative’ in their critique. However, much of that criticism has been warranted.

The Pats defense has looked impressive at times, and porous at others. While the secondary has shown intermittent ability to defend the big play, the front-seven has managed just 15 sacks on the year. That is the third-fewest in the NFL. The Patriots’ defense, as a whole, needs to find ways to make opposing offenses uncomfortable. Defensive end Trey Flowers has has a stellar 2018. However, the bye week may give defenders Deatrich Wise, Jr. and Adrian Clayborn the rest needed to build upon recent progress. The addition of defensive back Obi Melifonwu and the activation of rookie corner Duke Dawson from IR will provide much-needed help on coverage in the secondary.

In what has traditionally been a Patriots’ strong suit, special teams coverage has routinely struggled. New England is ranked last in the league when it comes to opponent starting field position. The Pats are also allowing the fourth-most yards per kick return and second-most yards per punt return. The signing of linebackers Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber is expected to provide a marked improvement for the Pats in these categories.

On offense, the Patriots have had difficulty forming an identity. Some of that is due to players like Rob Gronkowski, Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman and Sony Michel missing playing time. However, it cannot be denied that Brady has had his struggles, as well. Typically at or near the top of most offensive categories, he is only in the top-10 in one major statistical category: passing yards. Brady is currently 16th in overall QB rating. Yet, there is reason for optimism. Gronkowski is expected to return following the bye week, as is offensive lineman Shaq Mason. With a full arsenal at his disposal, Brady may find both the comfort and the weapons necessary to improve his play.

One thing is for certain. Brady has been listening to the drivel being spewed by the ‘sand-drinking’ talking heads. Think that might provide a little extra motivation? If you don’t, think again.

The Patriots are getting healthy, and received their season respite at exactly the time in which they needed it most. Add this to a motivated Tom Brady, and it might just be ’Patriots Time’ once again. 

NFL: Super Bowl LI: Atlanta Falcons vs New England Patriots
NRG Stadium/Houston, TX
02/05/2017
SI-713 TK1
Credit: Simon Bruty

Not Done…

Despite the prognostications of doom, the New England Patriots are still in a position of strength. As long as Bill Belichick stalks the sidelines, and Tom Brady takes snaps under center, the Pats will almost certainly find a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. After all, they do have quite an extensive history of doing just that. When it appeared that the Patriots had fumbled away a chance at postseason glory in the Foxboro snow, it was correctly ruled that the quarterback’s arm was moving forward. When they were down 28-3 in the Super Bowl, their ‘lucky’ quarterback engineered one of the greatest comebacks in the history of professional sports. Even though they were down, they were not out.

It is true that past successes cannot be the determining factor in predicting the future. However, until proven otherwise, the smart money is placed on New England righting the ship. In the words of Walter White, ’tread lightly.’

As reports of their demise continue to surface, the Patriots will be doing their job in Foxboro. They will next take the field on Sunday, November 25 versus the New York Jets.

They are ‘on to Jersey.’

Should Bill Belichick encourage the Jets to ‘try the veal…it’s the best in the city,’ consider that a notice to the NFL, and the sand-drinking analysts that are presently writing their epitaph.

Just when you think they are out…they pull you back in.  

 

-Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the NFL. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC

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