A team decimated by injuries and loss of key players just keeps on fighting
As we enter Week 15 of the 2013 NFL regular season, it is certainly safe to say there have been plenty of surprises throughout the league. The Atlanta Falcons, once minutes away from an NFC Championship and a trip to the Super Bowl, are 3-10. Many experts' Super Bowl pick, the Houston Texans, are a league worst 2-11. Robert Griffin III and the Redskins are a disaster. The defending Super Bowl champions are fighting for a playoff spot. The holders of the 2013 NFL Draft's #1 overall pick, the Kansas City Chiefs, are currently 10-3, and the Carolina Panthers are in contention to win the NFC South standing at 9-4. However, lost in all of this confusion is the real question- how on earth are Tom Brady and the New England Patriots 10-3?
Entering the season, it seemed as if the Patriots had more questions then answers. Tom Brady started the year off missing 4 of his top 5 pass-catchers from the previous season in which he threw for 4,827 yards and 34 touchdowns. Brandon Lloyd was released. Danny Woodhead bolted to San Diego (no pun intended). The beloved Wes Welker left New England to catch balls from Peyton Manning in Denver. And of course, Aaron Hernandez was arrested for murder.
Brady entered the season with Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, newly acquired Danny Amendola, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen as his top weapons, along with Rob Gronkowski who was expected to miss at least the first 6 weeks of the season. Based on that fact alone, many wondered how the Patriots offense would produce enough for them to compete.
As the season went along, New England was decimated by injuries. One by one, key players kept dropping like flies and were ruled out on the injury report. It was almost as if an evil spell was cast on New England, and injuries were the result. Here is a look at key injuries the Patriots have faced in 2013:
- Vince Wilfork, torn Achilles. Out for season.
- Jerod Mayo, torn pectoral muscle. Out for season.
- Rob Gronkowski, torn ACL & MCL. Missed first 7 games of season. Out for season.
Normally, losing players of this caliber would be killer enough, but the list goes on.
- Tommy Kelly, knee. Out for season.
- Sebastian Vollmer, leg. Out for season.
- Shane Vereen, broken hand. 8 games missed.
- Danny Amendola, groin. 4 games missed.
- Aaron Dobson, foot. 3 games missed.
- Aqib Talib, hip. 3 games missed.
- Alfonzo Dennard, knee & shoulder. 2 games missed.
- Steve Gregory, broken thumb. 2 games missed.
I have been watching football for almost 12 years now. I have never in my life seen a team with as many injuries as the 2013 New England Patriots. Not just injuries, but season-ending injuries to key impact players. Yet, look where the Bill Belichick led team stands? On top of the AFC East with a 10-3 record. Of course.
It truly is remarkable what this team has accomplished so far this year. The entire season has been like a huge jigsaw puzzle, filling pieces in and connecting the right parts when one doesn't fit. How the heck is this team currently in position for a first-round bye, after all that has happened to them since losing to Baltimore in the AFC Championship game last year? Rookies have stepped up. Backups have stepped up. Starters have stepped up. The mantras of coach Bill Belichick, "next man up" and "do your job" have never been more true than this season.
If you think about it, the Patriots could easily be 12-1. If not for an extremely rare penalty called on Chris Jones that led to a game-winning field goal by the Jets to beat New England 27-24 back in October, the Patriots would have gotten the ball back with a chance to win the game. And as well documented as they come, the Monday Night Football non-pass interference call on Luke Kuechly while bear-hugging Rob Gronkowski on the final play of the game against the Panthers would have set up the Patriots on the 1-yard line with one play to win or lose the game. Not saying the Patriots would have pulled out a victory in either game, just saying it was a possibility if not for penalties.
At the same time, you could flip the script and say New England could just as easily be 7-6 as well. If not for three miraculous and improbable comebacks against the Saints, Broncos, and Browns, the Patriots could also only be one game above .500 and fighting for a playoff spot.
All things considered, this team could be one of the worst 10-3 teams we have ever seen in New England. But on the other hand, this could also be one of the most special teams we have seen in New England too. Taking pages out of their good friends playbook, the Boston Red Sox, these Patriots have a flair for the dramatic. Tom Brady leading a 70-yard game-winning drive with 1:13 left and no timeouts to knock off the Saints? Implausible. Coming back from down 24-0 against Peyton Manning and the Broncos to win 34-31 in overtime? Improbable. Scoring two touchdowns in the final two minutes while executing a perfect onside kick to beat the Browns 27-26? Slim to none.
When people keep telling this team that they can't, they just keep proving that they can. As the late and great Nelson Mandela once said, "Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell and got back up again." The 2013 Patriots could be compared to a prized heavyweight fighter. Take a hook to the jaw, deliver an uppercut right back. And then keep on fighting. Talent may be an issue with this team, but heart clearly is not. And sometimes, heart is all you need.
Can this team win it all? I don't know, but my honest opinion is that it doesn't seem likely. But you can never count this team out. As long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are around, the New England Patriots are Super Bowl contenders every year, and this year is no different. And in the end, only time will tell.