Be Not Afraid - New England Patriots Edition

Tom Brady looks off the boogeyman, and fires down field for the score! - Jared Wickerham

Time to overcome the fear of the unknown.

Let me recap for you the reasons to worry about the Patriots season this year:

  1. Rob Gronkowski had an infection in his arm and added to that a couple surgeries in his arm and back and his season is unknown.
  2. Wes Welker walked and took his guaranteed 110+ catches and 1000+ yards of productivity and sturdiness with him to play with PeyPey. Whether Danny Amendola can make up that production and remain healthy is unknown.
  3. Aaron Hernandez apparently decided to go all gangstah (Boston accent added, naturally) and throw his life away along with at least three other guys that crossed his path. Whether we can replace that dynamic element of our offense is unknown.
  4. Brandon Lloyd's 74 receptions for 911 yards make him look like more than a bit player, yet he was cut loose after the Patriots tried to reduce his contract numbers. Whether someone will fill that void is unknown.
  5. Danny Woodhead went from getting cut on the Hard Knock's Jets, to become a go-to dual rushing/receiving threat on third downs and in the hurry-up. Whether Vereen can be as successful is unknown.
  6. Of course, every rookie Patriots receiver will instantly become Chad Jackson, Bethel Johnson, or Brandon Tate. That's a given. Whether our free agents become Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson, Joey Galloway, or Reche Caldwell is unknown.
  7. The entire defense has been more of a liability than an asset since 2009. There are plenty of potential playmakers, but whether they can make the next step we've been looking for for years is unknown
  8. If that weren't enough, Alfonso Dennard, who looked pretty good as the #2 CB last year, dodged one bullet when he was convicted for punching a police officer as he was allowed to serve his 30 days after the season. He now has been arrested for suspicion of DUI which will likely violate his probation and may cause an additional suspension from the league. With Ras-I Dowling ever a step from IR, the strength of our secondary is unknown.
  9. All of the negativity this off-season, including the Boston Marathon bombing, can weigh on the the players, and how they'll handle all of this is unknown.
  10. I could add Tim Tebow to this list, but I won't. He is a high character player and a good athlete, albeit just not a good quarterback at this time. While the circus that has followed him since college COULD have been a negative, Hoodie burned the big top when Tebow came to town, and now Timbow is quietly working to have a role on the team like around 89 other guys, including Brady. I can't see him having a negative impact anymore.

    Basically, until the rubber hits the road, we can talk about whether we'll be worse, whether we'll just hang on, or whether we'll be better, but the answer is unknown. We'll play the games and we'll find out. Many teams are now circling the Pats games early in the season because they feel we are vulnerable. Fantasy football gurus are writing Tom Brady off because his targets are uncertain. Pats fans have plenty to worry about, and worry is just another name for fear. I'm here to change all of that. Here's a quote for you:

    Ralph Waldo Emerson - "Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world."

    Overcoming fear is the reason we sometimes label some guys as "choke" and some guys as "clutch". It's the reason we admire the guys that drop the shoulder over the guys that run out of bounds. Fear will always be with us, but we can choose how to react to it.

    A little more Emerson - "Whatever you do, you need courage."

    Courage isn't the absence of fear, it is continued action in the presence of fear. Fear is an emotion; your body's reaction to a stimulus. Courage is is a choice you make in the presence of that emotion. All great human undertakings have required courage, and Patriots fans will need some this season.

    Be not afraid.

    First of all, let's know our enemy: fear. There are many different stimuli that produce it, and when you look at what the Pats are facing two particular fears pop up and they're actually tied quite closely together here: fear of the the unknown, and fear of failure. Let's address them one at a time.

    Fear of the Unknown

    H.P. Lovecraft - "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind if fear, and and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."

    Sounds like this fear is the champ. The Pats have beaten the best before, so this is nothing new for Pats fans. We don't actually KNOW that the Patriots will be worse. We have players on the roster that, in theory, could fill some of the holes we have and possibly make us a better team. The Patriot players could use the negative press as motivation and have a great year. Anything COULD happen. We just don't know, and not knowing is the source of this fear. It's not that the Patriots WILL be bad; it's just that they MIGHT be.

    Narcotics Anonymous Book, page 33 - "It seems safer to embrace what we know than to let go of it for fear of the unknown."

    The idea here is addicts tend stick with what they know rather than venture into the unknown that awaits them trying to be clean and sober. Applied to the Patriots, it would have been safer to keep Welker and Lloyd from the angle that they are KNOWN quantities, but whether it would be better or not is UNKNOWN and that is a little scary. Along those same lines, some folks thought we were premature to jettison Hernandez. I mean who can possibly fill in for him and he hadn't actually been convicted, right?

    Let's look at some of the unknowns that we've already dealt with:

  • Star QB goes down is replaced with a sixth rounder with a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man physique.
  • The team has to go toe-to-toe with the Greatest Show on Turf, in the Super Bowl. What were the Vegas odds?
  • The team trades the 2nd and 7th round picks to a division rival for their no name slot receiver.
  • Star QB goes down and is replaced by a guy that hadn't started since High School. Helluva season!
  • The team drafts one TE with an iffy back in the 2nd round and one TE with drug issues in the 4th round.

    The point here is we've had plenty of guys that have risen to the occasion that no one ever saw coming. I mean if you just look at Pats names that begin with Br, you have Super Bowl winners: Brady, Branch, Brown and Bruschi. None of whom were on anybody's radar as stars, but they were invaluable to the Pats in the early aughts.

    Welker had done nothing more than Amendola before he came here. Did anyone see the impact that Gronk and Hernandez were going to have? They didn't really explode until the year AFTER Moss left.

    We've faced the unknown before, and we'll do it again. We've got probably the greatest coach and quarterback combination of all time in this. When Brady first started, he hadn't developed much chemistry with any of his receivers either. Bledsoe got the starters reps, and Brady got scraps. That worked out pretty well as I remember.

    We have 11 to12 receivers on the roster (depending upon whether you count Matthew Slater), and at least half of them have more potential than any receiver we've ever had not named Moss. We also have 6 tight-ends on the roster including three that worked with Tom last year. Yes, that includes Gronk who looks like he'll be around for at least part of the season. Hopefully, the most important part. The lack of targets thing is way overblown.

    There is reason to be optimistic despite everything that has happened. Just remember that unknown isn't necessarily bad. It just is unfamiliar, kind of like your best friend's face when you first met. It's not always a bad thing. You can't have a surprise party without a healthy dose of unknown.

    Fear of Failure

    Theodore Roosevelt - "Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."

    My Aunt gave me a great gift one time. She told me that the key to conquering fear is to look at the worst case scenario, decide how you'd deal with it, and move on. Fear of failure is similar to the fear of unknown, because you are unsure how you'd deal with failure. Let's look at that.

    C.S. Lewis - "Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement"

    What's the worst thing that could happen to the Patriots this year?

  • A middling (8-8 ish) season? Like most of the league? The Seahawks made the post-season at 7-9, that's not scary at all!
  • A losing season? While the younger Pats fans have never experienced this, there are plenty of us that have lived through the dark times. Belichick would survive a losing season, and Hoodie with a high draft pick? My interest is piqued for next year.
  • Just missing the playoffs? Like 2008? I LOVED that season. It was full of so many twists and turns, there should have been a height restriction to watch the games (Welker might not have made it, though). As a fan, it was a disappointing end, but then again, isn't the end of any great amusement park ride?
  • One and done it the play-offs? Yawn. Been there, done that. Lost to the Ravens. Lost to the Jets. What could be worse than that? Yet, somehow I've survived to cheer another day.
  • Losing the AFCCG? Boring. Lost to the Colts. Lost to the Ravens. The sun still rose, the dog was unkicked.
  • Losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl again? First one stung. Second one? Not nearly so much. My heart rate probably wouldn't change much at all on a three-fer.
    John Burroughs - "A man can fail many times, but he isn't a failure until he begins to blame someone else."

    The thing is, what we think we'd lose is another year of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick together as a team. What we'd truly lose is watching that journey from game to game by focusing only on the destination. That was one of the great things in the early aughts, and I rediscovered that in 2008. The journey as the team learns and grows.

    The Pats may not win the Super Bowl this year. Let me tell you something. Even if we had a healthy Gronk, Welker, Hernandez, Lloyd, Woody, and whatever else we seem to be missing, we still might not win the Super Bowl this year. That's the way the funny shaped ball bounces. We've been one small piece away for a long time, but really it's just a bounce of the ball here and there. A Tuck Rule type call that goes the wrong way, and that's OK. If it was a sure thing, I'd never ever watch football.

    The Pats are the best in the business at working on their problems, and they've got plenty this year. Come training camp, though, around 90 guys will be working their collective tails off to become a better team than last year. Teams may be circling their calendars for the Pats, but truth be told, they have no idea what to plan for. None of us does. The last time there was this much uncertainty on offense was the 2007 season. Those teams don't know what they're wishing for.

    Michael Jordan - "I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying."

    Here's a prediction: Brady will lead a three and out that has every mediot on Earth questioning the offense and the wisdom of letting Welker and Lloyd walk. Let me share something with you. Brady has lead a three and out every year he has quarterbacked. Every stinking year. It happens. The sky will not be falling, but you will need to ignore the noise.

    I invite each and every one of you to cast off your worries, doubts, and fears and instead view this season one game at a time. We don't know if it will be good or bad, but if past seasons are any indication, it will be worth watching. In fact, it could be pretty special if you just take the time to enjoy the ride. You have nothing to lose, but fear itself.
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