I can't believe that I'm writing this.
It doesn't make any sense. Zero. That the Brandon Spikes injury, of all the injuries this team has sustained, is the one that sets off my inner pessimist is absolutely ridiculous. I mean, at this point in the year, with the season that New England has had, what's one more body on the pile? Why should this injury be any different from Wilfork, Mayo, Kelly, Vollmer, Gronk, Solder, Dennard, McCourty, Gregory, Talib, Amendola, Thompkins, Vereen, Dobson, or Boyce? Why is it that Spikes, of all of the names I just listed, is the one who awakens Hank from what has been a record-setting hibernation?
Usually, I'm good for at least four or five "Silencing Hank" articles a season, as he can never be silenced for too long. This year, though, Hank has been amazingly quiet, and I'm more than a little surprised to find myself writing this article this morning. Maybe it's because the Spikes news came directly on the heels of the Deion Branch signing. Maybe it's because New England has now lost every single starter in the middle of a defense already struggling against the run with some very good running teams still alive in the playoffs. Maybe it was just Hank's time to start screaming and all he needed was a slight push to send him over the edge. Whatever it is, Hank is back, and it's up to me to shut him up.
But Alec, we were already thin at linebacker as it is! Now that Spikes is gone, it's up to a rookie to step in and start! This is it! This is the last straw!
Shut up, Hank. Is this really the injury that does it? Is this really the one obstacle that this team can't overcome? Don't be ridiculous. Spikes was hands down the team's best run stuffer and a force to be reckoned with at the line of scrimmage, but he hasn't played more than two downs at a time since he hurt his knee. And in case you didn't notice, the Patriots have improved significantly against the run as of late, and it doesn't have all that much to do with Spikes. Sealver Siliga has really come into his own, and Dont'a Hightower has suddenly remembered how to play football these past few weeks. If New England does drop this game, I doubt anyone will point to the loss of Spikes as the sole cause.
But Alec, how many more injuries can this team sustain? How is Belichick going to compensate??!!
Shut up, Hank. I'd like to think that by now, Bill Belichick and company would have gained your trust a little more than that. This year more than any other has embodied the "next man up" mentality that this team has become so well known for, and there is only one player on this roster who is truly irreplaceable. And guess what, Hank? Tommy B is still upright and slinging the ball. Collins will step up, Fletcher will step up, Hightower will step up, and maybe we'll even see Steve Beauharnais get it done. Plus, there's a legitimate chance that Spikes wasn't going to be back with the team next year, as to my knowledge there have been no talks from either side on a new contract. And if that's the case, you can for sure bet that Belichick already has a contingency plan in place.
But Alec, what about Donald Brown?! Stopping him is going to be crucial if the Patriots want to win, and with Spikes out, it just got a whole lot harder!
Shut up, Hank. Yes, it would be easier to stop Brown with Spikes in there. But to be honest, I'd be more worried about Trent Richardson without Spikes than I would Donald Brown. Spikes' strength has never been matching up against the smaller, shiftier backs who represent a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield; our best guy for those types of players has been out with a torn pec for most of the season. So to think that Brown is suddenly going to go crazy without Spikes in the lineup ignores both Brown's strengths and Spikes' weaknesses. New England is likely going to put Dane Fletcher, who had a great day against the more talented Knowshon Moreno, on Brown and let Hightower do what he does best - blow up the line of scrimmage. Brown will be accounted for, with or without Spikes, and to be honest who knows how much Spikes figured to be part of this gameplan as it is.
But Alec, what about after the Colts?! What about the Seahawks??? How can we stop Marshawn Lynch without Spikes in there??
Shut up, Hank. Really? You're worried about New England stopping Lynch in the Super Bowl? How about we just go ahead and worry about the Colts for now, m'kay? A whole lot is going to happen between now and a potential matchup between New England and Seattle, so let's not worry about that just yet. And if and when that does happen, Belichick will have had two full weeks to figure it out, so there's zero reason to stress about anything other than Indianapolis until this game is over.
But Alec, the Colts just signed Deion Branch! He knows Brady's playcalls like the back of his hand! How will the Patriots be able to adjust??
Shut up, Hank. So what? So they signed a receiver who hasn't caught a pass since last January, who is incredibly familiar with last year's offensive playbook, and who is highly unlikely to make any kind of real impact on Saturday's game. Big deal. Sure, nobody is happy about seeing Branch on the opposing sidelines, but to think that he'll be able to offer a competitive edge other than being able to talk to the defense about Brady's cadence tendencies is a little shortsighted. This is a completely different offense than it was four weeks ago, let alone a full year, and at the end of the day there is very little that Branch will be able to provide Indy other than some added depth and a mildly helpful scouting report. Perhaps against a lesser team, seeing an old hero in an enemy uniform would be a cause for concern, but not these Patriots; they are just too mentally tough for this to matter.