I've been tempted to post on each and every "the sky is falling" post this morning, but due to the sheer volume of them, I just don't have time. Before I get started with this, let me just state that I realize the Patriots just dropped two games to division rivals to end their season. I also realize that means they aren't guaranteed home field advantage throughout the playoffs. I've also been watching the team since they signed Tony Eason, so I don't think this is the worst thing that has ever happened to the franchise.
First of all I'd like to address the lack of of a guaranteed home field throughout the playoffs. The only AFC team that can possible host the Patriots is the Manning lead Broncos. Peyton Manning, whose throwing arm is now connected by an impressive assortment of pasta, has a long, long history of one-and-done failure in the playoffs. Since we don't play them for that first game, I'm not terribly concerned. They might make it through, but the odds are not in their favor.
A healthy Patriots team can beat any team in the league anywhere. The Patriots have earned a first round bye, and an extra week to heal up. The thing is, the Patriots haven't been healthy for months. Months are those things that accumulate when you add enough weeks together. The biggest key to the Patriots winning in the playoffs is winning the next game. The first game in many, many weeks that actually matters. That is by no means a guarantee, but is it absolutely essential before worrying about home field throughout the playoffs.
As JohnHannahRules stated this morning:
Unless there's some magical cascade benefit to having Vollmer return to full health, that looked like a one-and-done offensive line, to me.
While this is a very valid concern, he later added these sage words:
The last few weeks, with no Edleman and Amendola at 50%, there hasn’t been anyone to throw to who can get open quickly. I think it’s just that simple. That leaves you with run and run-stem plays, screens, and middle-to-deep passing plays. With the o-line shuffling in tackles from Citgos across the country on a weekly basis, there’s been no Gronk since he’s needed to slow down the defensive ends. Chandler’s been hurt.
All those things together = 1/3 the passing attack and ineffective running.
If, if, if. If Vollmer comes back, Cannon/Waddle can slide to RT, Stork remembers how to play, and Kline heals up completely, Edelman is at least 80%…then I think we’ll be ok. I liked what I saw out of our "new" running back.
Thank you JHR for allowing me to cut-and-paste many of the same points I was about to make. At the beginning of the year, the line was also awful, but Brady got the ball out so fast, faster than any other QB in the NFL, that it didn't really matter. They had the whole playbook to work with; not just the bottom 25%. The result is a "vanilla" offense, that may be misnamed, because I believe it is completely unflavored. I'm pretty sure Vanilla is on IR right now.
This leads into another good point. Why was Brady on the field, if it didn't look like the Patriots were going to try to win? Belichick doesn't really think that way. First of all, even with a "vanilla" offense, if the other side makes a mistake, you can score. Also, if one of your "depth" players steps up, the offense is significantly less vanilla. Belichick doesn't believe in backups and starters:
We don't have backups and starters, just a team.
He has guys with a particular set of skills. Some are better at some things and some are better at others. Some guys get close to 100% of the snaps one week and barely see the field the next. Some guys are injured, some are on limited snaps as they heal from injury. He expects every guy that has been blessed enough to play in the NFL and specifically for the New England Patriots to step up and play when their number is called. He learned that from his father who coached for Navy, and he has kept that mindset throughout his entire career.
Brady entered the game uninjured. He was the Patriots best chance to win the game. Belichick wasn't playing to lose. He was playing to win with a limited roster. The fact that Belichick "started" a less than optimal team won't matter one whit to him. He sent a depth player out on the most important stop in the Super Bowl last year, and that guy stepped up. He expects every player to do their best every snap.
The last two games were lost on individual players failing in their individual roles. He will address that this week with those players and the team. Keep in mind, we are one injury away from any of those guys being starters in the playoffs. I, for one, will be cringing if I hear, "Cannon, GO!", but that's just the way things are right now. That is the nature of the game, and specifically the flavor of this season.
I'd also like to thank botoxporcupine, who did a very good job of summarizing other points I was going to make:
- ... the offense has been playing with 33% of the playbook since Edelman went out.
- ... LaFell/Martin should have better production when they’re not drawing the opposing #1 CB.
- ... the coaching staff DOES realize James White’s potential and doesn’t want other teams scouting him during less-important regular season games.
- ... going 10-0 is important BECAUSE we can drop late regular season games by holding out key players.
- ... the Patriots have no shot at beating Carolina/Seattle/Arizona if we can’t beat Denver in Denver.
After watching so many Patriots games where the game plan is custom fit to the opponent, it is strange for us to see a taste-less bland game plan for two weeks running. That many be unusual for the Patriots, but it is by no means unusual for the NFL. We, as fans, are truly blessed that we don't have to watch games like this on week by week, season by season, decade by decade basis. With a bland game plan, the Patriots made it to overtime against the Jets, and tied the Dolphins before finally falling behind.
We've come to expect better, but what we witnessed is pretty much standard NFL fare outside of Foxboro and a few choice cities which tend to alternate every year.
What the Patriots need right now is healthy bodies. Without more hands on deck, the season is likely already over. We've got two weeks to heal, two weeks to recover, two weeks to practice, and two weeks to game plan. What's done is done. Right now there is no looking backward. As always, we look forward to the next game. "We're on to Foxborough" and whatever team the NFL sends our way.
If all goes well, we'll see a game that is much more competitive than the last two. If not, the last two games didn't matter anyway.