New Year’s Eve is upon us, the year 2018 is slowly coming to an end — and it has been an eventful one for the New England Patriots, albeit one that ended on a high note after the team blew out the visiting New York Jets yesterday to secure the AFC’s number two playoff seed and a first-round playoff bye. Whether the team will be able to build on this success remains to be seen, just like what 2019 in general will hold in store for the Patriots.
Will it be as eventful a year as the one that ends today? Let’s take a look back to find out what hurdle 2019 would have to clear: here are eight stories that have shaped the Patriots’ 2018.
The Patriots reach and lose the Super Bowl
It was business as usual for the Patriots in the 2018 playoffs: the team earned a first-round playoff bye, won two postseason games, and again found itself in the Super Bowl — for the third time in four years. However, a slow start in all three phases and a defense unable to stop the Philadelphia Eagles in the second half all contributed to New England losing the shootout and leaving the game’s biggest stage defeated. Eagles 41, Patriots 33.
The Malcolm Butler saga
The biggest story coming out of the Super Bowl, at least initially, was the benching of starting cornerback Malcolm Butler. After hardly leaving the field during the Patriots’ first 18 games of the season, the former Pro Bowler saw only one snap against the Eagles — and it came on special teams. There was plenty of speculation in the days and weeks after the game, but no clear answer from New England head coach Bill Belichick.
The coaching changes
One day after the Super Bowl, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia joined the Detroit Lions as their new head coach. New England ultimately turned to linebackers coach Brain Flores to fill the vacancy, even though he did not receive Patricia’s job title just yet. On the offensive side of the ball, Josh McDaniels joined the Indianapolis Colts — until he did not: while the club announced hiring the Patriots’ offensive coordinator he ultimately returned to New England without having ever signed a contract.
The Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski retirement rumors
Immediately after the Super Bowl, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski would not comment on returning in 2018 — kicking off months of rumors. Meanwhile, quarterback Tom Brady was also the subject of speculation after his documentary series Tom vs Time ended on a rather sombre note. Ultimately, both superstar players returned to the team despite skipping voluntary offseason workouts.
The offseason departures
New England did not only lose the Super Bowl in 2018, the team also lost some of its core players: wide receivers Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks left via free agency and trade, respectively, while running back Dion Lewis and offensive tackle Nate Solder were offered more money elsewhere. After being benched in the Super Bowl, the Patriots and Malcolm Butler also parted ways via free agency.
The wide receiver carousel
With the top two wide receiver from the 2017 season gone, the Patriots needed other players to replace them but the search proved to be a difficult one. Pass catchers like Kenny Britt, Jordan Matthews, Eric Decker, and Malcolm Mitchell failed to earn spots on the roster, while Julian Edelman — fresh off a season on injured reserve — was suspended for the season’s first four games. Josh Gordon, acquired via trade early in the regular season, was only around for 11 games as Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson carved out noticeable roles in the offense.
The end of the dynasty?
Coming off a Super Bowl loss and tumultuous offseason, the Patriots entered the 2018 regular season with plenty of questions about their long-term outlook. Early on, they were not answered: the team dropped two of its first three games and the talking heads were quick to proclaim the end of the dynasty. However, while New England was struggling with inconsistency in all three phases, yes, the team was far from done and went on to capture:
The 10th straight AFC East title
Even though the Patriots failed to win the division in back-to-back games, they finally earned their record-extending 10th straight AFC East crown with a week 16 victory over the Buffalo Bills. Despite a slow start and plenty of questions being raised about the state of the team, New England proved once again to be the class of the division — and among the top pupils in the league.
Happy new year, everyone, from all of us here at Pats Pulpit!