I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the 2021 offseason has been one of the most intriguing and storyline-inducing that the New England Patriots have ever had. So many things have happened that are usually complete nonstarters among these parts; New England was aggressive in Free Agency, there’s a bona-fide quarterback competition in camp, N’Keal Harry suddenly looks good, and perhaps most amazingly, the Patriots both didn’t trade away their first round draft pick and made a selection that people actually saw coming. It’s just madness around here.
And with an offseason like this past one has come the inevitable and rightly emphasized narratives on what to expect, what to watch for, things to pay attention to, and all that good stuff. It’s very difficult to gauge what the expectations are for this Patriots team, and because of that there’s an air of excitement that usually doesn’t show up in New England until the playoffs start. I don’t think that there has been this much anticipation surrounding a preseason game since Tim Tebow got drafted.
Which brings me to why I’m here. I’d like to get back to my roots a bit in 2021 as the curmudgeonly turd in the punch bowl that you’ve all come to know and barely tolerate. I’ve come to realize that maybe I’ve gotten too soft in my old age, both in the “all this winning has given me a newfound appreciation for enjoying the good and ignoring the bad” sense and in the “holy jeez my gut is out of control and I have virtually no muscle left” sense. Well no more. Time to turn this franchise around.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for the game too. In the barren desert that is the NFL offseason, any time you get to watch an actual football game is a welcome drink of water. But unlike my fellow members of the Pats Pulpit staff, whose well-adjusted, evenly-balanced, properly-educated, non-ruined mental states allow them to point out what we should keep an eye on as we get ready to kick off these preseason games, I’m going to go the opposite direction. Welcome to my mini-series of things I will most definitively NOT be paying attention to or giving any weight whatsoever over the next few weeks.
And while the short answer is “pretty much everything in these games,” I thought I’d go a little bit (not much) deeper than that. So here’s what I won’t be reading a single thing into as we kick things off tonight.
Which QB starts. Maybe Newton gets a series and sits. Maybe Mac Jones gets the nod. Maybe Newton and Jones platoon for a bit and then it’s the Brian Hoyer show. None of it is going to mean a thing. What really matters here is the mental decision making of Mac Jones, who will hopefully at least see the field a little bit tonight (though it would be the most Belichick move ever to not play him at all). I don’t even care all that much about accuracy or completion percentage, to be honest; just let Mac Jones make a few smart attempts at some point when there are players on the field who will also be on the field this time next month. Everything else from a QB perspective is irrelevant to me at this point.
The offensive line. Like the NFL when pretty much anything controversial happens, I’m going to be changing my tune on this one pretty quickly...but tonight I’m not going to be paying much attention to the offensive line. Who starts where, what the blocking schemes are, who gives up a sack, for this first preseason game it’s really more about mechanics and staying healthy for me. These lines take some time to gel, and with the starting center out, and various positions on the line somewhat in flux, it will likely be tough to really say anything really definitive about the starters at this position. If you’re excited to watch the backups play as the game goes on and see if there’s any positional versatility with the depth guys, then rock on; that’s the kind of deep dive football nerdery I can get behind. But the guys that get the starting nod, and where they line up, won’t be my focus.
That no-name receiver who has a big day. I’ve just been burned so many times in past preseasons by these players that come in, dominate in August, make the roster, and then fizzle out and do nothing. I just don’t know if I can take it this year. So I’m hoping that if I put in writing and broadcast to the world that I will not be getting overly excited if Kristian Wilkerson goes off tonight, I’ll be able to hold myself accountable. I doubt I’ll be able to do it, but we’ve already got our early frontrunners for preseason darlings, and I don’t want to get hurt again. Here’s hoping that this random, nonsensical post somehow completely neutralizes that fanaticism and jovial hypocrisy that is professional sports fandom.