This Time, Could the New England Patriots be in a Real Crisis?
Column as I see 'em, Week 3:
Over the years, we’ve learned to be wary of any perceived decline in the Patriot dynasty. Four years ago at this time, they got blown out on a Monday night in Kansas City. Critics wrote them off and said Tom Brady’s arm was shot. That was the night when head coach Bill Belichick kept saying, “It’s on to Cincinnati” after every probing question in the press room after the game.
The Pats won seven in a row and went on to beat Seattle in the Super Bowl. Two years ago, Brady was suspended for the first four weeks for Deflategate. He returned the week after a loss to the Bills and New England went 14-1 the rest of the way and won another Super Bowl.
Last season, they got embarrassed by the Chiefs in the NFL opener on Thursday night. They were 2-2 after a loss to Carolina in Week 4. Was this it? Brady was 40. Julian Edelman was gone for the season with a knee injury. Was the mighty Patriot dynasty finally coming apart? Nope, they won 13 of their next 14 before narrowly losing to the Eagles in the Super Bowl despite Brady throwing for 505 yards.
So here we go again. The Pats are 1-2 after a sound thumping, 26-10, at the Lions in Sunday’s national night game. They’re two games out of first in the AFC East for the first time since the 2002 season. They’ve lost consecutive games by double digits for the first time since that ’02 season. Miami is 3-0. The Bills, Jets and Pats are all 1-2. New England hosts the Dolphins next Sunday in the first game of a three-game homestand at Gillette Stadium.
There’s plenty of time to get things right. Still, there’s a creeping sense of unease around the Pats. There were reports during the offseason of a rift between Belichick and tight end Rob Gronkowski. A report in the Boston Herald contended that the Hoodie upbraided Gronk in front of his teammates for working out with Brady’s personal trainer Alex Guerrero, who was banned from the team sidelines late in 2017.
Earlier last offseason, there were reports that Gronk and Brady were “miserable” playing for Belichick and that Gronk felt persecuted. So this seems to go beyond the typical internal squabbles of a highly successful franchise. After Sunday’s loss, Gronkowski confirmed that the Pats had tried to trade him to the Lions in the offseason, but he had resisted such a move and wanted to remain with Brady.
During the 18-year Belichick-Brady era, the Pats have usually risen above a crisis. But things seem to be swerving toward an inevitable end. Brady is 41 and can’t play forever. Belichick might not intend to coach much longer. Gronk has talked about retiring and going into acting. This could well be the last season in which all three are in New England.
Again, we’ve written them off before. The Pats will get Julian Edelman back from suspension after the Miami game. Patrick Chung and Trey Flowers, who missed the Detroit game with concussions, should be back soon. The Pats generally hit their stride and are a significantly more dangerous team in the second half of seasons than the first.
But a loss at home on Sunday to the Dolphins would be a troubling sign. Miami hasn’t won in Foxborough against Brady since 2006. The Pats have won 28 straight home games against AFC East foes with Brady playing a full game. We’ve been fooled before, but this has the feel of a rare “must-win” game for Belichick and Co.
Coming off their historic upset at Minnesota, the Bills take on another perennial NFL power in a mini-crisis when they visit the Packers on Sunday in Green Bay. If not for a stunning rally by quarterback Aaron Rodgers against the Bears in the opener, the Packers would be winless.
The Packers are 1-1-1 after an uninspiring 31-17 loss in the rain at Washington on Sunday. Rodgers, still hobbled by the knee injury suffered in the opener, was unable to make any of his signature downfield throws or make plays on the move in the rain at FedExField.
Rodgers was 27 of 44 passing for 265 yards but completed only one pass of more than 18 yards, a 64-yard TD to Geronimo Allison with the Pack down, 21-3, in the second quarter. Washington rattled Rodgers with a ferocious pass rush and got a solid day from a secondary that kept the Green Bay receivers from getting deep.
Sound familiar? That’s what the Bills defense did to Kirk Cousins on Sunday at the Vikings. Rodgers was off on many of his throws, no doubt hampered by the knee, and some of them fell short of receivers. Meanwhile, Washington ran for 166 yards (120 by Adrian Peterson) against a Green Bay defense that is 25th in the NFL in yards allowed, 27th against the run and 25th in opponents’ yards per pass attempt.
Maybe Josh Allen and the Bills can make a game of it at Lambeau on Sunday against Rodgers, a future Hall of Fame quarterback, the way they did against the sport’s highest-paid QB, Kirk Cousins..
Saints quarterback Drew Brees was part of a couple of NFL records in New Orleans’s 43-37 overtime win over the Falcons on Sunday.
Brees passed Brett Favre on the all-time pass completions list when he completed his 6,301st of his career. He had 6,326 after going 39-for-49 for 396 yards. Brees is third on the career passing yardage list with 71,523 yards, trailing only Peyton Manning (71,940) and Favre (71,838).
Michael Thomas caught 10 of Brees’s throws for 129 yards, giving him a staggering 38 catches for 298 yards in just three games. Thomas broke the record for receptions in the first three games. Julio Jones of the Falcons held the previous mark with 35.
Thomas is on pace for 202 catches, which would shatter Marvin Harrison’s record of 143 in a season. The Bills have 21 catches from all their wide receivers combined this season. Deonte Thompson led the wideouts a year ago with 27.
Is he owned? This week’s featured fantasy find is Ravens running back Javorius “Buck” Allen. Allen doesn’t generate a lot of yardage, but he scores touchdowns, which can win games for your team. I picked him up in the media league last week and he scored twice, on a 12-yard reception and a 1-yard run. If my other new pickup, tight end O.J. Howard, catches a pass tonight, I’ll win my game.
Allen has only 32 yards rushing on 16 carries this season. But he has 13 catches for 70 yards. Overall, he has four TDs, which is tied for second in the NFL. Only Todd Gurley had more touchdowns heading into Monday night’s game. Allen was still available in my two ESPN leagues as of Monday afternoon.
Pay attention. It can help. My first two choices this year: Phil Lindsey of the Broncos, who had 107 yards rushing and a receiving TD after I recommended him; and the Packers’ Geronimo Allison, who had a 64-yard TD reception after getting the Sully karma.
In his weekly NFL column for NBC, Peter King named Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll his coach of the week. Daboll deserved it. He put in a game plan that was dynamic and sensible. He had Josh Allen throwing screens early, which opened up plays down the field. Daboll played to Allen’s athletic strengths, rather than shackling him with a conservative attack. The Bills got the ball to eight different receivers and were able to control the clock without LeSean McCoy.
Stats incredible: This is the first time the Browns have had a better record than the Pats after the same number of games since 2001, when the Browns were 6-4 and New England 5-5. Yes, it might be time to worry … The Titans are 5-1 in their last six meetings with the Jaguars after Sunday’s 9-6 road triumph. The only Jags win was 38-17 on Christmas Even of 2016, on a day Marcus Mariota broke his leg and was replaced by Matt Cassel … Miami’s Ryan Tannehill is 9-1 in his last 10 starts. The Dolphins had won six of seven when he went down with an injury after 13 games two years ago … Baltimore’s Justin Tucker is 18-for-20 on field goals of 50 yards or more the last three seasons. He’s made 72 percent (36 of 50) from 50-plus in his career. Hall of Famer Jan Stenerud made 66.8 percent from all distances in his career … Rookie Kerryon Johnson rushed for 101 yards against the Pats, becoming the first Lion in 71 games to run for 100 in a game. Check to see if he’s available in fantasy, too …