Finally, after what’s felt like the most excruciating two decades of any sports fan’s life, the New England Patriots dynasty is finished.
There have been red flags before, false dawns even – but never, ever has this team looked as bad on both sides of the ball as the current crop. The Detroit Lions hadn’t enjoyed a 100-yard rusher since 2013 and, due to New England’s lack of push up front, Kerryon Johnson (Kerryon my Wayward Son being the best fantasy football name I’ve ever seen FYI) has managed it.
Kansas City’s Chiefs have long been the Achilles heel of the Patriots and they’ve often been the side whose victories over New England have signalled the supposed end of an era.
But those two big losses in recent years – 41-14 in 2014 and 42-27 last year – could be put down to schematics and brilliant head coaching performances by Andy Reid, who remains the best head coach in football from a purely schematic standpoint.
The Pats get a pass for those beatdowns.
What doesn’t get a pass – besides Patriots receivers – is going out with a whimper to a bang-average Detroit Lions outfit who couldn’t run the ball for five years.
Tom Brady went 14/26 – completing just 54% of his passes for 133 yards. To put that into context, Brady’s had a few games below 100 yards, but they’re all prior to 2007 (excluding meaningless games).
The last time Brady threw less than he did last night in a proper regular season game was week eight of 2013. It just doesn’t happen.
The issue lies with the New England management.
For so long, they’ve done things against the grain. Coach Bill Belichick cuts early-round draft picks when they don’t show the expected promise, New England rarely splash on big free agents and they typically scheme Rob Gronkowski open.
That worked in the past. It could still work – but definitions change depending on results and the greatest player of all time turning 41 and without a functional supporting cast spells trouble.
I hate seeing this nonsensical statistic, but yes – at 1-1-1, the Cleveland Browns have made a better start to the NFL season than the New England Patriots.
A more damning statistic is that, if the 3-0 Miami Dolphins go to Foxboro and win next week, the Patriots go 3.5 games back on the Dolphins. Even if they manage to rattle off back-to-back wins over the next fortnight, they welcome the Chiefs to battle the new face of the quarterbacking position in Pat Mahomes the following week.
Maybe this is an overreaction. Maybe Matt Patricia just knew some of the audibles, some of the protection changes and outschemed his old employers. But it’s not the schemes that are problematic – it’s the lack of effort and finishing from a team who used to accept nothing less than 100%.
There was no pass rush. There was no run-stuffing. There were no clever secondary reads. There were no well-run routes. Just a touchdown pass to a running back. We’ve seen it all before. But that was usually good pros underperforming.
In this situation, there doesn’t seem to be an outlet.
Josh Gordon is as likely to be cut as he is to become a reliable target.
Maybe Josh McDaniels should have taken that head coaching job in Indianapolis.
New England deserve all the credit in the world for what they’ve achieved – but finally old age and old habits have caught up with them.