These Patriots could be spectacular
Go ahead, gawk at Patrick Mahomes’ next mind-blowing throw. Let yourself become infatuated with the Rams and their “Madden” offense. Marvel at the NFL’s record scoring pace even as you cringe at those roughing-the-passer penalties or the league’s failure to protect non-quarterbacks from weaponized helmets.
But there’s one lesson we should probably heed from the Patriots: It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
It would be an overstatement to characterize a living, breathing and everevolving dynasty as lying in the weeds. But after flying under the radar while spending another September integrating new upgrades and waiting for a key piece of hardware to come online (New England is 7-5 in the season’s first quarter since 2016), it seems Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have officially completed the rollout of Patriots version 18.0. This one could be spectacular. There’s still no headphone jack or enough bandwidth to accommodate a suffocating defense, but the bells and whistles might just mean Brady will be toggling his most dynamic set of weapons since Patriots 7.0 went 18-0 in 2007 before that Super Bowl XLII collapse. The current group won’t be chasing perfection after getting whipped by the Jaguars and Lions last month, but it most definitely has a chance to pull New England even with Pittsburgh by capturing a sixth Lombardi Trophy.
Why such optimism for a team that sits in seventh place overall in the AFC with a 3-2 record after Thursday’s 38-24 defeat of the struggling Colts?
The big guns are all back: Slot receiver extraordinaire Julian Edelman returned from his four-game PED suspension Thursday to play his first meaningful game since the Patriots shocked the Falcons in Super Bowl LI (a knee injury cost him the 2017 season). He posted a modest seven catches for 57 yards — Belichick admitted Edelman didn’t have a full offensive role against Indianapolis — but generally looked like the player Brady typically relies on to move the chains, despite one egregious drop in the first quarter that cost New England a first down.
Thursday also marked the first time since Nov. 27, 2016, that Brady, Edelman, tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back James White shared the same field.
“You can take us away from each other for 10 years and we’ll come back and be the same,” Gronkowski said.
The rookie: First-round pick Sony Michel looks like the real deal. The running back missed the opener after getting his knee scoped in August, but he is quickly developing into a perfect complement to White.
Michel has scored the past two weeks and posted 100 yards of total offense each time. Though he and White are both multifaceted, it appears the former Georgia star will get the bulk of the carries while White (team-high 10 receptions Thursday) will usually handle passing downs.
Flash: A receiving corps that has been in constant flux since the Patriots dumped Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola following their Super Bowl loss to the Eagles might finally have a winning combination — both because Edelman has returned and since it appears Josh “Flash” Gordon is now ready to contribute. (New England traded for the troubled Browns receiver Sept. 17, even though he continues to battle substance abuse demons, a reputation for immaturity and a balky hamstring.)
But Gordon announced his presence Thursday, reeling in Brady’s 500th TD pass — Gordon was the 71st player to catch a TB12TD, another record — while being bracketed on a broken play.
“To catch any pass from Tom is amazing, let alone some history-making catch or pass,” said Gordon, who led the NFL in receiving yards in 2013 but was suspended for most of the next four seasons.
Brady has been lockering next to Gordon and spending extra time while helping to integrate the freakishly gifted receiver into The Patriot Way.
If Gordon can keep his personal life in order and synthesize enough of the playbook, New England might finally have its best mismatch receiver since Randy Moss. Gordon can physically dominate downfield and in the red zone, and his ability — in conjunction with Gronkowski working the seams, Edelman moving the sticks with his short and intermediate patterns, White tearing off big chunks via dump-offs and designed routes and gadget guy Cordarrelle Patterson on call for exotic duties — could allow Brady to threaten every blade of grass like he never has.
Detente: After months of scrutiny about supposedly strained relations among owner Robert Kraft, Belichick and Brady, the quarterback and Gronk (who was on the trade block) stayed away for most of the spring program. It appears normalcy has returned. New England has won two in a row after that 1-2 start, posting 38 points and more than 400 yards each time while dispatching the Colts and previously unbeaten Dolphins in Week 4.
“There’s no quarterback I’d rather have than Tom Brady,” Belichick said Thursday, noting how remarkable it is to throw 500 TDs.
Now, as Belichick might say, we’re on to Kansas City.
There are bugs to iron out of Patriots 18.0. Gordon has to prove he’s reliable. Gronkowski has 10 days to nurse a bum ankle. New left tackle Trent Brown must continue proving a 6-8, 380-pounder can safeguard Brady’s blind side; he’ll see Chicago’s Khalil Mack in two weeks. A defense that failed the Patriots in Super Bowl LII must reassert itself.
And it’s time to start beating good teams after the Patriots opened with a group that has gone 9-12 collectively.
The Chiefs, currently 4-0 and sporting wunderkind quarterback Mahomes, roll into Foxborough, Massachusetts, for a “Sunday Night Football” date in Week 6 laden with playoff implications.
These Patriots now seem ready to handle all comers.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates with Josh Gordon after they hooked up for Brady’s 500th career TD pass Thursday.