The Patriots have their swagger back
Well folks, it finally happened. The New England Patriots are back to being the New England Patriots that I know and love. Months of so-called “analysts” saying that this team isn’t good and that Tom Brady has fallen off a cliff, but the Patriots beat the Buffalo Bills to lock up the AFC East title for the 11th consecutive season.
I’ll admit, this season hasn’t felt as easy as the last 11, but I guess that’s what happens when you lose the best tight end to ever play football. Despite that, the Patriots started the year 8-0, and now have a 12-3 record heading into a Week 17 matchup against the Miami Dolphins.
The offense has struggled, but the defense has been lights out. They’ve given up the fewest points and yards, and have forced 36 turnovers (11 fumbles, 25 interceptions). Stephon Gilmore has had the best season of his career and leads the Patriots with six interceptions including two that he returned for touchdowns. The last defensive back to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award was Charles Woodson back in 2009, but Gilmore has definitely played his way into the conversation for the award this season.
The Patriots issue as of late has been the offense. Brady hasn’t put up impressive numbers and as a result, he wasn’t voted into the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2008 (which doesn’t really count since he missed the entire season with a torn ACL). The common answer has been that he doesn’t trust his receivers and he’s pissed off that the team had Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon but decided to let both of them go. I’ll admit, there were times over the last few weeks where it felt like Brown was the solution to all of their problems, but his CTE shows every single time he posts something on Twitter. As for Gordon, letting him go didn’t really make sense to me at the time, but since going to Seattle he has been suspended for once again failing a drug test. Maybe Belichick knew something was up?
Brady’s receivers currently include a banged-up Julian Edelman, Mohammed Sanu, and Phillip Dorsett, and rookies N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers. Edelman has proven to be the reliable target for Brady, but outside of that nobody else had had much success. Harry spent the first half of the season on IR, but has improved each week since making his regular season debut.
Saturday’s game against the Bills was a big one for New England. They struggled through games early in December against the Texans and Chiefs, although they only lost each game by one possession. Meanwhile, the Bills were riding high after a big Sunday Night Football win in Pittsburgh against the Steelers.
The Patriots offense seemed different right from the start against Buffalo. They used a power run game to drive down the field and chew the clock while they did it. Sony Michel finished the game with 96 yards, while Rex Burkhead added 20 yards and a key touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Brady had one of his best games in a while, finishing with 271 yards on 26-for-33 passing and a touchdown. As expected, Julian Edelman was his favourite target, finishing with 72 yards on five receptions. The defense didn’t force any turnovers, but they did sack Josh Allen four times and held the Bill running back Devin Singletary to just 46 yards. In the end, the Patriots came away with a 24-17 win to secure yet another AFC East title.
The Patriots said that they were preparing for this week as though it was a playoff game and it showed. Brady was out there throwing blocks, Edelman was his usual reliable self on third down plays over the middle of the field, and Elandon Roberts provided us with the quote of the year.
February 2nd can’t come soon enough.