D.A.: Is This The Beginning Or The End For The Patriots? 

We've been down this road before with the Patriots, D.A. writes, but this time feels different

The DA Show
December 13, 2019 - 12:43 pm

We've written them off before, either after the wretched blowout to the Chiefs five years ago that spurred "We're on to Cincinnati," or after the desultory end to last regular season. Of course, in both cases the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl. After back-to-back losses to the Texans and Chiefs, it's fair to ask whether we're being duped again? This could be the end of the Patriots season (dynasty?) or the beginning of another championship run. 

I don't think we're being tricked into believing the Pats are wheezing to the finish line. I think they are wheezing to the finish line. That's why this could very well be the end of the road. The Pats' record of 10-3 looks great on paper, but the reality is when digging deeper, plenty of flaws are exposed. The most eye-opening stat is that the Patriots haven't beaten a team with a winning record and its first-string quarterback since opening night. That evening, the Patriots made quick work of the Steelers as they normally do, and it seemed like the Super Bowl defense would roll right along as normal. An 8-0 start with six blowout wins had the Pats atop almost every power ranking. 

But following those two dominant months the Patriots are a pedestrian 2-3, their losses coming against the three other AFC division leaders. The last time the Pats beat a team that currently has a winning record was September 29, on a day the Bills lost Josh Allen to a concussion. For two-and-a-half months the Pats have only beaten some of the worst teams in football. 

“Their defense can feast at a historic level the first eight games of the season," PFF analyst Solomon Wilcots told me. "When you’re playing the likes of Daniel Jones and you’re playing the likes of Sam Darnold, who said he was seeing ghosts, when you’re playing the likes of Josh Rosen. But then when you run into guys that kind of know what to do – and even a great defense is struggling against really capable and competent quarterbacks. But the offense, I think, is really where the Achilles’ heel exists.”

This is the real trouble with assuming that the Pats will simply turn it on in the playoffs. The idea is they're merely playing possum right now. The defense obviously has had really impressive numbers, but look at their best work. The Steelers adjusting to life without Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. The Dolphins with a stripped-down roster. Washington, the Giants, Jets, Eagles, and the Cowboys... all teams whose offenses have been AWOL most of the season. Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson rolled. Patrick Mahomes had a very good first half against the "vaunted" New England defense. 

Jackson may hold the stake to put through the heart of the Pats. The potential MVP has already beaten them in Baltimore, and currently holds the top spot in the AFC home-field race. But if the Ravens had to go on the road in the Championship Game? “I think they can beat the Patriots in Foxboro,” Hall of Famer LaDanian Tomlinson told me. “This brand of football travels anywhere. They can play the Patriots in El Paso, where I am right now, and I think Baltimore will beat them because of the matchup.”

Going into last week's game against the Chiefs, the Pats' 10 wins came against teams that were 44-64, just a .407 winning percentage. The only two wins since the Ravens beat them down were against the Eagles and Cowboys, two of the NFL's most disappointing teams. It's hard to find the evidence that Bill Belichick can simply "coach them up" this year because the teams the Patriots have beaten won't be in the playoffs. 

“These Patriots wide receivers are not on the same page with their quarterback,” Wilcots said. “In the National Football League, receivers are expected to be able to do what we call flight adjust; that means you’ve got to be able to read coverages post-snap... There’s been some veteran players who have struggled to fit in, and now these younger receivers are struggling, and it’s really frustrating Tom Brady. They’re struggling to put points on the board.”

The offense is clearly the vulnerability of the Pats, as the offensive line, the running backs and even the passing game have been ugly. Can Belichick "scheme it up" if the talent isn't there? 

“We normally would expect the receivers, and every player on this team, to have come into form by the time you get to the middle of December," Wilcots says. "Unfortunately, that’s one of the critical areas where they have not matured over the course of the season – and now they’re paying dearly for it.”

Never underestimate the Patriots’ opponents making enough mistakes to lose. There's no team better at taking advantage of miscues, short fields, and momentum shifts over the past 20 years. And if games are played in Foxboro next month, the added ghosts and goblins are in play (ask Billy Cundiff and Myles Jack).

This isn't to say even if the Patriots lose in the playoffs the end of the dynasty is upon us. Tom Brady could come back, the Patriots could win the division next year, and we could be having this very same discussion 12 months from now. But this Pats team certainly feels inferior to a true Super Bowl contender, and there's reports out of New England that Brady is in his final act. If that's the case, Belichick can still squeeze wins out of a crummy division and sloppy opposing coaches, but the run of elite excellence would be over. The Patriots without the greatest winner in NFL history are no longer the Patriots. New England is scary in January because they've done it so many times. A new quarterback who hasn't ever done it won't carry the same fear. 

This year's version of the Patriots got fat on a cupcake schedule. No one wants to count them out because of their historic success. But this team is different than in years’ past. It can't beat good teams. Good teams are the only ones they'll face in the postseason. And the postseason is the only way the Patriots are ever defined. 

Damon Amendolara, known by his fans as D.A., hosts “The D.A. Show,” from 9:00AM-12:00PM, ET, across the country on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. “The D.A. Show” is known for its unique perspective on sports, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, colorful listener interaction, and candid interviews with athletes and coaches. Amendolara also appears regularly on NFL Network as part of the “NFL Top 10” documentary film series, CBS television and SNY TV. He is a Syracuse University grad and native of Warwick, N.Y.