All it took were some wins over the NFL’s bottom dwellers for the Patriots to vault themselves back into Super Bowl contention, at least according to the so-called experts. For years, members of the national football media often picked against the Patriots and predicted their premature demise.
But this season, the narrative was reversed. Looking back at the commentary from two months ago is laughable.
The Patriots rang up victories against the Jaguars, Texans, Jets (twice), Panthers and Falcons on the way to their 10-win season. That means 60% of their wins came against teams that will pick in the top 10 of the NFL Draft. Yet, Ryan Clark declared the Patriots were going to make the Super Bowl. Rex Ryan said this was the best coaching job of Bill Belichick’s entire career.
Picking off Sam Darnold three times never meant so much.
It was easy to get carried away. In an uneven AFC, going with Belichick appeared to be a safe choice. But there were warning signs all along. The Patriots only recorded three wins against teams with winning records: the Chargers, injury riddled Titans and Bills on that comically frigid and windy Monday night in Buffalo. Outside of that, they fell short against the league’s upper- and middle class. The Patriots lost to the Dolphins twice, fell to the Colts, and dropped a home game to the Saints, never mind (close) losses to the Bucs and Cowboys.
Mac Jones’ performance throughout their seven-game winning streak was solid. The rookie from Alabama completed 69.3% of his passes with nine touchdowns and two interceptions to go along with a 106.1 QB rating. But he was hardly leading the way. Jones averaged 200 passing yard per game over that stretch.
But that didn’t stop Dan Orlovsky from calling Jones “the best rookie quarterback I have ever seen when it comes to knowing who to throw to, when to throw it, and then how to throw it,” or folks like Tedy Bruschi and Charlie Weis comparing him to Tom Brady before the season even started.
I think we can retire those comparisons. Jones struggled over the final four games, completing just 60% of his passes for six touchdowns and five interceptions. He averaged just 6.8 yards gained per pass attempt.
New England went 1-3 to close out the season. Maybe Ryan shouldn’t have apologized for calling Jones a “peashooter” after all.
And all those calls to reward Belichick with Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year honors? They don’t look so great now. The Patriots were penalized eight times for 78 yards last week against Miami, including Lawrence Guy getting flagged for a brutal illegal formation penalty when he lined up over the long snapper on a punt. Against Indianapolis, the Patriots’ errors on special teams led to 10 points.
It’s one thing for a rookie quarterback to hit the wall in December or overachieving players to see their performances regress to the mean. It’s another for a team to look so disorganized late into the season. Belichick’s teams historically hit their stride after Thanksgiving. Not this one.
Perhaps the most telling quote of the campaign belongs to Jones, who weirdly said the Patriots were “feeling sorry for themselves” during the bye week.
The most expensive free agent class in NFL history also now mostly looks like a flop. Kendrick Bourne caught just 13 passes for 177 yards and no touchdowns over the last four games, and Matthew Judon hasn’t recorded a sack since Dec. 6. Jonnu Smith and Nelson Agholor have never been factors.
In hindsight, the hype many ex-players and coaches were throwing on the Patriots can be attributed to pigskin PTSD. Belichick embarrassed the competition for 20 years, and now, his vanquished foes are sitting at analyst desks and behind microphones — alongside many former Patriots themselves.
Bias has always clouded the truth around the Patriots. This year, the picture was too rosy.
In defense of Shaughnessy’s HOF ballot: Dan Shaughnessy was getting clobbered on Twitter this week for his Hall of Fame ballot, because he only voted for Jeff Kent. Every player suspected of using PEDs or caught using PEDs, including David Ortiz, was left off.
And that’s his total right as a voter.
We can quibble about whether steroid users should be voted into the Hall of Fame. But at least Shaughnessy is consistent. He doesn’t vote for Bonds and Clemens while snubbing Manny. They’re all cheaters in his mind. Calling Shaughnessy a “racist” for not placing a check besides Ortiz’s name is laughable and deprives the word of meaning. Shaughnessy also refuses to vote for Curt Schilling, citing character clause concerns.
Not everything is about some greater societal issue. Some Hall of Fame voters just don’t think players linked to PEDs should be enshrined in Cooperstown. It’s as simple as that.
NFL’s ratings resurgence: NFL TV ratings increased 10% over last season, giving the league its best ratings numbers in six years. Overall, NFL games accounted for 91 of the top 100 telecasts on TV during the season.
The league’s new media rights deal that’s worth $110 billion over 11 years may end up looking like a relative bargain.
For years, the NFL has been the most valuable product on TV, and that’s only more of the case now. The product may have suffered during a 17-game season, but the ratings numbers will only embolden owners to keep expanding the schedule. Eighteen games is not very far away.
Bills are no longer pushovers: It’s easy to stick to the old narratives heading into Saturday’s playoff game about the “Bills being the Bills” and predict their inevitable collapse against the Patriots. But that’s just stale. The Bills have won three of their last four game against New England, and the Patriots have struggled to score points against Buffalo for a while. Over their last six meetings, the Patriots have scored 16 points, 24 points, 21 points, 9 points, 14 points and 21 points. This season, the Bills are No. 1 in points against and No. 3 in points scored.
Anybody who refrains to the old cliches over the next two days just isn’t paying attention.