By Jason Keidel
The Twitter tough guys had quite a time of it.
After Week 1 of the NFL season, the online gangsters jumped those of us who publicly pondered if the New England Patriots could or should go 16-0 this season. Then the Pats opened with a dud and the Brady-haters loved it.
But as the Twitter Eggs and cubicle kings often do, they went well overboard, assuring us that the Pats weren’t just 0-1, the Brady-Belichick empire was crumbling in epic style. Then Brady competed 30 of 39 passes (76.9%) for 447 yards, and three touchdowns and finished with a 139.6 passer rating. All three of Brady’s TD passes came in the first quarter, which basically closed the lid on a game the Pats won walking away, 36-20.
No, it doesn’t mean the Pats now sweep the season and finish 15-1. But if history schools us on anything — particularly in team sports — it’s that epilogues are written in the last month, not the first. Yet we’re seeing premature postmortems all over the place.
Like in Dallas, where the Cowboys were crowned the best club in the NFL after their 19-3 drubbing of the Giants. But now that the Broncos demolished Dallas, in Denver, with the one-two punch of the mile-high air and perhaps the NFL’s best defense, we’re hearing that America’s Team is suddenly falling apart. Yup, just stuff eight men in the box, stifle Ezekiel Elliott, and you have the Cowboys’ number. As if no one thought of that last year when Elliott galloped for 1,641 yards and 15 touchdowns.
If the Patriots were some trendy club on the rise, loaded with gifted neophytes, then you could at least understand the emotional swings that come with every week. But how many times must we bury the Pats, only to see them exhume themselves and win a Super Bowl, before we zip our lips and give this new-age dynasty the benefit of the doubt?
There absolutely are reasons to be a bit worried about the Pats, nearly all of them to be found on the trainer’s table. Brady’s favorite receiver, Julian Edelman, tore his ACL and is gone for the year. Danny Amendola has a host of maladies. And Rob Gronkowski is a misstep from tweaking a limb or tearing a ligament. Just yesterday he limped off the field with a bad groin. And those are just the big names. The Patriots are quickly morphing into a walking triage. And not even Brady can win alone.
Just look at all the issues Aaron Rodgers had last night. He loses his starting two tackles before the game, Jordy Nelson during the game, and Rodgers was taking more blows than Canelo Alvarez did the night before. Week 1 saw Green Bay shred Seattle’s vaunted defense. In Week 2 they were hammered by Atlanta. Keeping with the boxing metaphors, styles make fights, and football games.
It’s not hyperbole to suggest the Patriots needed to win in New Orleans. Since the NFL expanded their playoffs to 12 teams, any club that starts 0-2 has just a 12 percent chance of playing in January. Even still, these are the Patriots, who last went 0-2 in 2001. In fact, they started 1-3. They finished the season 11-5, and won the franchise’s first Super Bowl. And that was before Tom Brady was, well, Tom Brady.
New England’s not in any danger of missing the playoffs in September. They still play in the AFC East, with clubs that couldn’t win the SEC. Just as some fighters need a few rounds to find their rhythm, perhaps the Pats need a few games to adjust to their revamped roster. They still enter each week with the edge at the two most important positions in pro football — head coach and quarterback. And while the rest aren’t incidental, life is exponentially easier when your HC and QB each have five Super Bowl rings.
Let the Patriots play three more games, against the Texans, Panthers and Buccaneers — who are a combined 4-1 — and then cast your admiration or aspersions upon them. But don’t let any disdain you might have for the team or the town cloud your objectivity. You have to respect them; they did just win the Super Bowl.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.