By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Look, I’m not going to claim the Patriots are just fine, or that they’re not going to lose another game, or that they’re guaranteed to repeat as Super Bowl champions. I’m not here to tell you I’m not worried. But I am most certainly here to tell you that the talk of the Patriots’ demise is, once again, greatly exaggerated and all too early.
The Patriots sometimes look shaky in the first four games of the season. It’s not always THIS bad, especially not on defense – but you can’t sit there and say that their problems don’t have a chance of being fixed. The defensive issues are (mostly) not talent-based, certainly not when you compare it to past Patriots defenses that struggled. Certainly not in the secondary. You simply cannot say after Week 4 that the Patriots won’t be playing far better football in about two months’ time.
But of course, that’s not going to stop writers from coming up with crackpot ideas for improvement or declaring “trouble” or essentially proclaiming the end of the dynasty. It’s a fine tradition in the NFL media, and Sunday’s loss to the Panthers certainly presented them with a great opportunity to make the same usual declarations that come whenever the Patriots have a bad day.
No question, Sunday was bad for the defense and the team is worthy of criticism right now. But the much safer bet is that they will end up making these stories look silly in retrospect.
This isn’t meant as an attack on the writers themselves. It’s hard to blame them with the way the Patriots defense has played so far this season. But it’s hilarious that we always end up in a spot like this, and I’ve seen the Patriots turn things around down the stretch too much to go to these lengths just yet.
– You’ve got CBS Sports’ Jason LA Canfora calling for them to trade Jimmy Garoppolo for defensive help.
– USA Today described the Patriots as the S-word … that would be “shambles.”
– The Washington Post is essentially crowning the Bills AFC East champions.
– Newsweek actually brought up the possibility of the Patriots finishing behind the Jets.
– Bleacher Report NFL analyst Matt Miller is already arguing that the Patriots won’t repeat as champions because of the defense.
The takes can, of course, be found locally as well. All due respect to the Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian, it just feels a tad early to claim that teams across the entire league are no longer afraid of going to Foxboro. And there was also your standard “Trouble in paradise” story from the Eagle Tribune’s Bill Burt.
It’s not that all of these writers are going to be proved wrong. They may all be right – especially Miller, who is predicting that the defense will be the team’s downfall. Even if and when the Patriots defense plays better by the end of the regular season, that’s no guarantee that the same communication issues could crop back up in the playoffs against a good opponent.
The point I’m making here is that you should still expect the Patriots to end up in the AFC Championship Game yet again. They’ve shown far too many times that four weeks is not nearly enough time to declare a state of emergency. They arguably looked even worse overall in 2014, and what ended up happening then?
It may yet come to be that this year’s Patriots are taking a big step back from last season. The defense may not recover from what’s been one of the worst starts in NFL history. But to claim right now that this is the end, like so many other seasons before it, is incredibly impatient. The Pats have provided too many cautionary tales in the past for anyone to know at this point that this season is any different.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at email@example.com.