By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Losing a Super Bowl always carries with it a lingering sense of dread, no matter which team is involved. That’s probably why the losing team of a Super Bowl has not won a championship in the year that follows their loss since the early 1970s. And it’s probably why a losing Super Bowl team hasn’t even made the following season’s Super Bowl since the infamous early-’90s Buffalo Bills, and it might be why more than half of all Super Bowl-losing teams fail to even win a single playoff game the following year.
And surely, since losing to the Eagles in early February, it’s been nothing but bad news when it comes to the local and national discussion on the Patriots. There is the uncertainty of Rob Gronkowski’s playing status. There are the reports of unrest among Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft. There’s the yet-to-be-answered mystery of the Malcolm Butler benching. There are several questions on the defensive personnel, as well as a number of free agents likely to leave town.
The mood surrounding all things Patriots has not been exceptional.
But … it is possible that we’re all overreacting a little bit. If there’s any team that can break the so-called curse of the Super Bowl loser, wouldn’t it figure to be the most consistent franchise of the 21st century? There’s more reason to believe the Patriots will be back in the Super Bowl next year than there is to believe they’re doomed.
At the very least, they should get close to another Super Bowl, as they did in 2012 when they lost the AFC title game after losing Super Bowl XLVI a year prior.
With that spirit, here’s a quick rundown of all of the reasons for optimism on the short-term future of the Patriots. Perhaps it’s not quite as bad as everybody is intent on making it seem.
The Offense Could Be Among The Best Ever
Due to Julian Edelman blowing out his knee in August, the 2017 Patriots were never able to form their offensive Voltron. Yet they still led the NFL in yards and ranked second in points during the regular season, and they still averaged more than 30 points per game in their three postseason contests.
Now, if Rob Gronkowski does indeed decide to play football for at least one more year, that offense stands to get even better. With Gronkowski, Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, and (probably) Danny Amendola, the offense figures to be incredibly potent for the 2018 season. That’s without considering the potential impact of reintegrating Martellus Bennett, and the return of Malcolm Mitchell. From a defensive standpoint, you only have so many resources for slowing down these players. Someone’s pretty much always going to be open.
And from a coaching standpoint, the return of Josh McDaniels is significant. He and Brady operate on the same wavelength, and so much of the Patriots’ offense is predicated on intricate pre-snap movement. it’s vital for every player on the offensive side of the ball to be well-prepared for all of the complexities of the playbook, and McDaniels’ continued presence running the show helps ensure the offense will not take a step backward.
Tom Brady Is Not A Human Being
There was reason for some justifiable doubt about whether or not Tom Brady could perform at the highest level in his 40s heading into last season. That doubt just should not be there heading in to 2018.
Brady put together one his finest all-around seasons, and it was good enough for him to be named the NFL’s MVP for just the third time in his Hall of Fame career. His “Tom Vs. Time” docuseries showed that his dedication to the sport and to his personal fitness is no joke, and the reasonable belief now is to expect Brady to maintain that high level for another season.
Some people will point to Brett Favre falling off a cliff from 2009 to 2010 or Peyton Manning from 2014 to 2015 as examples of how quickly it can all end, but those are bad examples. Brett Favre was not much of a health and fitness guy, and Manning finally succumbed to the series of neck surgeries which had caused him to lose feeling in his throwing hand and robbed him of nearly all of his arm strength.
The only thing that can stop Brady is the same thing that could stop any quarterback: blunt trauma to his knees. As long as he can avoid that, Brady should be in line for another exceptional season of football.
They’re Sort Of Getting One-And-A-Half Draft Classes
This may be the ultimate glass half-full interpretation of reality, but the Patriots will be adding more young players than just the ones they draft and sign next month.
Think about it: Last year, the Patriots spent their top two picks on Derek Rivers and Tony Garcia, and they got a combined zero snaps out of the two players. Undrafted rookie linebacker Harvey Langi also showed some promise before a car crash abruptly ended his season.
The addition of those players — particularly Rivers and Langi at two areas of some real need on the defense — do figure to work to provide a bit of a boost. And, supplemented by whichever players Belichick drafts and signs in April, they help to improve the overall quality of the influx of players to the roster.
They’re Still Playing In The AFC East
The national reputation of the AFC East is much worse than the division has actually been over the past 17 years. Too many people believe the Patriots’ winning of the division every year has been an indication that the division is terrible, but it’s actually just been a mediocre division that’s been the home to the best team in the NFL for nearly two decades.
But last year, the AFC East was pretty terrible. The Bills made the playoffs, sort of, but they mustered just three points in a loss in Jacksonville. The Dolphins and Jets combined for an 11-21 record. It was bad. And it’s unlikely that things suddenly turn around for those teams in a hurry.
The Jets are reportedly trying to throw bags of cash at Kirk Cousins, but he’s apparently not all that interested. The Dolphins may be looking to supplant Ryan Tannehill with a rookie quarterback sooner than later. And this is a real headline you can find in Buffalo: “Why Buffalo Bills’ brass still has faith in QB Nathan Peterman.”
That’s quite the soft landing for a team looking to find its feet after losing a Super Bowl, and it’s a nice path back to — at the very very least — a home playoff game in 2018.
Why Didn’t Malcolm Butler Play In The Super Bowl?
He played in 97.83 percent of the team’s def– … oh wait. Sorry. Forgot what we were doing here. Optimism. Positivity. My bad. Back to that.
The Patriots Remain An Attractive Destination
Given the reports of the inner turmoil in Foxboro, and given the lasting image of the Super Bowl loss, one might imagine that players would not be eager to sign up to play for the Patriots in 2018. But at least according to reports, some big names wouldn’t mind settling in to a new life in southeastern Massachusetts.
Richard Sherman might either get traded or cut by the Seahawks, and he’s reportedly open to the idea of ending up in Foxboro. Veteran cornerback Aqib Talib, who’s been through the ringer of playing for Belichick, is also reportedly receptive to the idea of playing for the man once again.
Those are just two players, and it’s just based off a report, and most players in need of employment likely wouldn’t close any door. But — but! — their interest is at least a sign that the reported dysfunction and unhappiness in New England is perceived differently by those on the outside.
To put it simply: The Patriots were one of the very best teams in the NFL in 2017, despite all of the hubbub surrounding off-field clashes of egos. The team may well have work to do in terms of clearing up some of those issues, but on the field? They should be about as good as they’ve ever been.