BOSTON (CBS) — When the New England Patriots convene Thursday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, they’ll all meet in a big room and share stories of how they spent their summer vacations. While Tom Brady’s story is sure to be the longest and most absurd, when they’re all done discussing the past, they’ll be ready to officially embark on the 2015 season.
Sort of.READ MORE: Somerset Firefighters Searching Taunton River For Missing Boater
While there is plenty of excitement for the season that lies ahead, there will be one last reminder of what took place last season, and it will come in the form of a glistening new Super Bowl banner. Its presence ought to create a rather raucous atmosphere in Foxboro, and it should be the perfect introduction to the start of the season.
Given that the offseason was long enough as is, let’s waste no more time and get into what to watch for when the Patriots and Steelers kick off on Thursday night.
If the past decade in New England have proven anything, it’s that Super Bowls don’t come easy. Capturing a Lombardi Trophy requires a combination of coaching, execution, timing and good fortune. In a sport where injuries are the norm, you need to stay healthy. Sometimes you’ll need a fumbled football to bounce your way (like it did for Julian Edelman in the divisional round game vs. Baltimore, an often overlooked moment in the Patriots’ title run). And sometimes you’ll need the opposing coach to call one of the dumbest plays in the history of the sport.
Though a team does win a title every year, each is the beneficiary of these factors. And though the Patriots made it seem routine in the early part of the 21st century, the nine-year gap between trophies ought to make the region a bit more appreciative this time around.
Remember, 13 teams have never won the Super Bowl. Other teams (Jets, Chiefs, Dolphins) haven’t won a Super Bowl in more than 40 years. So while the outlook remains good so long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick remain employed, the reality is that this moment may not come around again for a while.
And after the offseason of nonsense which Patriots fans just had to endure, it’s a safe bet to say that the unveiling of this Super Bowl banner will be a moment of true rejoicing around New England. And it’d be hard to say it wasn’t well-deserved.
The big story early in the 2014 season was that the offensive line in front of Brady was, in a word, terrible. Brady averaged under 200 yards per game in September while throwing four touchdowns and two interceptions while taking nine sacks. It was, to put it lightly, a rough start to the season, and much of it had to do with an offensive line that struggled to find cohesion.
Eventually, the combination of Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell and Sebastian Vollmer solidified the line, and Brady and the Patriots flourished. They even won the Super Bowl, in case you didn’t catch that on the news.
But entering this year, there are once again potential issues on the line. Connolly retired, and while Jordan Devey is nowhere to be found, question marks remain at two spots. The Patriots placed Stork on injured reserve on Wednesday, meaning he’s out for at least half the season. That leaves either Wendell or undrafted rookie David Andrews to fill the void at center, and it means either Shaq Mason or Tre Jackson (both rookies) will have to see serious playing time at guard. And if any starter gets hurt, Josh Kline and Marcus Cannon fill out the depth chart — unless those two guys aren’t deemed better options than the rookies.READ MORE: Search For Missing 5-Year-Old Boy Elijah Lewis Continues In New Hampshire
Clearly, there are some things to be sorted out on the offensive line, so that’s an area that certainly bears watching on Thursday night. It could decide the game.
Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. They are bros. Sometimes they randomly decide to do 30 push-ups while watching TV, because that’s just what bros do.
And while both are crucial members of the New England offense, neither played in the preseason. Edelman was working his way back from a minor ankle injury, and Gronk was simply being kept in bubble wrap because he’s so important to the offense.
As a result, Brady didn’t have the easiest preseason, which has led to some to wonder if the ol’ QB is rusty after spending his winter, spring and summer fighting the commissioner of the National Football League.
While such fears are likely unfounded, his success — as well as that of the Patriots’ entire offense — on Thursday will rely heavily on The Bros.
The Lack Of Darrelle
If there’s one thing we can all bank on this season, it is the predictable shouts of “Gawwwwddddd why didn’t they sign Revis?!” ringing out through living rooms across New England any time an opponent completes a pass of more than 10 yards or converts a third-and-7 with a pass to the outside.
It will, of course, be an overreaction, but there’s no question that any team that loses a player of Darrelle Revis’ caliber gets worse at defending passes. While Malcolm Butler seems up to the task of fighting with every team’s top receiver each week, it’ll be interesting to see who will shine and who will face-plant when filling in at the other cornerback position.
Though the Steelers won’t have receiver Martavis Bryant due to suspension, they will have Antonio Brown, who had five receptions of at least 40 yards last season, including a 44-yarder in the divisional round against the Ravens. There’s also quite a bit of excitement in Steeler Land about Markus Wheaton, who could present some problems for the Patriots’ secondary.
The Patriots’ defensive backfield won’t have the benefit of an inexperienced quarterback under center for the opposition, as Ben Roethlisberger won’t be rattled in the least by the playoff atmosphere that is sure to overtake Gillette Stadium, so the pressure will be on to try to limit those living room outbursts around New England.MORE NEWS: Boston Police Cruiser, Sedan Collide In Early Morning Crash In Roxbury