By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There’s an old trope in horror movies where the protagonists of the film, believing they have finally vanquished the terrifying and life-threatening menace from their lives, lock eyes and breathe a deep sigh of relief. The bogeyman is gone. it’s time to breathe easy.
It’s at that exact point when the killer reemerges from the shadows yielding a knife or a chainsaw or some other crude instrument, ready to wreak havoc like none of those bozos ever saw coming.
It ought to serve as a warning for those who have been so quick to close the door on the Patriots, those who have declared the dynasty to be dead, those eager to note that the run of success from Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots has officially come to an end. History may prove those people to be right … but it would be wise to not scoop dirt on the Patriots’ graves until their threat is actually and fully extinguished.
Clearly, at this point, they’re looking a bit vulnerable. For the first time since 2015, they won’t be playing in the NFL’s final game of the year. The Patriots were not good enough to win a Super Bowl this year. They weren’t good enough to really even compete for a Super Bowl. They lost to the other three AFC division winners, and then they lost to the Titans. After losing to the Dolphins. Both at home.
Not good enough, no doubt about it.
They’re coming off a wild-card loss at home, their quarterback will be 43 and may depart via free agency, their offensive coordinator may finally depart for a head coaching gig, and a collection of key players up and down the roster are free agents, too. It surely does not take a Stephen King level of creativity to envision a scenario where the 12-4 Patriots end up getting worse between now and next January.
But to look at one year of setback and declare that the end has arrived would be to ignore common sense. And history.
Fourteen times since Belichick’s arrival, the Patriots were not good enough to win the Super Bowl. That’s many more times, in fact, than they have been good enough to win the Super Bowl. That is generally how sports work.
The Patriots failed to make the playoffs in 2002; they won the next two Super Bowls. After losing Super Bowl XLVI, the Patriots lost consecutive AFC Championship Games. The end had arrived; they’ve won three Super Bowls and played in another since then. After losing Super Bowl LII in mystifyingly painful fashion, it was once again all over for a team where everyone hated each other; they won the Super Bowl the next season.
If there’s been one defining element of the Patriots during the Belichick/Brady era, it’s been an uncanny ability to avoid sinking in spots where so many teams before them have gone under.
And if you look at the Patriots’ roster from this past season, they’re not miles away from returning to contention. Where the sports media world seems to envision the Patriots taking a sharp left turn toward a dead end of mediocrity and irrelevance, the other scenario where they veer right and patch some holes appears to be getting willfully ignored.
The return of center David Andrews is significant in its own right. The significance of losing Andrews — along with the loss of one of the very best fullbacks in football — cannot be overstated.
The addition of a tight end who falls somewhere between competent and high end would go a long way in reinvigorating an offense that has heavily relied on the position for the past decade. Some notable free agents on the defense — Devin McCourty, Kyle Van Noy, Danny Shelton, Jamie Collins — could leave, but if they head elsewhere, it will give the Patriots some money to spend to get younger. And Belichick has never really had a problem finding talent to bring in, especially on the defensive side of the ball
N’Keal Harry (12 receptions, 105 yards, 2 TDs) and Mohamed Sanu (26 receptions, 207 yards, 1 TD) were disappointments, but a full offseason in the system ought to help them acclimate in time for September.
And with the 23rd overall pick in the upcoming draft, Belichick has in his back pocket a first-round pick much higher than he’s accustomed to having without having to make a trade to get it.
Obviously — obviously! — there are many balls in the air. The uncertainty of Brady, and the thorough impotency of the Patriots’ 2019 offense, has led many, many, many folks to conclude that it will all certainly come crashing down. Again, it’s possible that they end up being right.
It’s just worth remembering that the Patriots dynasty has been deemed dead after 2005 and after 2007. And after 2008. After the 2009 Ravens debacle. After the 2010 Jets bomb. And after the 2011 Super Bowl, and four weeks into 2014, and after Super Bowl LII in February of 2018. Now again in the early days of 2020, they are dead once more.
R.I.P. in peace, and all of that.
But maybe save that relieved exhale until the bad guys are officially out of the picture. It’d be wise to not start thinking that last weekend’s loss means that it’s safe to go outside now.