The New England Patriots were viewed as legitimate Super Bowl contenders just two short months ago — and now they might be right back where they started.
Don’t be concerned if the thought crept into your head that the Patriots might actually, possibly, kind of, maybe have a shot to beat the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
The Patriots have looked impressive for four straight weeks after bottoming out against the Kansas City Chiefs a month ago — a loss so shocking that it led fans to question whether it was time to turn to rookie signal-caller Jimmy Garoppolo over Tom Brady.
It wasn’t, isn’t and might not be for a few years. Brady completed 30 of 35 passes Sunday in the Patriots’ 51-23 shellacking of the Chicago Bears, and his biggest mistake of the afternoon was so innocuous that it’s barely worth describing, except to point out how perfect Brady really was on the afternoon: He made a red-zone attempt that was batted by Bears linebacker Christian Jones. It fell harmlessly to the turf, and the Patriots had to settle for a field goal.
After enough strife to fill weeks worth of talk radio programming to start the season, the Patriots made it difficult to remember they’re so great on paper that they were considered to be in an “arms race” with the Broncos this offseason. Sunday’s win served as a solid reminder that this is the most well-rounded Patriots team (in theory) since 2007.
The 2014 Patriots team is no longer pristine, of course. It lost linebacker Jerod Mayo and running back Stevan Ridley to season-ending knee injuries, and chief pass rusher Chandler Jones reportedly might not return until the playoffs.
If any team can withstand the loss of its right defensive end, it might be this one, with a secondary that’s the best in the NFL this season.
It’s natural for severe injuries to resonate more on the hometown team, but every NFL squad goes through various ailments during the course of a 16-game season. Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan is on short-term injured reserve, and running back Montee Ball has a groin injury so severe that it’s expected to limit him all season, but don’t expect that to be brought up within 90 miles of a 508 area code.
The Patriots are not special, jinxed or overly fortunate.
They are good, however, and they proved it Sunday. Yes, the Bears are a giant mess, and they competed horribly against the Patriots. Play that game 100 times, though, and Chicago might not come within 15 points — not with a healthy Rob Gronkowski and a fortified offensive line that’s giving Brady enough time to check his new and improved Facebook page before getting rid of the football.
Brady also has so many dangerous weapons this season that it’s actually making fans ponder whether the Patriots would even need Vincent Jackson before the trade deadline. (They don’t, but really, what’s the harm in acquiring him anyway?)
The Patriots suddenly look in good shape as they enter the most difficult six-week stretch of the season, playing the Broncos, resting on their bye week and coming back to face the Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers and San Diego Chargers.
Now 6-2, the Patriots are improving and starting to get on a roll despite their injuries. Brady’s offense is clicking thanks to Gronk and receiver Brandon LaFell, the defense received a spark in Akeem Ayers, and the biggest challenge of the 16-game season awaits Sunday.
Photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
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