Fan reaction to the New England Patriots’ heartbreaking, last-second loss to the Miami Dolphins last weekend was predictable and largely understandable.
Many diehards remain in a catatonic state after Patriots players waited around for one another to make a tackle on a 69-yard touchdown by Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake in what’s been dubbed the “Miami Miracle.” The loss was especially disappointing after the Kansas City Chiefs lost to the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday night. The Patriots, Chiefs and Chargers all would have three losses heading into Sunday’s slate of games had New England won in Week 14. Instead, the Patriots are 9-4 and must win out and hope for more losses by KC and LA for any shot of finishing with the AFC’s No. 1 seed in the postseason.
But all hope for another Lombardi Trophy is not lost, even after New England’s continued road struggles in Week 14. There are no flawless AFC teams, and the Patriots have shown, at the very least, glimmers in all facets this season.
This piece might read like vintage Peter Gammons Pollyanaish thinking, but if the Patriots’ passing attack can perform as well as it did in Week 14, when Josh Gordon, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman were all clicking, and if the ground game can regain its dominance from Week 12 when the Patriots had 215 yards rushing, and if the pass defense can play as well as it did in Week 13 against the Minnesota Vikings when it shut down Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, and if the run defense can dominate as it did in Week 8, when New England allowed just 54 yards on the ground, then this team would steamroll teams in the postseason.
That’s a lot of ifs, but all the pieces are still in place from those showings. The Patriots currently are fully healthy, which no other NFL team can boast. The last player New England placed on injured reserve was backup interior offensive lineman Brian Schwenke, back on Nov. 6. Before Schwenke, it was cornerback Eric Rowe hitting injured reserve on Halloween. They’ve lost just one Week 1 starter — rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley — all season.
The Patriots have been extremely fortunate as it pertains to season-ending injuries this season. They’ve shown the potential, in spurts, to be a complete team. Their biggest issue remains inconsistency.
Week 14 was a great example. The Patriots’ passing attack was flying in the first half but tailed off in the third and fourth quarters. The Patriots’ pass defense started slow but picked it up in the second half after some mid-game adjustments.
The Patriots couldn’t do anything offensively or defensively on the ground against the Dolphins. New England’s offense strung together two dominant games on the ground against the Jets and Vikings, however. And reinserting defensive tackle Danny Shelton into the front seven could cure some of the Patriots’ run defense woes by giving starters Lawrence Guy and Malcom Brown a blow.
The 2018 Patriots are a tough team to get a read on. They haven’t played as well as they should all season, and they don’t have one signature dominant win despite a 9-4 record. Perhaps that will come Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Perhaps they’re lying dormant for the postseason, when everything will click. Or maybe it will never come. Maybe some of the more pessimistic Patriots fans are right, and this team will go the way of the 2009 squad with a wild-card loss in the playoffs.
But you can’t deny the potential that still exists within this Patriots team.
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Thumbnail photo via Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Images
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