Time to appreciate a rare glimpse of the Patriots' humanity

Published: 10/5/2017 1:53:08 PM
Modified: 11/12/2008 3:10:12 PM

FOXBOROUGH — Bill Belichick warns you all the time: Everything you’ve seen in the past is meaningless.
It does not matter that the Patriots’ secondary has three Pro Bowlers. It does not matter that Stephon Gilmore played like a $65 million man for the Bills. Nor does it matter that the Pats and their genius coaches have so frequently outwitted whatever circumstances stand between them and success.
What matters is what happens on game day, and for the Patriots’ defense, that has been a dysfunctional mess of unprecedented proportion. The Pats visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tonight with a league-worst defense in the midst of a unique period of extreme fallibility. Is it time to worry? No, it’s time to take a second and appreciate a glimpse of New England’s humanity. We don’t see it much.
In fact, we have not since Week 4 of the 2014 season, and it’s the only thing reminding us how impressive this franchise has been. Managing a football operation is juggling machetes on a high-wire — many things have to go right, and small failures can expose you to catastrophic results. Belichick has kept those blades in the air for nearly two decades with only a handful of scars to show for it.
But, yes, the Patriots are bleeding right now, and it’s a deep cut. On Tuesday, Devin McCourty, the eighth-year veteran safety, acknowledged that he’s never seen anything like the Patriots’ prolonged inability to cover receivers.
“I wouldn’t say that I can remember where we’ve had this many guys just wide open or something,” McCourty said. “I haven’t seen it.”
It’s forgivable, McCourty said, when a team beats the defense with a great play call. “It’s like, ‘Dang, they got us right there.” Mistakes also happen. McCourty said it’s not unusual to look at film and see a few episodes of blown coverage: “(Normally) we look at a game, and it’s like all right, we’ve got three really bad plays.”
But this is an epidemic run of really bad plays, and the solution has proven elusive for the coaches and the players.
“This is just four games straight,” McCourty said. “We’ve been consistently bad and just making it easy for offenses.  We play enough really talented players in this league that when you’re in perfect coverage they’re gonna make plays. We can’t make it easy by just cutting guys loose.”
It’s going to take time and work to sort through the communication issues, McCourty said, but time is not a luxury the Patriots had this week. The team has been limited to walkthroughs and film study and hasn’t been able to work through its problems in a traditional practice.
Safety Duron Harmon said that the walkthroughs and film study may be useful, because they force players to approach things in a different way.
“All we can do right there is communicate,” Harmon said. “Walk through, see different things, kind of slow everything down, make sure everybody is on the same page and I think it’s been beneficial.”
Given that the offense has scored a league-high 129 points (and itself has room for improvement), McCourty is aware that New England’s long-term prospects are dependent on the defense straightening itself out.
“The success of the team has kind of fallen on us playing well,” McCourty said.
One benefit of the short week, McCourty said, is that the players are aching to redeem themselves, and they won’t to have to wait until Sunday to get a chance.
“When you play that bad you don’t want to sit around,” McCourty said. “To me it’s about going out there in the game, getting it done. What better way than a short week to go out there and get it done and prove as a professional I take my job seriously and I’m going to get this right.”
Dave Brown is a freelance correspondent who covers the Patriots for the Monitor. You can follow him on Twitter @ThatDaveBrown.

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