It doesn’t feel like the Patriots are going to make a deep playoff run this year

Published: 1/21/2018 10:01:40 PM

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — As a completely objective observer of the New England Patriots, it was impossible not to look at their miracle comeback in Sunday’s AFC Championship game and wonder: Does this feel like a team that could make a deep playoff run this year?
Yes, the Patriots rallied from a 14-3 deficit in the first half and to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 24-20 and advance to Super Bowl LII. And still, we are right to ask, or actually to conclude: Of all the great teams that have come through Foxborough in the last 18 years, this just doesn’t feel like a team of that caliber. Nope. It just doesn’t. Not to anyone who feels football teams for a living. Sorry, this one still feels like a bit of a dud.
Not even when Danny Amendola made three miracle catches in the fourth quarter, had his best punt return of the season and completed a 20-yard pass did it feel like the Patriots were capable of playing into February. Not even when Former Total Bust Stephon Gilmore swatted away a would-be completion to Dede Westbrook on Jacksonville’s final offensive play. Or when Dion Lewis ran for 18 yards on third and 9 to seal the game. Nope. It still felt like Patriots Boogie Man Tom Coughlin was about to fly around the Earth really fast, reverse its rotation and turn back time to make a winner out of his Jaguars, which he is totally 100 percent in charge of.
From the 2-2 start to the 11-1 finish, we have asked constantly over and over and again because we just can’t get any other conclusion through our heads: Is this team any good? Like for real? Because after reading our own stories, it certainly never seemed like this was a football team capable of making a team deep playoff run. And our stories are pretty much always on point. Especially the ones where we explain that carrying two quarterbacks at a cost of $45 million is a wonderful idea in a league with a hard cap.
Naturally, the Patriots Media Cartel has projected a different image of this team throughout the season. The Cartel has suggested that the gruesome infighting in the organization over a pliability expert and a quarterback they really couldn’t keep anyway was a bit exaggerated. They also just ignore how this defense is routinely gashed by opposing offenses for many yards on the basis that it doesn’t give up many points. Don’t even try to say “tomato cans” in front of the Patriots Media Cartel. What is the Patriots Media Cartel, you ask? It is a very real thing first exposed by walking confirmation bias Greg A. Bedard, an actual reporter who, I assure you, is a credentialed member of the media.
Consider the following: The Patriots lost two of their first four games. Two! They even lost one of their 11 next games. Ponder that for one hot minute. Consider that their two biggest victories of the season — Pittsburgh in Week 15 and Jacksonville on Sunday — both required exciting, miracle finishes that produced great television. The outcome of both games was in doubt right up until the very last few plays. Why did New England thrill us with those amazing victories? To hear safety Devin McCourty tell it, it’s their own fault.
“It starts off with not playing the way we want to play early and getting down,” McCourty said. Indeed, there have been times this season when the Patriots only played well because they didn’t play well before they played well.
They also lost receiver Julian Edelman, long believed to be the only slot receiver capable of launching the Patriots to a comeback. Sure, they had Rob Gronkowski back this year to make up for the loss of Edelman, but what in the world would they do if Gronkowski were to go down for half of a big game? That question will never be answered. Midway through the year, they lost linebacker Dont’a Hightower, making it completely impossible for this team to reach the Super Bowl. Indeed, the Pats have lost one of their last 15 games without Hightower, proving it is totally possible to a lose a game when they do not have him.
Maybe it’s unfair to ask (and answer) this question after watching the Patriots win an AFC Championship, but: Does this feel like a team capable of making a big playoff run?  Was this AFC Champion a house of cards? Did they really just rally from a 14-3 deficit to reach the Super Bowl? It sure didn’t feel like it as Bob Kraft exited Gillette Stadium through a sea of confetti after Jim Nantz gave him a sterling silver Tiffany trophy. The huge smile on his face did not feel like the smile of a man who owns a team capable of making a long run through the NFL playoffs this year.
It just doesn’t feel that way at all.
Dave Brown is a freelance correspondent who covers the Patriots for the Monitor. You can follow him on Twitter @ThatDaveBrown.

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