In a season that has seen quarterback Mac Jones regress since last year, partly thanks to the questionable offensive coaching hires of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge; and even with all of their other offensive shortcomings, the Patriots will make the playoffs if they claim an improbable win in Buffalo on Sunday. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.
Why? You ask.
At 70 years old, Bill Belichick is done coaching the way everyone wants him to. His coaching staff is filled with his friends, his kids, friends of kids, kids of friends, the whole nine. As a 70 year-old with eight Super Bowl rings now looking to surpass the all-time coaching wins record, Belichick isn’t exactly trying to work alongside adversaries. He wants to be around people he likes. Hence his current coaching staff.
Part of me doesn’t blame him. He’s at the end of his career and widely regarded as the greatest coach of all time. He deserves some leeway. But what does that mean for you, the Patriots fan?
That staff of Belichick’s has been lackluster this year to say the least. Cam Achord’s special teams unit has simply been a disaster. The offense has sputtered constantly under Patricia and Judge and the consensus word used by fans and analysts to describe them is boring. I mean, how many different versions of the same screen pass to Rhamondre Stevenson can you run?
The defense has undoubtedly been the brightest spot, but against who? The Lions? The Steelers? The Jets? The Browns? That’s great and all, until you look at how they fared against top-tier teams. Keep in mind that the Patriots reached this point in the season with a slew of very good luck.
You beat the Steelers by a mere field goal while the dreadful Mitch Trubisky was still starting for them. Who knows what happens if Kenny Pickett starts that game? Both games against the New York Jets were before they benched childish Zach Wilson for a competent quarterback in Mike White. You also got lucky enough for the completely inept Jets to punt directly to Marcus Jones at the end of their second matchup (the best return man in college football a year ago) when anyone with half a brain knows that ball should’ve been punted out of bounds. Credit to Jones for the awesome punt return TD, but the Jets being the stupid Jets that they are won you that game. You beat the Colts…when they had Sam Ellinger (who?) under center. You played against all-pro quarterback Kyler Murray–oh wait, he tore his ACL on the third play of the game giving way to Colt McCoy, who fully displayed why he’s a career backup. You played the Browns before Deshaun Watson came back (though, to be fair, Watson has been relatively sub par since his return). And Tua Tagovailoa – who’s had New England’s number since entering the league – was out this past Sunday with a concussion (more on him in a minute). Then on top of that, Tua’s backup Teddy Bridgewater left Sunday’s game with a finger injury. Which relegated the Dolphins to throwing their third string, seventh round draft pick Skylar Thompson into the fire. Needless to say, Belichick and the Patriots defense had a field day against Thompson like they always do against young, inexperienced quarterbacks.
Of course, none of this is to say those games would’ve otherwise been losses had these teams been at full strength. It isn’t fair to play the what-if game in the NFL where injuries are plentiful and it’s so hard to win consistently. But it still leaves us to wonder what may have happened if those teams had played (or been able to play) their better quarterbacks. Coupled with what the Pats have done against better teams and quarterbacks such as the Ravens, Bills, Vikings, Bengals and even the lowly Chicago Bears who still have a rising star in Justin Fields at quarterback, the playoffs don’t feel like a place where this Patriots team belongs.
But what if they do end up there? Will that make everyone forget about their offense feeling like nails on a chalkboard for most of this season? Will it make everyone forget about how they beat up on middling and bad teams but lost to good ones? As a Patriots fan, you should want the team to make the postseason. But at the same time, you should be frustrated with their offensive performance this year. The post-Brady era should be making you realize that the Patriots are falling out of the NFL supremacy they held for two decades. Now, the question is if the team – and it’s owner – will be morivated to make changes to the offense this offseason if they make the playoffs. Or if a playoff appearance will make them justify keeping things the same.
If they get in, great! But if that will look anything like what we saw in Buffalo on wildcard weekend last year, I’d much rather they just save all of us the pain and disappointment.
Tua Tagovailoa deserves major compensation for how his concussions have been handled.
For those of us who love football, whether watching, playing or both, we’ve learned by now that the game has a tendency to wreak havoc on the lives of those who play it professionally.
Concussions and other serious head and neck injuries, though they’ve been reduced over the years, continue to plague the sport at all levels.
Which is why I can’t help but wonder how not a single person has been held publicly accountable for letting Tua Tagovailoa return to multiple games when something was clearly wrong.
When his head aggressively hit that ground in a September 25th matchup with the Bills, Tagovailoa got up and stumbled around for a few seconds while trying to return to the huddle. Initially, there was widespread concern. But after convincing team doctors that the stumble was due to a neck and back injury, he was allowed to return to the game. However, no team physician checked his neck or back before his return, citing previous medical reports on those injuries.
Given the attrition that most football players are known for carrying themselves with, there’s no telling how truthful he was being to the Dolphins medical staff at the time. He took a hit the following week against Buffalo and appeared to show concussion symptoms, but was later allowed to return.
Then there was September 29th in Cincinnati, where Tua put his hands in the air and curled his fingers after being thrown to the ground by a Bengals defender. He was subsequently carted off the field and returned on October 23rd against the Steelers.
Finally, there was last week against the Packers when his head hit the ground in a similar way, again prompting the concussion protocol, and again resulting in his eventual return to the game.
The next day, however, the Dolphins reported that Tagovailoa was in concussion protocol. Leaving many to believe that he was allowed to return while concussed. A report released this week by the NFL revealed that he displayed no concussion symptoms.
I’m skeptical of that report for obvious reasons. One being that he was deemed concussed the very next day. The coincidence is uncanny, especially since a similar statement was made by the league regarding the “neck and back injury” sustained against the Bills. Another reason being that the NFL has a reputation to protect, so why would they admit to error and bring a PR disaster on themselves?
Call it speculation, but I’m increasingly feeling that one, Tua should seriously consider retirement. And two, if he does have to retire, that the Dolphins should be responsible for compensating him for mishandling his injuries.
I have a strong inclination that the NFL and the Dolphins are not being totally honest.