Happy New Year.
Yuck. The Patriots are out of the playoffs. Tom Brady may have played his last game. 2020 sucks.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit overwrought. There are far worse things happening in the real world – looking at you, incompetent liar Donald Trump.
But for the moment, it’s the Patriots front and center. They played poorly for the most part against the Tennessee Titans and deserved to lose their first wild card game in nearly a decade. Congratulations Titans.
As for the anti-Titans, there were a lot of reasons for their defeat. One, they aren’t especially good, particularly when compared to New England teams of the last decade. And Brady had a poor game, missing some throws he should have made and used to make. There was poor coaching; Bill Belichik made at least a couple of decisions that didn’t help his team.
So how did this happen. You can go back to the start of the season and injuries to several key players (center David Andrews, fullback James Develin and receiver K’Neal Hary). Of course, injuries happen to all teams, so that can’t be too much of an excuse. Gronk retired and that really hurt, but the plans to replace him were minimal. And Brady turned 42; that’s old in the NFL, and things do happen as you get older.
But the biggest excuse, in my mind, is personal decisions that reflect poorly on the coaching staff and team officials. Their drafts have generally been unproductive (even with the exceptions), even while acknowledging that because they’ve won so many Super Bowls they get the last draft picks.
Worse have been the decisions about trading players they shouldn’t have traded. That’s why there have been so many holes unfilled properly. The offensive line has been a mess this year not just because of injuries but because the team traded or released players who were needed and who helped other teams. This has been a consistent pattern in recent years; this year it truly caught up with the Patriots.
In other words, team management made decisions that led directly to this year’s shortcomings. And they, not Tom Brady, bear the bulk of blame. And Coach Belichik, for all his successes, is the front man for this mis-management. Everyone makes mistakes, but let’s but the blame where it should go in this instance.
The people who run the Patriots didn’t put the players in situations in which they could prosper. Remarkably, in spite of that, the team won 12 games and the AFC East title – again. That’s all to the credit of Brady and his teammates (and maybe a soft season-opening schedule). But unless there’s an overhaul in thinking and acting, this disappointment may be repeated. With or without Tom Brady.