Let me preface this by saying that I am a huge New England Patriot and Tom Brady fan. Not a homer. Just a fan. I’ve followed the Patriots closely for over two decades now and I feel like I know the organization, the coach and the players as well as any other fan there is.
Now then, as a football fan and only a football fan, I do believe that many people, including some Patriot fans, are selling Tom Brady and this 2013 Patriot team short.
At first I thought it was just my general sensitivity or the ringing in my ears whenever someone says anything about the Patriots. I thought maybe it was my typical Patriot fan “chip on the shoulder” that so many of us carry, looking for reason to make the upcoming season “us against the world.” I kept thinking I was seeing headlines and hearing talk radio say things like “The Patriots are in trouble” or “The Patriots have lost their way.” Surely it was all in my head.
I was wrong.
I decided to do a quick Google search for the term “patriots in trouble.” There it was. An endless flood of articles starting with the departure of Wes Welker, continuing on to the Gronkowski surgeries and culminating in the saga of Aaron Hernandez — all of them with one common theme: Tom Brady and the Patriots are in trouble.
It wasn’t just fans on a message boards or fan sites of legit divisional contenders. These articles came from nationally read news outlets and blogs. Back in March, Bleacher Report’s Zach Cruse wrote a piece called Are the New England Patriots in Serious Trouble for 2013? . NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling asked if the Patriots were in trouble without Gronkowski. Paul Doyle of the Hartford Courant just flat out said the Patriots are in trouble without Hernandez.
Perhaps most notable and shocking to me was Dan Shaughnessy’s June 21st article titled Patriots Have Lost Their Way. This shocked me because Dan is a guy who gets paid to cover Boston sports for the Boston Globe. Lost their way? Please. The “way” he speaks of has to do with getting talented players at bargain prices after others have passed them over. Basically, they play the NFL’s version of Moneyball better than anyone else.
The “way” also involves keeping any and all dirt inside the locker room and maintaining a clean team image despite the individual attitudes and past off-field antics of some of the players. Shaughnessy goes on to call out the Patriots for taking chances on players like Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, Alfonzo Dennard and Aaron Hernandez while kicking a guy like Wes Welker to the curb.
Apparently Shaughnessy, again — a guy who gets paid to cover Boston sports, has not followed New England very closely over the past decade, nor has he seen or read Moneyball. Dillon and Moss were at the end of their careers, past their prime and available at bargain prices. The Pats took them in and went to two Super Bowls (winning one) largely as a result. Dennard had been projected as a potential first-round pick before punching a cop the week of the draft. New England took him in the seventh and he turned out to be a starter. Talib is in his prime but past behavior caused the Bucs to decide he was expendable and not worth the trouble. New England swooped in, got him at a bargain price and reaped the benefits of having a legit shutdown corner in their secondary.
Like Dennard, Hernandez was projected by some as a first rounder talentwise. He dropped to the 4th. New England grabbed him. Hernandez helped the Patriots get to another Super Bowl and was a large part of transforming the New England offense into one of the most dynamic in the league.
To sit back and cast judgement on an entire franchise’s decision making process because one guy might have committed murder is pretty silly. Does Shaughnessy think that the interview process at the combine involves the question “Do ya think you’ll ever kill a guy and dump his body in a construction site, son?” Gimme a break. The Hernandez case is about Aaron Hernandez, not the Patriots. What if the Packers had taken him two-rounds later and he turned out to have the same type of career? Would Hernandez’s murder charges be a reflection of Green Bay’s scouting process?
And now, over 700 words into my rant, we get to Tom Brady. I don’t care what he says, he watches the news. He reads everything on the internet. He listens to talk radio. He’s taking mental notes, just as he’s done from the day he’s stepped into this league. He’s compiling — actually more likely adding to — an extensive mental database of all of the doubters and statements they’ve made over his career. This new set of headlines is filed in his brain right next to the batch of crap that started getting published a couple of years ago. You know what I’m talking about — the articles asking whether or not the Patriot dynasty is over and whether they’ll ever win the big one again.
What so many fail to understand is that there is no Patriot dynasty. There never has been. There is only the framework for a high performance machine, built by Bill Belichick, funded by Robert Kraft, driven by Tom Brady. The parts are always being swapped in and out. Some of the parts lasted longer than others (Welker). Some did not turn out to be dependable and were cast aside immediately (Chad Johnson). But at the end of the day, Kraft, Brady and Belichick — the only three men left off that first Super Bowl winning Patriot team, continue to drive that high performance machine around the NFL track, replacing flats and refueling every so often while continuously finishing near the head of the pack.
As I said before, I consider myself a fan, not a homer. That said, I’m going to sound an awful lot like a homer right now. If you think for one minute that Tom Brady and the New England Patriots aren’t going to find a way to get past the loss of Welker, Rob Gronkowski’s health issues and the departure of Aaron Hernandez and win at least 11 games in 2013 — along with continuing to be a serious contender in January — I’m not sure what planet you live on. If you don’t think Tom Brady isn’t filing away all of the negativity of this offseason to use it as future fuel to lay waste to any opponent who flinches in 2013, you haven’t been paying attention. Tom Brady doesn’t throw to certain players. He throws to open targets.
He won’t have Welker or Hernandez. He won’t even have Danny Woodhead. He may not have Gronkowski. He will, however, have open targets. He’ll hit them. They’ll win games. The doubters will get quiet again, perhaps finally understanding that their doubt is actually what fuels Tom Brady and keeps him going.
Tom Brady’s greatness and New England’s success will end on their terms. Not on Aaron Hernandez’s. Not on Dan Shaughnessy’s. Not on mine. And definitely not on yours. You might as well stop trying to predict it.
BY J.P. SCOTT ON JULY 10, 2013