The New England Patriots season thus far can be tag-lined like an old episode of Survivor or Lost. Who will be the next to go? Each week the Patriots lose another key member of their unit. And each week Belichick and Brady are forced to resort to plain old gum and gumption, in order to fill in the holes left by yet another departed compatriot. The act of going 5-1 thus far is a testament to the brilliance and leadership capabilities of both Belichick and his first in command Tom Brady. For over a decade now, heading into every season, the rest of the NFL and it’s fans of the non-Patriot contingent participates in wishful thinking, hoping that perhaps this will be the year when Brady and Belichick finally fall. This will be the year that the Patriots Empire doesn’t win their division and make another deep title run, at the dismay of other franchises and their tortured fans that never even make it past the regular season or perhaps a measly divisional playoff game. Yet each and every year these envious ones are left to envy further as Brady leads his Patriots to victories aplenty and another close shot at the title. Those that pray on the downfall of Brady and Belichick were perhaps more than just hopeful or wishful in their thinking that this year would finally be the decline of their dominance. This was the year all signs pointed to the Patriots self destruction. Starting with the ill omen known as Aaron Hernandez, a fiasco which was handled systematically and delicately, with the class, fortitude, and intelligence that is the Patriots way in all matters. The unexpected loss of Hernandez, one of the more gifted NFL talents only compounded the pain of losing Wes Welker to rival Peyton Manning. Along with allowing an aging and overpriced Brandon Lloyd to become a free agent. Not to mention, expecting All-Pro record setting Tight End Rob Gronkowski to miss almost the first half of the season due to off-season back and arm surgery. To make up for these losses the Patriots brought in a Welker-like player in Wide Receiver Danny Amendola. Safe to say, heading into this season, there was even doubt in Boston.
So the season began, and week by week the Patriots have survived and won close contests, but each week they have sustained successive major hits to their team. It started with losing their most gifted and versatile running back, Shane Vereen, who was one of only three players to rush for over 100 yards in week 1 of the season, the other two being Terrell Pryor and Lesean McCoy. Unfortunately for Vereen, he broke his wrist while showing the Patriots he was ready to have a break out year. A substantial loss considering he was also an amazing receiving threat. That same week 1 game, Brady loses his only viable target in Danny Amendola to a groin injury, the two had seemingly obvious chemistry with Amendola accumulating 10 catches for 104 yds, including the diving first down reception on 3rd and long that set up the subsequent game-winning field goal. So now Brady is forced to mold rookie 2nd round pick Aaron Dobson, rookie undrafted free agent Kenbrell Thompkins, and former 7th round pick Julian Edleman into the new Deion Branch, Troy Brown, and David Givens. Three guys that Brady trusted and relied on heavily during his title runs. But early on, establishing a rapport with these three has been dreadfully difficult for the 2-Time MVP. Currently Dobson and Thompkins are tied for second in the NFL in dropped passes with 6 apiece and Edelman is tied for third with 5 dropped passes this year. Their timing has been off and sometimes they run the wrong routes when reads are misread. But with great alacrity at practice and during games, they listen to the wisdom of Brady and Belicheck, and each week they are progressing into better players because of it. Brady has been able to make due with these limited three and nothing more at his disposal but a great defense. Now even that may be in jeopardy.
After losing the heart and soul of the team in week 4’s victory at Atlanta, Vince Wilfork, their All-Pro defensive tackle tore his knee, they also lost his counterpart Tommy Kelly for a short time. Everything came to a head this past Sunday against what many considered to be the best current all-around team in the NFL, Sean Payton and Drew Brees led their undefeated Saints into New England hungry for a major road win. While Patriot faithful hoped Rob Gronkowski would make his debut, they were disappointed yet again, but pleased to see Danny Amendola was healthy again. This game followed the blueprint of the Patriots season up to this point, lose a bunch of stars, put Brady’s back against the wall and watch him fight off his most hated enemy, the foe he has the most disdain for, his arch-nemesis who he looks to avoid at all costs, his most hated rival which goes by the stinging name of defeat. Like any truly great competitor, Tom hates losing more than he loves winning. Anything and everything must always be done to avoid the abysmal feeling of a loss. It’s more of a survival instinct of preservation, than a quest for glory. “You never get over losses. I’ve never gotten over one loss I’ve had in my career. They always stick with me. Some teams play and they only make the playoffs and that’s a hell of a year. That’s not what the Patriots are all about.” A past quote to explain perfectly Tom’s stance on losing.
This game was worthy proof of Tom’s determination to battle that rare but bitter foe. First, Amendola was lost to a concussion, next to go was starting guard Dan Connolly, then Pro-Bowl linebacker and newly promoted defensive captain Jerod Mayo tears his pectoral muscle, and finally what many considered to be the best cornerback in football through 6 weeks this year, Aqib Talib leaves in pain after blanketing Jimmy Graham all day. Like dominoes, key players were tumbling over each other, and Drew Brees took full advantage, trailing 23-17 on an impossible 3rd and 20 from the Patriots 35 yard line, Brees fires a beauty that sails perfectly above a leaping defenders fingertips and safely into Kenny Stills hands. Giving the Saints a one point advantage with 3:30 left to play. This is when Brady takes the field to lead his beleaguered and wounded bunch to victory. But instead Brady lets his throw float too deep for Edleman and is uncharacteristically intercepted late to potentially end the game. But this was not to be, because Belicheck’s defense bailed him out and held Brees to a field goal, making it a 27-23 Saints lead with 1:12 left in the game, Brady would get his chance at immediate redemption. No timeouts left, 70 yards to go and the newly acquired Austin Collie replacing Amendola, Brady would proceed to lead his team on one of the more miraculous comeback drives ever performed. Surgically done and with Joe Montana like confidence and urgency, Brady decimated the helpless Saints defense ending the drive by sailing a picture perfect throw over the heads of Saints defenders, the answer to the same throw Brees had made moments earlier. Kenbrell Thompkins had the honor of winning the game with 5 seconds left on the clock, reaffirming the faith that Brady has in his young guys, “Well, I have confidence in those guys. You know we’re just working hard everyday to try to get better. Certainly not perfect out there, but we’re definitely, you know just, I would say grinding. We’re just trying to get better everyday in practice and every game. And there is these situations that are coming up, and their learning from them.” Brady stated in his post game press conference. The quarterback’s strategy is simple, keep force feeding these guys until they grow up. Eventually Brady’s clutch factor will permeate through. The permeation process has officially begun with this big win and drive. Newly acquired Austin Collie who was the next man up when Amendola was knocked out, and who made two key receptions on the game winning drive, had this to say about his field general’s calm on that now legendary drive, “I think we all look to number 12 (Brady) in certain situations like that. We look to Tom and he’s not shaken, and so that kind of, I think, goes down the chain to all of us. It kind of rubs off on us, and I don’t think any of us panicked. I think we always knew that we were in it and that we could come back.”
The moment that game ends, it hits all Patriots fans and football fans across the nation. No, not that Tom Brady had just led another game winning drive, his 39th of his career. It’s not that yet another vital Patriots organ has been slashed out as Jerod Mayo will miss the remainder of the season. It is not even that Tom Brady’s numbers are the lowest they have been in years. The epiphany that many were forced to accept this past Sunday is that nothing will hinder or cease the voracious drive and capacity for winning that both Tom Brady and his coach Bill Belichick possess. They will not be denied and their stubbornness to stay on top of their profession is duplicated by none. All hands on deck, the next guy up must step up was the Patriots way since the inception of the Belichick regime. This is nothing new to them, Brady will mentor these young receivers and eventually mold them into what he needs them to be, and Belicheck will steady the defense by plugging in the next man up. These two don’t care about stats, accolades, or awards. They only have one goal every year, that goal is to get their 4th Lombardi Trophy, anything short is a major disappointment. This season, the greatness of the Patriots unflappable duo is on full display for the league to see.