Before you call me crazy, just hear me out.
In the early years of the Patriots dynasty, they won Super Bowls with a power run game and a dominant defense. Quarterback play was important, but the offense was predicated on the run game and play action. Was Tom Brady terrible? Of course not. But he looked much more like a game manager than he did Greatest of All Time.
This was the Patriots formula from 2001-2005. From 2006-2017, Brady was the star of the show, and the entire game plan became predicated on his right arm. Three Super Bowls later, and the formula for winning stayed the same. Until 2018.
In 2018, something changed. Brady started to look his age, Gronkowski was a shell of himself, and Edelman was doubled on every play. The short-to-intermediate passing game that had created so much success for Brady and Belichick in the past had dried up. The Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon experiments had failed miserably. Without the threat of Gronkowski down the seam, defenses could crowd the box and shut down the Patriots offense. After a brutal loss to Pittsburgh to bring them their 5th loss, the Patriots were at a crossroads.
So what did Belichick do? He went back to his roots. They started running the ball early and often and ran the ball to set up the passing game. A complete shift from what had brought them within a stop of the Super Bowl a year prior.
What happened next was history. The Patriots caught lightning in a bottle and rode Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead to a 13-3 win over the Rams in Super Bowl.
So why was this a bad thing? It gave Belichick the confidence to build his team as he used to in the early 2000s. Who needs field-stretching receivers or NFL-caliber tight ends when you have good pulling guards and run-stuffing linebackers?
Had Belichick and the Patriots flamed out early in the 2018 playoffs, maybe they make the offensive upgrades they still desperately need. Perhaps instead of giving Joe Thuney $16M, Belichick would have brought in Stephon Diggs. Or instead of overpaying for Jason McCourty, they signed Eric Ebron. Maybe Brady is still here.
The problem is that the NFL has evolved, and Belichick seemingly hasn’t. He has frankly ignored the tight end position for the past two years and made horrendous decisions at wide receiver. The skill positions for the 2020-2021 Patriots are an abject disaster, and they won’t sniff the playoffs if they don’t make a significant upgrade. When Damiere Byrd and Ryan Izzo are leading your skill positions in snaps, you know something has gone horribly wrong.
The 2018 Patriots were an anomaly. Not a trend. You can’t beat the Chiefs with a ball-control offense. You need to score and throw the ball downfield to keep up with them. This Patriots team is so flawed in their skill positions that they need all the little things to go right in order to move the ball.
Something has to change, or we’re going to continue to see more of what we saw vs. Denver on Sunday. That last drive full of trick plays and scrambles was honestly depressing. I have never seen a Patriots offense look so hopeless and inept.
Here’s to hoping for an active trade deadline.