New England Patriots Are Superbowl 49 Champs

Bill Belichick is a genius
Smug Bill earned the right to be smug by winning Superbowl 49

Below are my thoughts on the 2014 New England Patriots and more specifically, Bill Belichick. But first…

Post-Superbowl Handouts

To Robert Kraft I give you props for creating the best run organization in pro sports. Bill Belichick – I finally recognize and applaud your genius, but you’re probably already on to next season. There is a new GOAT (Greatest of All Time) and his name is Tom Brady. You don’t need a 12th man when your man is #12. To Kyle Arrington I give you a bus ticket out of town and Malcolm Butler, welcome to infamy. To Julian Edelman I give you a new webcast, “Lombardi Tyme” – make it good.

To Pete Carroll I give you a crate of chewing gum to relieve heart burn and bad decisions, er, indigestion. To Russell Wilson I present a regression toward the mean. Your luck could only get stretched so far. To Richard Sherman: a muzzle. To Marshawn Lynch I shake my head in disbelief with you. Finally, I gift a bullhorn to the 12th man. Evidently they couldn’t hear you in Glendale.

To the media I take away my respect. I am disappointed at your pathetic attempt to drudge up controversy as you continue to make claims and pass judgment without proof. Cris Collinsworth, I’m sorry you picked the wrong team, but you don’t have to call the game dripping with bias from your sour grapes. To all the haters I give you Taylor Swift. Enjoy, suckas.

Bill Belichick and the 2014 New England Patriots

For those of you who read this blog (and I know you’re few, but I appreciate you), you have come to realize I am an overly pessimistic sort. My “football friends” have to put up with it w-a-a-a-y too much and, to be honest, I’m surprised they still watch football with me. However, what really makes it hard for me is that my brain is pessimistic but my heart still holds onto so much hope. So it’s still crushing when my pessimistic predictions come to fruition.

But this year, I suspended my negativity in September and predicted that New England would win the Superbowl. Not because I’m a homer, but because I truly felt they had the personnel this year to get the job done. I’ve always been leery of Belichick’s “genius” and ability to recognize talent, and I’ve been particularly hard on him over the past 15 years (see the many Smug Bill memes accompanying these posts). He had two of the best offenses of all time and couldn’t win a Superbowl with either one. After the stalwart pieces of his early-2000s defense began falling away, the Patriots went into a 10-year rebuilding plan on that side of the ball. Cornerback after cornerback was drafted and none panned out. The bend-but-don’t-break schematics started breaking all the time.

But not this year.

Belichick’s genius was revealed in all its glory over the course of this season, and I’ll tell you why he’s won me over as the greatest coach of all time in the NFL. (Forget recapping the game. You can find that stuff anywhere.) Here’s what makes Belichick so good.

Everyone agrees that “the Patriots are game-specific planners.” This is true. They develop a game plan specifically for each game – sometimes two. But it’s not just a week-by-week, game-by-game scheme. I think Belichick has much more in mind, even as he develops the weekly plan.

I believe that Belichick thinks about the effect individual game plans can have on future games, specifically the playoffs and then the Superbowl, right from the start. His concern isn’t necessarily winning every game, but winning enough games to make the playoffs and then the division and then possibly even games determining seeding slots.

This year, the first four games of the season were essentially an extension of the pre-season. Belichick was still using these games to teach situational football and to experiment with personnel groupings. (Remember, Belichick has gone on record lamenting the loss of practices teams are allowed in the pre-season thanks to the latest collective bargaining agreement.) So there was a lot of ugly football that resulted in critics writing off the Patriots. They were the worst 2-2 team in NFL history. I may have even written that line right here after the Chiefs game.

But then Belichick found the right personnel groupings and began unveiling a multitude of game plans that were passing-specific, running-specific as well as mixed schemes. He believes in the power of versatility over the power of doing one specific thing at the highest level. Multidimensional beats one-dimensional every time in his mind. I think this lesson was reinforced with the Randy Moss era teams, when the Patriots were basically a one-dimensional offense. Pass, pass and pass some more. The result: no Superbowl wins.

Using the first quarter of the season to lay a foundation, each game plan throughout the rest of the season was implemented to continue helping the players play each type of scheme at a higher and higher level. The result of this method is a two-prong attack on opponents.

First, watching, dissecting and cataloging game tape becomes a huge chore for opposing players and coaches. The amount of formations, tempos, tendencies and play-calls one must be able to recall at any time becomes mind-breaking. This wouldn’t be the case if the Patriots merely executed each at a mediocre level. But because they can operate any scheme, any tempo and any play-call at an above average level, the opposition has to be ready for anything at any time.

Second, the Patriots can adjust in-game since they know they can always switch to a different scheme because they are well-practiced. If a team implements a plan to stop the pass, Belichick (and staff) can evaluate this at halftime and then come out in the second half with a new attack – one the opposition is most likely unable to handle because they aren’t as prepared for it.

Ultimately, this results in a tremendous amount of data opponents must digest, especially by the time the Superbowl arrives. Think about it. Sixteen games worth of tape with a potential of multiple schemes per game. That’s a lot of information to have to be able to pull out, in-game during live play, at the drop of a hat.

This is why the Patriots are the smartest team in football, and ultimately why they beat the Seahawks in the Superbowl. Seattle’s defense plays a singular style at the highest possible level. The Patriots used the initial game plan to feel out how the Seahawks would respond and then used halftime to roll out a different, in this case very patient, attack. Seattle just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) adjust.

New England won the last game of the year because their coach sees how each play affects each drive, and each drive affects each quarter, and each quarter affects each game, and each game affects the course of season, and he sees it all through the lens of how every detail will affect the playoffs and ultimately the Superbowl.

Other coaches may do this, but none does it at the level of Bill Belichick. You can hate him for it. You can hate him for dancing right up to the letter of the rule (and sometimes over), but at the end of the day you can only quote Wes Mantooth: From deep down in my stomach, with every inch of me, I pure, straight hate you. But —dammit, do I respect you!

I now certainly do.

Congratulations to the 2014 New England Patriots on winning Superbowl 49.

—Ryan Varney

Patriots Week 8 Recap

Patriots destroy Bears
One look sums up Belichick’s opinion of da Bears

Last week, the Patriots barely survived the New York Jets, blocking a potential game-winning field goal in the closing seconds to sneak away with a win. This is the same Jets team that was blown away by Buffalo 43 – 23 and saw Geno Smith throw three picks in eight minutes. Smith was benched and back-up vet Mike Vick promptly turned over the ball another three times. How many turnovers did the Jets commit the previous week against the Patriots? Zero.

I called the Pats win over the Jets last week Pyrrhic. Perhaps I was wrong.

This week, New England feasted on Bear, tenderizing the tasty meat to the tune of 51 points. Jay Cutlet, er, Cutler only produced in garbage time, round about the time Brandon Marshall found it acceptable to show up, too. Only Matt Forte looked like he belonged on the field.

Tom Brady was terrific with five TD passes and no picks, giving him 14 passing TDs and 0 picks since the KC debacle. He hooked up with TEs Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright for four scores and Brandon LaFell for another.

Speaking of Gronk, the big man had his best game in years. The Chicago D had to turn to an empty Gatorade bottle to stop him. Seriously. Gronk had to leave the game after suffering from dehydration.

And with all the fretting about Ridley going down, Jonas Gray filled in admirably, rushing for 86 yards on 17 carries. The NFL is littered with former Notre Dame backs these days and Gray may be the most surprising.

The New England D really stepped up its game, too. Despite losing Mayo and Chandler Jones, the rest of the guys pulled it together and played as a unit. Even newcomer Akeem Ayers registered a sack on his second snap. They’ll need a repeat performance next week as the Peyton Manning show comes to town.

It certainly was a great day for football in Foxborough, but the party’s over now. Denver is a real team, with a real quarterback and a stable of stable receivers. And the 2014 version of the Broncos can play some D, too.

For all the happiness and ensuing hype, Patriots fans should exhibit some very cautious optimism heading into week nine.

I know, I know. Peyton Manning is historically underwhelming at Gillette. But the old Manning is far better than the young Manning, and his Denver weapons are far superior to his Indy cache. Even if Browner and Revis shut down Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, what about Wes Welker? Can any of the Patriot linebackers cover Julius Thomas? Plus the Broncos running game actually improved when Montee Ball got hurt.

This could be Welker’s breakout game (like Sanders last week) and Ronnie Hillman could go for 120 and a TD.

The latest incarnation of the O line played amazing against the Bears, but can they hold up against DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller? I doubt Brady will be able to breeze through this game with the same efficiency as the past few weeks. Still, LaFell and Wright are improving by leaps and bounds each week and it’s really opening up the field for the receiving corps to finally get some separation and get open. The running game will have to play even better this week as time of possession is always a factor when playing against Manning. Look for Shane Vereen to be more involved in the screen game.

If the Patriots bring their A game, this could be an epic battle like so many Brady – Manning games of yesterday. But if they slip up at all, it could be curtains early.

With the Buffalo Bills nipping at their heels, the Patriots don’t have the luxury of writing this game off as a tough loss to a great team. They need the win, so let’s hope they play to the gravity of the situation.

On a side note, if anyone spots a mushroom cloud exploding just south of Cincinnati in the late afternoon this coming Sunday, it’s probably just this Pats fan going nuclear. Nothing to see here.

Carry on.

—Ryan Varney

Patriots Weeks Six & Seven Recap

Patriots get Pyrrhic victory over Jets
Smug Bill thinks a win is a win

Over the past two weeks, the Patriots have basted the Bills and shot down the Jets. Neither win was very convincing, though the Bills are a team on the rise. Add in season-ending injuries to Stevan Ridley and Jerod Mayo, and at least a month out for Chandler Jones, and the end of October and all of November just got a little bleaker.

What We Learned

The Patriots offense is improving and Tom Brady is playing back to normal. The loss of Ridley hurts, but the committee of Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and Jonas Gray should prove capable enough. Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell are still the main go-to receivers, but Danny Amendola finally got in on the action and his stock is rising. Gronk is still the featured tight end and he’s playing better every week, but Tim Wright needs to remain involved in the passing game if this offense wants to stay clicking. The offensive line is also finding some stability, giving Brady enough time to go through all his reads while also creating room for him to either step up or roll right – something he didn’t do in September very well.

The Pats D is in some serious trouble, though. Revis Island has been solid, but not shutdown. The rest of the secondary continues to get burned by marginal receiving talent. The linebackers can’t cover a tight end and the D-line can barely stop the run. With the loss of Mayo and Chandler, the Patriots have brought in Akeem Ayers and Alan Branch. These additions should help, but will they have prep time to actually contribute?

Unless opponents are one-dimensional on offense, or refuse to adjust to what the Patriots are trying to stop, New England could end up having to put up no less than 30 points per game over the next several weeks.

What’s Ahead

Lions and horses and bears, oh my.

The Bears come to Foxborough this week and no one is quite sure what to make of Cutler’s Crew. Da Bears only seem to be able to win on the road, so this week bodes well for them. With offensive talent at every position, there’s virtually no way the Pats D will be able to prevent stops. Expect somewhere in the neighborhood of 425 total yards of offense. The only hope is that bad Jay Cutler shows and gets careless with the pigskin. Given that he has fewer turnovers on the road than at Soldier Field, this doesn’t seem likely. Fortunately the Bears D are no longer Monsters of the Midway. Brady should be able to find the end zone at least three times.

Back to back games with the Broncos and Colts follow and both of those are looking like guaranteed losses. Again, just too much offense for the Pats D to handle. With no pass rush, Peyton Manning will carve up the secondary (probably Revis Island, too), even if Ronnie Hillman isn’t DeMarco Murray. Andrew Luck is simply killing it and unless the injury bug strikes, I don’t see Indianapolis slowing down. With both the Broncos and Colts D playing beyond expectations, it’s likely the Patriots are outscored 80 – 40 combined.

Then it’s the Lions. Their D is tough (best in the league as of right now), but will that continue to hold by the time they come to town? Stafford isn’t having his best year, so the Patriots may be able to force a turnover in a key moment to win this game. I expect this game to be much lower scoring than the previous three weeks.

If the Patriots come out of this stretch 2 – 2, Pats fans should be happy. That would still keep them on pace to win the AFC East, but probably put a bye out of reach.

Honestly, this Pats fan would be fine if they went 1 – 3, as long as the W was over Denver.

—Ryan Varney

Patriots Week Five Recap

Bill Belichick is onto Buffalo
Smug Bill is already past Cincinnati

Six days.

Sunday night, America watched a football team transform itself in six days.

After being completely dominated and embarrassed on Monday Night Football, in every aspect of the game, the New England Patriots put on a clinic in how to win a football game against a 3-0 Cincinnati Bengals team coming off their bye week.

They also proved me wrong in the process. (See my sky-is-falling Week Four recap.)

But…

We still don’t know who the Patriots are at this point, but we’ve now seen the worst and the best they have to offer. Will they resemble this latest incarnation the rest of the season or was this just a blip of intensity that will fade as the season wears on?

The coaching staff finally came up with a game plan that made sense, exploiting opposition weakness and playing to their own strengths. The run game sizzled and opened up some opportunities for Brady to return to form. Revis Island was allowed to be Revis Island – but a hamstring injury will really cramp this still sketchy secondary, especially with Devin McCourty getting hurt, too. With those guys out of the lineup, Andy Dalton made the Patriots D look as inept as they did against the Chiefs.

We also saw the emergence of Tim Wright and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Wearing number 81, Wright looked a lot like Gronk’s former TE mate, explosive and athletic. Before the season, I made a prediction that fantasy owners should stash this guy away. I was getting a little concerned after the first four weeks came and went without a Wright sighting. But he looks like he knows the playbook now.

Belichick couldn’t say it enough, “We’re on to Cincinnati.” Looks like he wasn’t lying. Bengals fans have to wonder what Marvin Lewis & Co. were on to the past few weeks. You have two weeks to prepare for a team coming off a short week and that’s the best you can come up with? Yikes. It’s like getting a delay of game penalty coming out of a timeout.

For personal reasons, I’m extra happy the Pats cruised to a resounding win as it makes my work week much easier to bear. Living in Cincinnati with another Bengal win over the Pats might’ve been too much for me to stomach. For all my Bengal-fan friends, I’d be as worried about your team as I am about mine. The Patriots are a middling team right now and you just got whooped. But at least you have serious, serious talent all over that team. As long as the playoffs aren’t played in Prime Time, the Bengals should do fine.

With a visit to Ralph Wilson stadium on the horizon, let’s hope Belichick and the Patriots are on to Buffalo. The Bills, in spite of EJ Manuel’s failed development, have played well and are tied with the Patriots for first in the AFC East. Kyle Orton is serviceable and Fred Jackson routinely blitzes the Patriots. This game may come down to who keeps the momentum and intensity churning.

On final thought: Maybe Rex Ryan should spend less time jabbing Belichick and more time getting the Jets heads out of their collective sphincters. Actually, keep talking Rex. Karm-atically speaking, it only makes the road to AFC East title easier for the Pats (or Bills).

—Ryan Varney

Patriots Week Four Recap

Bill Belichick is no genius
Smug Bill thinks he knows football talent

The 2014 New England Patriots suck. Everything about this team reeks of incompetence, inability and a nice dash of unwarranted arrogance, from the GM to the coaching staff and down to the players. That buzzing sound in Foxborough hovering over Gillette? A billion flies getting ready to feast on a huge pile of crap.

This season has been years in the making, too.

Listening to MNF announcers Mike Tirico and John Gruden exchange “This is surprising,” “I’m shocked, John, are you?” “I don’t know what to make of this, can you believe this?” made me want to throw the remote through the television (unlike Brady, I’d have hit my target). There is absolutely nothing surprising about what is happening with the Patriots right now. What is surprising is that it’s taken this long to come about.

Bill Belichick may be a great coach. He may be a scheming genius. He is just terrible, horrible, no good and very bad at identifying and evaluating talent. How many cornerbacks and wide receivers can you draft in six years and have nothing to show for it? How many players can you take from Florida (31-21 over the last 4 years) and that football powerhouse Rutgers (28-23 over the last 4 years)? These guys didn’t dominate college. They’re not going to dominate in the NFL.2014 New England Patriots are crap

Ultimately, his failure to draft highly talented players has put the Patriots in the position they’re in now. Weak college players and players checkered with injury histories, retreads, never-have-beens and never-will-bes make up the 2014 roster. The players that did have talent are old and hurt and need to be carried by the new wave. Except the new wave is about as strong as the current in the kiddie pool.

Then there’s the rest of the coaching staff. Whatever they’re paying these guys above $7.25 (Federally mandated minimum wage rate) an hour is too much. In back to back weeks the Patriots have faced teams with a soft run defense. What does Josh McDaniels dial up? Pass, pass, pass, pass, run, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, half a run, pass, pass…you get the idea. Then he power runs with shifty scatback Shane Vereen and plays bob ‘n weave with downhill steamroller Stevan Ridley.

How about trying to dial up some plays that match the personnel ability instead of trying to mash the personnel into your crap scheme? Sound too much like a plan for success? Thought so – can’t have that.

It’s not any better on the defensive side of the ball. Revis Island (and I’ll admit, I’ve been pretty hard on the guy this year) is a human shadow. But Patty Matt has him playing waaaaay off the receivers and sometimes even putting him in zone situations. It’s a defensive scheme least suited to his abilities. Also, the rumor was that the Patriots acquired some serious pass rush ability this off season. Psych. (Cue Belichick pulling his hand away like he’s slicking back his hair just as Brady goes for the high five.)

Pairing this lame roster with poor game planning and expecting players to perform and play with intensity and enthusiasm is a Walmart strategy. People will do just enough to get by, get paid and move on as soon as possible (see Tommy Kelly).

Tom Brady said he’d retire when he sucks. It’s looking like retirement is calling (loudly). Sure, he has no offensive line, no receivers and no game plan, but when he does have time to throw and the receiver is open, Tom Terrific ain’t hitting ‘em. Of course, Belichick snidely dismissed the question of a possible quarterback controversy. Clearly, Jimmy G is not pro-ready, but he’s close. The time is coming soon when there will be a controversy.

Which makes me wonder, is the ineptitude we’re being treated to just part of the transition plan? Is Belichick sabotaging Brady and making him look ineffective or just plain bad in order to make the switch to Garoppolo that much easier?

The original question posed by the media was whether or not the Patriots would cut ties with Brady like they did with Ty Law, Richard Seymour and Logan Mankins. I’m thinking it’s Brady that should cut ties with the Patriots – if he survives the season.

Any way you slice it up, Patriots fans are in for a rough time of it in the next two years. This team has a long way to go to regain any kind of relevance in the NFL. Things are only going to get worse before they get better. Somehow, though, New England sportswriters still manage to think (and write) “there’s nowhere to go but up from here.” Wrong. We’re looking at Oakland bad right now.

Unfortunately, the rest of the AFC East is so pathetic that the Patriots still look competitive. It’s a façade and Pats fans are falling for it. Even Vegas appears to be falling for it as the Patriots are still three point favorites this week against the Cincinnati Bengals. This is such a gimmee game that I may even lay down some loot. Bengals to win outright.

If the Patriots think they were embarrassed against KC, just wait until this week. The Bengals are going to replicate the Chiefs’ performance, only this time it will come with the added insult of being on New England’s home turf.

New England’s D will not be as befuddled and anemic as they appeared against Kansas City, but the offense will be worse. Much worse. Re-watch last year’s game and imagine fewer capable receiving threats, a less-mobile Brady and an O-coordinator who refuses to match play calling with personnel. Somehow, though, the Patriots will scratch out a pair of field goals and the D will hold the Bengals to a measly 37 points.

Yep. Bengals 37 and Patriots 6. At Gillette.

I’ve never wanted to be wrong more in my life.

—Ryan Varney

Patriots Week Three Recap

Bill Belichick is no genius
Smug Bill says the Pats faced a very tough opponent in the Raiders

If this past Sunday didn’t put a scare into you, check your pulse. The Oakland Raiders visited the New England Patriots and – unlike every other west coast team that heads east – saw vast improvement in their football skills. Either that, or New England is a really bad football team.

The Raiders are horrible against the run, so the Patriots promptly came out with Ridley steamrolling. Wait, no. No they didn’t. They started out with three straight passing plays and a punt. Brilliant. From there, it was a lot more of Brady trying to throw while being continually violated in the pocket. The Grand Canyon has fewer holes than the Patriots offensive line.

The decision to push the passing game was a real head-scratcher considering the Raiders were allowing, on average, about 200 rushing yards per game. The Patriots backfield gashed them for well under half that with 76 paltry yards.

Fortunately, in spite of the weak protection, Brady was able to rack up 234 passing yards and the game’s lone touchdown, which proved to be just enough to slip past the cagey Raiders.

Rookie Raider QB Derek Carr didn’t play a great game, but he held his ground against what little pass rush the Patriots defensive line could apply. At one point, I’m pretty sure I saw him wink at them in defiance. I hope it didn’t hurt the D’s feelings. But allowing a potential game-tying TD pass in the closing minutes should have. Good thing the Raiders committed a face-saving penalty to nullify it, and thus enabling Vince Wilfork (Wilfork Island) to snag a ridiculous INT on the ensuing play, after the pass pinballed off the receiver and the cornerback.

About the only good thing to come out of this game is that no serious injuries were suffered to key players. Which basically means Edelman, Gronk and Brady escaped to play another week.

And while the defense again allowed under ten points (yay.) they have yet to face anything more than a middling to poor offense. Revis Island is shrinking in stature by the minute, eroded by the efforts of actually having to play real games and not simply bask in hype.

Watching this game was as comfortable and pleasurable as eating a box of pine tar-coated tacks.

Said the eminent sage and deep-thinking Gronk, “We did enough this game, but that’s not always going to get the job done.”

Well, Gronk, you punch the clock on Monday Night Football next week. Think you’ll do enough to get the job done? I don’t.

Expect complete embarrassment on MNF as the Patriots slough off to Arrowhead to face the Chiefs. If Peter King has the Patriots in his Fine Fifteen next week, I may stop reading the MMQB altogether, because they shouldn’t even be in there after this week.

—Ryan Varney

Patriots Week Two Recap

Bill Belichick is no genius
Smug Bill – Guess he showed his critics this week

In week two, the Patriots punched Chicken Little square in the mouth, beating the Minnesota Vikings 30 – 7 on the Vike’s home turf.

Wild speculation about the demise of the New England Patriots ran amok last week after the team failed to show up for the last 30 minutes of football against the Dolphins. In week two the Patriots showed up for the last 50 minutes of football and regained most of their rightful respect as a top tier team in the AFC.

Still, one wonders where they were in the first ten minutes of the game. Things grew tense when Minnesota drew first blood. What made it worse is the manner in which they did so.

Every so often Bill Belichick likes to send Shane Vereen out of the backfield and up the sideline on a wheel route. I think the play has worked all of once for a .05% success rate. Then yesterday, the Vikings ran the same play with Matt Asiata. You’d think the defense would’ve recognized the play, but no, it went for a touchdown. Maybe the Patriots run that play so much because the D can’t stop it in practice, so they can only assume it’s the golden ticket to TD land. (Note to the coaching staff: it only works against the Patriot’s defense.)

The Patriots offense responded with a three and out.

Then the defense came to life with a pick (nearly six) by Devin McCourty. Stevan Ridley followed with a touchdown run from the one.

From that point forward, the Patriots controlled the game, forcing three more turnovers, as well as a FG blocked and returned for a touchdown, and the offense even managed a passing touchdown (Brady to Edelman). Gostkowski kicked three field goals, too. The Vikings never saw the end zone again.

Patriots Nation are now packing their bags for a trip to Arizona in February.

Not so fast, my friends. This is a Vikings team led by all world backup quarterback Matt Cassel. He showcased why he earned that label by providing four interceptions on some really poorly thrown balls. But he had to keep throwing because the Viking’s running game was completely destroyed when they decided to deactivate Adrian Peterson for the game. AP truly is all world and the Patriots were the beneficiaries of a real gift in his not playing. (I don’t take lightly the off-the-field situation surrounding Peterson, btw, but it’s a discussion for another time after all the facts – and videos – have been reviewed.)

If there’s anything to be learned from the week two performance, it’s that the defense isn’t dead in the water and they still have a knack for creating the turnover, especially with Chandler Jones on the edge and Revis Island covering a receiver older than he is. Special teams looked like they belonged as part of a professional organization. The offense is still very concerning, though.

Earlier this summer, Brady said he would quit playing when he started sucking. He’s walking a very fine line this year between being excused for having limited weapons and a bad O-line, and just plain not making the plays or throws that should be made…or put simply: sucking. However, it’s still too early to make any kind of judgment on his playing. Let’s revisit this after week five, when all the pieces have more time to gel and there’s a larger sample size.

Gronk is still clearly not close to being 100% and the receiving corps still look and play very small. Except you, Burger Tyme Edelman, you’re the man. But the passing attack can’t live on burgers alone.

Dobson, Amendola and LaFell need to pick up the level of play if the Patriots are going to sustain any drives and put the ball in the end zone.

Overall, I still see the Patriots as a .500 team at this point. They’ve shown they can let things go horribly wrong (Miami) and that they can put the screws to a team that is missing their MVP running back and has no quarterback so to speak (Minnesota). With Oakland coming to Gillette next weekend, there’s no real chance to show improvement. The Raiders are relying on a rookie QB who has even less weapons at his disposal than Brady.

But in regards to the Patriots keeping pace with the Red Sox in the cellar of the AFC East, the sky most certainly is not falling.

—Ryan Varney