Yardbarker NFL writers Mike Tunison and Chris Mueller address the hottest issues in the league every week. This week’s topic: Are the Patriots vulnerable?
Mueller: The previously unthinkable is plausible. It may be time to count out Touchdown Tom and the Patriots, who finally look mortal. Full disclosure: I thought this was just a phase that would pass. That was 17 days ago. It has not passed.
New England (10-3) is so bad offensively that it can’t even take advantage of bad defenses. Houston is so poor in the secondary that it was torched by Denver rookie QB Drew Lock for 309 yards and three touchdowns in Week 14. The Texans rank in the bottom third of every significant statistical category against the pass. Yet in Week 13 against Houston, Brady had under 100 yards passing with five minutes left in the third quarter. In New England’s Week 14 loss to the Chiefs, Kansas City, 25th in total defense, harassed and harangued him into a terrible performance. In his past six games, Brady has completed more than 55 percent of his passes once.
Against the Chiefs, New England may have fallen victim to bad calls and uncharacteristically poor coaching by Bill Belichick, who left them without challenges when it needed them most. The missed call on N’Keal Harry’s touchdown that wasn’t would usually be moot; a typical Brady-led offense would punch the ball in for six points with little difficulty. It’s obvious that this version of the Patriots can’t take those situations for granted.
And there’s no help on the way. Rob Gronkowski isn’t walking through that door. Brady hasn’t looked like a good quarterback since he beat Cleveland in Week 8 (20-for-36, 259 yards). He still has the fire, and the advanced analytics crowd will tell you that the majority of his throws are still sharp. Maybe that’s case, but his skill-position players are awful, save Julian Edelman (90 catches, 1,010), who is the team’s leading receiver by nearly 500 yards.
The Week 15 loss at home to the Chiefs, snapping the Patriots’ 21-game home losing streak, could cost New England the No. 1 seed. If the Ravens win out, the road to the Super Bowl goes through Baltimore. That would spell almost certain doom for New England, which desperately needs home-field advantage throughout the playoffs to advance to the Super Bowl in Miami.
Normally I’m anything but alarmist about the Patriots, but this looks more and more like an incomplete team, one that might post a gaudy record but has an unfixable, fatal flaw.