Preseason Woes

Another night without Tom Brady, and another night of the Patriots looking pretty bad. Tonight, it’s not just the offense or the defense, it’s the special teams as well. It’s hard to believe what our eyes are showing us. This is a team that went 16-0 last season. They were within a minute or two of being the greatest team in the history of the world. And they’ve come back and looked terrible.

Can it all be Brady? We know he’s the Most Valuable Player in the league, but who knew they’d go from being the best to the worst with one guy out of the line-up. Certainly, with Brady the offense would look a lot better. They’d be scoring points, moving the ball, and maybe even winning games. They’d be holding on the ball longer which would make it easier on the defense, but so what if the Patriot defense would be on the field less. The problem is when they’re on the field. They’re getting pushed around. The special teams are being out-worked and out-hustled.

And I’m sure that most Patriots fans believe that once the season starts, everything will be fixed. I tend to agree, but there has to be at least a little bit of worry. The Patriots are a veteran team. They’re supposed to be ahead of other teams preparing for the season. Did they get old on defense right before our eyes? Is the offensive line going to be a problem at least at the start of the season? Remember, the last time we saw that O-line in tact, they were getting beaten badly in the Super Bowl. Now, they’re not even healthy. They’ve got substitutes and new guys and guys out of position, and they can’t seem to get anything going. What if the O-line starts the season the way it ended last season? It probably won’t kill the Patriots chances to make the post-season, but it’s going to make them beatable. Remember how easy something like 13 of their regular season games were last year? They had a few close calls, but for the most part, they rolled over everybody. It sure doesn’t look like they’re going to have that easy a time of it this year.

It’s only the pre-season. It’s only the pre-season. It’s only the pre-season. Keep saying it. Maybe you’ll start to believe it at some point. But it has to be that still confident Patriot fans are choosing to believe what they saw a year ago as opposed to what they’re seeing now. If the Patriots had gone 8-8 last year and came back and looked like this in the pre-season, there would be tremendous concern. But because they went 16-0, I think most of us assume they’ll be fine with the first real whistle blows. That’s a lot of faith based on things that occurred a long time ago. Right now, the Patriots are not a good team. Will that change in sixteen days? If it does, hand Brady the MVP trophy as he walks off the field on opening day.

It’s only the pre-season, but it’s been a lousy one. Three straight losses. Three straight bad performances on several different levels. The only thing that would make this better is if this were the last pre-season game. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were only three meaningless games that only serve to confuse us anyway. Really, we can’t get much out of these games, because the players and coaches treat them as the exhibitions that they are. They’re going through the motions, so it’s impossible to analyze them with any degree of accuracy. So, if they knocked it down to two or three pre-season games, players could get their reps, coaches could see how the draft picks and free agents are fitting it, and maybe they’d even take the games more seriously, because they’d have to do their evaluating in a condensed form.

Now, just because I’m in favor of shortening the pre-season doesn’t mean I’m interested in lengthening the regular season. A sixteen game schedule is plenty. As a stat geek, I don’t like how difficult it will be to compare eras and records. What’s the touchdown record? Well, are we talking about a 12 or a 16 or an 18 game schedule? Keep it at 16 games and tell the owners and players that their multi-billion dollar shared enterprise has more than enough money for everybody to go around. Give up one or two pre-season games. Give the players a shorter training camp and pre-season. More vacation time. And the fans would only have to watch half as much meaningless football. Everybody wins. And deep pockets continued to be lined with plenty of cash. No worries — except for Tom Brady’s foot. Get well soon. Or everyone should start to worry about the Pats.

-BH

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