The Patriots Were Who We Had Hoped They Weren't

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At the end of the day, nobody should be surprised that the New England Patriots 2019-2020 season ended without a Super Bowl championship, or even a conference championship.  Losing at home on Wild Card Weekend may not have been what many expected, but the signs were there all season long that this team just didn’t have enough to be a championship contender.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Fans were pulled into a false sense of hope because of how last season ended, and it’s hard to blame them.  The way this season ended felt eerily similar to how last year went.  Some ugly December losses, not securing home field throughout the playoffs, everybody calling for the end and a path to the Super Bowl that virtually nobody gave them a chance to make it through.

The Patriots stumbled down the stretch last year, but found some success offensively late in the season that carried over into a surprising playoff run.  This year, after a hard fought victory over a hungry, playoff-bound Buffalo Bills team in Week 16, it felt like the stars were aligning once again.  Then, a collapse against the Miami Dolphins altered that path significantly.  Instead of the annual Wild Card Weekend bye, the Patriots would not get the rest they so desperately needed.

Shop for 2018 NFL Jerseys at NFLShop.comAll week long, the Pats preached that the Miami game was in the past, and it was a new season.  In the early stages of last Saturday's playoff game with Tennessee, it felt like that wasn't just lip service, and they had rediscovered some swagger.  The offense was moving the ball well, and with a three point lead, was driving down the field again.  With a first and goal from the Titans' one-yard-line, it looked like New England was going to take command of the game.

Then three things that have plagued them all season long - an inability to block, horrific play calling, and pathetic red zone execution - reared their collective ugly heads in quite possibly the worst three down sequence of the season. 

Inability to block.  The Pats ran the ball on three straight downs and lost a yard, gained that yard back, and then lost two yards.  Horrific play calling.  They ran off tackle every single play.  Maybe there is a reason Chad O'Shea was calling plays in the red zone when he was here, and not Josh McDaniels.  Is there a coincidence that the team had its worst red zone offense in recent memory in the year after O'Shea left?

They needed one yard, and ran outside three straight times.  How about one run right up the middle?  Never mind that Rex Burkhead probably should have extended his arm on second down and the ball would have broken the plane.  Running the ball outside, on three consecutive plays, inside the five-yard-line is indefensible.  Not one of McDaniels' finer games.  I won't even get into handing the ball off to Elandon Roberts on third-and-one the drive before. 

Instead of taking a 10-point lead, and boosting the momentum that was already on their side, they kicked a crowd-deflating field goal.  Derrick Henry followed that up with a touchdown drive right before the half and it changed the entire game.  New England's offense never sniffed the red zone the rest of the way.

There would be no postseason magic.  No flipping of the switch.  The Patriots just did not have it in them this year.  The signs were there all season long.  An offense that consistently struggled.  An offense marred by poor run blocking, dropped passes, missed throws and an inability to develop any type of rhythm.  A defense that feasted on bad quarterbacks, was average at best against better ones, and struggled against the run. 

The easy schedule is always a cop out argument that uneducated fans throw against the wall because of the ineptitude of the AFC East.  You don't go 14-2, or 13-3 every year just by beating the AFC East.  The Pats have been beating up on their division, and everybody else over the past 20 years.

This year, though, that soft schedule argument held weight.  After the Patriots cruised to an 8-0 start, and a boasted a record setting defense, things came crashing back to reality when the competition stiffened.  The reality is they went 0-3 against the other division winners of the AFC. 

Now, the Patriots enter the offseason full of uncertainty.  The future of this team – both immediate and long-term – is extremely unclear.  There are several marquee free agents.  There's uncertainty with the coaching staff, as Joe Judge has already accepted the head coaching gig of the New York Giants.  However, it all hinges on one player, and that's Tom Brady. 

All of the attention will be on Brady this offseason, and rightfully so.  Despite his age, and his disappointing season, he still gives the Patriots the best chance at a Super Bowl championship at this point in time.  It will be interesting to see how it all plays out, and there will be plenty of time to talk about it. 

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Boston Sports Syndicate: The Patriots Were Who We Had Hoped They Weren't
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