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The End of An Era

Xaiver Aguiar, Sports Writer

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Last week, I was talking about how the Patriots escaped with a victory, but the problems showed more than the additional win in the record books. This week those cracks became more evident. After a 33-30 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Gillette, panic is at an all-time high.

The last time the Patriots were 2-2 and the sky was falling, the Patriots ended that season with their fourth Lombardi Trophy. However, this time around just seems different. If you erased the Patriots logo and the team’s history and just evaluated the team’s performance, they would not even be in the top 15 in power rankings. The Patriots are leading the league in scoring by far with 129 points throughout four games. On the flip side, the defense has allowed 128 points which is the worst in football. Usually when the Patriots struggle, it is due to poor offensive production, which in turn tires out the defense — that’s how they allow points. This time around the defense has been flat-out awful and changes must be made.

Yesterday, Carolina Receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess had a combined 11 receptions for 174 yards and 2 TDs. With the loss of Logan Ryan, the Patriots also lose their physical corner that can play bigger than his height. Just because you’re short doesn’t mean you can’t cover someone bigger than you. Next week, the Patriots face Buccaneers’ star corner Brent Grimes who is only 5”10; no matter who he’s against, he gives them a battle and never gets out muscled. The same can’t be said for 5”11 Malcolm Butler. Butler is a great corner, but can only play receivers with a similar stature. Against Carolina, Butler was primarily matched up against 6”5 Devin Funchess. Yes, Funchess has 6 inches on him, but Butler just physically could not hang with him.  Funchess scored 2 TDs on him and looked physically superior. Butler’s interception doesn’t even deserve praise because he left his man wide open for about 3 seconds before Carolina QB Cam Newton threw the ball into double coverage not seeing the wide open Funchess near the far right hash marks.

The Patriots also continue to struggle against Mobile QBs. Last week after the Patriots allowed many costly runs to Texans QB Deshaun Watson; they allowed Cam Newton to do the same. Newton had 8 carries for 44 yards and a score without much pressure. The Patriots pass rush again seemed sluggish at best, which gave Newton free time in the pocket and for him to use his legs to extend plays. The Defense couldn’t even get stops as the Panthers only punted the ball once in the entire game. With a Defense that has allowed an average of 32 points through 4 weeks, the worst may be yet to come for the Pats who have games with the Buccaneers and Falcons on the horizon.

A lot of the defensive blame has gone to $65 million dollar offseason signee Stephon Gilmore. Yesterday in the final moments of the game, his facemask penalty prevented the Patriots from getting the ball back and stopping Carolina.  Although he is constantly getting burned and looking lackadaisical, this criticism is unfair as he has not allowed the 32 points by himself, and he is not the reason for the pass rush struggling. Gaping zone holes, terrible one on one coverage and many yards allowed after initial contact have also caused the terrible defensive play.

Not as true on offense as on defense, the Patriots tend to value their system over their players. Letting stars like Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins walk seemed fine at the time because they won the Superbowl, but with them gone, plus the loss of Logan Ryan,Chris Long, Jabaal Sheard and a retiring Rob Ninkovich, these “no name” plug in guys are no pun intended not “doing their job.” The system has worked for so long, but now since there isn’t enough talent to make it work, offenses are having a field day. Yes, it’s been about 16 years and teams could have figured out the Patriots defense, but the style of play and players have changed before without such a drastic decline in play. Personally, I think the Patriots should have kept Logan Ryan and signed more veterans looking for a ring (i.e players like Rams OLB Connor Barwin) who are on the older side, but still produce and lead. That has been Bill Belichick’s m.o. for the last couple of years but he got away from it this off-season and it’s showed.

Is it time for panic? I’d be lying if I said I think they will even make it to the AFC Championship game. Growing up in New England and following the team since 2002, not once have I ever been truly concerned with the team as a whole. The aforementioned 2015 2-2 start you say, I blamed it on poor play from Brady and that he would be ok. Sure enough, that was the case. As far as this season the only way Brady can play better is if he plays defense too. The problems are deep. In my personal opinion, Sunday October 1, 2017 marked the presumably end of the Brady reign of terror on the AFC. Unless things change quickly and Belichick can acquire some defensive talent, hold those Lombardi trophies tight now, because I don’t see another one coming to Patriots Place in the near future.

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The End of An Era