New England Patriots

By Matt McCarthy,

History will tell you that the Patriots have never been fazed by slow starts. Why would this year be any different?

But make no mistake about it: the Patriots are different this year, and for the first time in the Brady-Belichick era, they might be in trouble.

Search your feelings, you know it to be true.

The tension that has surrounded this team for the better part of a year still exists in Fort Foxboro. It hasn’t gone away. At this point, it is fair to wonder if it will ever go away.

Rob Gronkowski admitted that the Patriots tried to trade him during the offseason. If it were up to Bill Belichick, he’d be gone.

For someone who preaches always doing what’s best for the team, trying to trade one of the greatest offensive weapons in the history of football doesn’t seem like a great way to accomplish that goal.

It’s downright shameful, to be honest.

Can you imagine what this offense would look like without Gronkowski? Tom Brady has been left with little to work with. Brandin Cooks is gone. Danny Amendola is gone. Julian Edelman is 32 years old and is coming off a torn ACL. The likes off Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson aren’t going to cut it.

They need Gronkowski more than ever, but Bill didn’t want to keep him around, apparently.

Brady’s frustration appeared to boil over Sunday after the game when he was asked about James White’s contributions to the offense. The 41-year-old quarterback took what some will perceive as a veiled shot at his coaches.

“He’s got to be involved,” Brady said of White, who took a backseat to unimpressive rookie Sony Michel on Sunday. “The guys who can make plays, those are the ones who should be involved.”

When has Brady ever said anything that could remotely be interpreted as a criticism of the coaching staff?

It’s not the way it once was in Foxboro, that’s for sure. It’s open season for anyone who has an axe to grind. Bill, Tom, Gronk, nobody is above the fray.

DETROIT, MI – SEPTEMBER 23: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots on the sidelines during the first half at Ford Field on September 23, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

And then there are the problems on the other side of the ball, which are equally as concerning as whatever is still going on behind the scenes at Patriot Place.

The Patriots defense lacks talent and lacks speed. The Eagles exposed them in the Super Bowl, the Jaguars took them up and down the field with ease, and now the Lions, a team that hadn’t had a 100-yard rusher in five years, ran wild on them.

They have failed to stop the run, they have barely rushed the passer, and they have struggled to defend the pass.

That’s not a recipe for success.

Dont’a Hightower’s return was supposed to be a game-changer for this defense. It has been anything but that. He doesn’t look like a playmaker, he looks slow.

Just like the rest of the defense: slow.

How do you fix that?

There has been no magic fix to the unit that ripped another Lombardi trophy out of Brady’s hands in February. It’s the same group of stiffs.

Doubting the Patriots for the last two decades has been a losing bet. Getting off to a slow start has never stopped them in the past. Brady and Belichick have always figured it out because that’s what they always do: figure it out and win.

But with plenty of tension off the field and a lack of talent on the on the field, this year might be different.

The Patriots are in trouble.

You can hear Matt McCarthy on various 98.5 The Sports Hub programs. Follow him on Twitter @MattMcCarthy985.