By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Patriots have lost two close games in a row, so you know what means: Tom Brady is an aging system quarterback for the sixth straight year, Rob Gronkowski is finished and already prepping for his role in Creed III (he'll play Son of Thunderlips), and Bill Belicick's annual sabotaging of the team he spends an unhealthy amount of time building is upon us.
Forget the fact that they're still paced for what should be an 11-5 finish, with home-field gimmes against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets on deck. Doom, I say! Forget the fact that they have enough championship DVDs to tell you that this is part of the process. Gloom, I crave! And most importantly, forget the fact that they were simply on the wrong end of game-deciding/ending plays in back-to-back weeks. Brady destroyed a cell phone and your guys are cheaters!
Now, this is not an attempted deflection effort to say that everything is sunshine when it's obviously not.
The Patriots absolutely have some legitimate issues that need sorting out sometime between now and Atlanta (if they get there for the fourth time in the last five years), but I feel like we're choosing to ignore certain aspects of a two-game losing streak (the horror!) for the sake of our 'oh my, the dark days are here once again!' attention-seeking takes.
If Gronkowski is on the sidelines in the last play of the Miami Miracle game, the Patriots prevent Kenyan Drake from scoring. If that happens, you're instead talking about the resurgence of the Brady-Gronkowski connection, and how you still can't count this battered duo out for one more ride to glory no matter their in-season slumps and struggles. And if the Patriots don't take about six billion pre-snap penalties in Pittsburgh, they're definitely in a position that doesn't require them to play with the pressure of a legitimately last-second score on their back. And we're instead talking about how the Patriots held a dominant and versatile Steelers offense to just two touchdowns (and 17 points in total) at Heinz Field.
Everything about the Patriots' struggles feels correctable. From the penalties to the personnel, and even to Brady's questionable on-field decision-making, especially late in a failed comeback attempt against the Steelers.
I mean, the difference between this Patriots team being 11-3 and 9-5 is so ridiculously thin it can be measured in inches and jukes. But the tone around this team would lead you to believe they're 7-7, largely because of nonsensical sky-is-falling crap centered around the audacity that this team isn't going to finish with 12 wins for the ninth year in a row. As if that's normal.
Sure, 'normal' around here is unparalleled excellence, and this has been a slight deviation from that. People are quick to yell about just that, too, adamant that this is indeed their new reality, and that they're simply not good enough to win this year.
But the same dudes saying "I've been a Pats fan all my life, but these guys don't deserve to win and are going nowhere this year" are the same that love to talk about where they were during Malcolm Butler's interception and the 28-3 comeback.
They'll boast about the 'GOAT' status of Brady and Belichick, but will also tell you that both no longer cares about winning. When a loss comes, they'll often center their entire argument that the Patriots are crumbling around the undeniable fact that people, uh, get older. But they will also discount wins or sequences that benefitted the Patriots because their younger counterparts found ways to screw things up, completely contradicting themselves. If that fails, they'll cling to the "this just doesn't feel like a Super Bowl team" cop-out of a narrative, as if the Eagles felt like a Super Bowl team last winter.
To anybody outside the six-state segment of the country, this comes across as the work of the mentally deranged, as you're legitimately complaining that this roster doesn't compare to a roster that won the most coveted trophy the sport has to offer.
It also shows a lack of awareness in regards to the reality of the 2018 NFL season, which doesn't really have anything close to a true powerhouse. The Los Angeles Rams appeared to be the closest thing to a sure-bet, but their quarterback suddenly stinks and their once vaunted defense has been 'meh' from the jump. The Saints look good, but Drew Brees has been average at best in back-to-back-to-back weeks now (I would wonder if the cliff has come for him, too, but I can't seem to find anybody screaming about it). Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs are obviously great... unless it's a primetime game against an even somewhat competent team, which certainly bodes well for their postseason chances. Hell, I mean even the Cleveland Browns -- yes, those Cleveland Browns -- were alive in the postseason race up until Pittsburgh's victory.
Just consider this: Assuming everything holds and the Patriots do not get a first-round bye, a No. 3 seed finish would still see some hapless 'tomato can' come to Foxboro on wild card weekend, and could very well see the No. 5 Chargers or Chiefs 'upset' the AFC North winner. That would set up a meeting between the Chiefs-Chargers in the divisional round, and the Patriots would travel to Houston for a meeting against a former Patriots assistant coach that's yet to defeat Brady and Belichick in five previous tries. (And, please, don't let your emotions kid yourself into thinking anybody actually wants to draw Brady and the Patriots in the postseason, where it takes a Herculean effort just to keep him even slightly at bay.)
In other words, the Patriots -- despite their status as the worst 9-5 team ever -- do indeed have a chance to have everything once again play out to their advantage this winter. And as history has proven again and again, especially with this team's most recent championship runs, that's really all they need to be considered a legitimate threat for another Lombardi.
That's closer to 'reality' than any doomsday scenario peddled -- or pissed down a leg -- after 14 regular-season games.
So perhaps it's best to sit out this latest round of grave-dancing.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.