By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
As the 2018 Patriots season taught us, there are no definitive judgments to be made at the start of Week 14. The Patriots are 10-2. They are now the No. 2 seed in the AFC. What happens between now and the first Sunday in February is anybody’s guess.
But if teams coached by Bill Belichick are always better at the end than they were at the beginning, well, the Patriots have some work to do.
And so, for all that has been said (and will still be) about the frustrations of Tom Brady, the shortage of pass catchers and the state of the offensive line, here is a good news-bad news assessment of where the Patriots are at this precise point in time, entering a Week 14 meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs and approaching the all-important fourth quarter of the NFL season:
GOOD NEWS: The running game is getting better. Is it what it was a year ago in the final weeks? No. But in the last two weeks, the Patriots have rushed for 246 yards and Sony Michel has averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Why the Patriots stopped running Michel on Sunday against Houston is anybody’s guess, but this week’s game against Kansas City feels like a prime opportunity to make a statement. The Chiefs have allowed a 141.3 yards per game on the ground (30th in rushing defense) and a preposterous 5.1 yards per attempt (31st). I’m a steamroller, baby.
BAD NEWS: With the return of Isaiah Wynn, the offensive line finally seems to stabilize. But this past Sunday, the Pats lost backup center Ted Karras to injury and now must integrate third-stringer James Ferentz into the operation. The Pats have been to three straight Super Bowls and four in five years. That’s a lot of wear-and-tear. Sometimes, maybe things just aren’t meant to be.
GOOD NEWS: Despite a lackluster performance on Sunday, the Patriots still have the No. 1 scoring defense in the league, allowing a mere 12.1 points per game. The Pats also rank No. 1 on defense in third down percentage and have held opposing quarterbacks to a league-worst passer rating of just 57.3. Those numbers are dominant. And there is every chance they will continue to be.
BAD NEWS: Upon closer inspection, one can’t help but wonder if the Patriots defense is a little overrated. Of the top 14 NFL teams in scoring offense, the AFC possesses only four: Baltimore, Kansas City, New England and Houston. Against Baltimore and Houston, the Pats allowed 65 points while opponents went a combined 12-for-22 on third and fourth downs – a whopping 55 percent. Kansas City steps up to bat this week – in Foxboro. The D needs to have a good performance.
GOOD NEWS: The passing game has to get better … right? Along with tight end Ben Watson, receivers Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett are all veteran players. Add in James White and Rex Burkhead out of the backfield, and the Pats should have enough to possess and protect the ball, score some points and make things easier for the defense. The young guys are what they are, but the Pats shouldn’t need them too much. Right?
BAD NEWS: Brady doesn’t seem to believe in the offense at all … and maybe he’s right. But if the quarterback doesn’t think it’s really worth the effort, it’s going to be an uphill battle. Beginning with Week 9 against Baltimore, Brady has completed a mere 54.8 percent of his passes and posted a rating of 76.4. The offense has managed just 78 points, an average of 19.5 per game that is inflated by the end of the Houston game, when the Pats scored two relatively useless touchdowns.
Can that all change? Sure.
But we all know the clock is ticking.