The Patriots just turned on the turbo boosters on the hype machine for this season.
With the stunning signing of 31-year-old superstar receiver Antonio Brown, the Patriots have set themselves up for expectations not seen around Gillette Stadium since 2007. And for good reason.
That season, Tom Brady set the all-time record for passing touchdowns in a season (50) – since broken by Peyton Manning – and Randy Moss set the mark for receiving touchdowns with 23.
The Patriots fell just a miraculous helmet catch from finishing that season 19-0. The Patriots have won three Super Bowls since then and made it to two others. But it’s that near-miss that many Patriots fans remember with pain to this day.
Well, now they have even more weapons for Brady and a defense that projects as the most versatile in the game, coached by one of the most brilliant defensive minds in the game.
The Patriots receiving corps is as stacked as it has been since that remarkable ’07 run. That year they had Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth as front line weapons. They had Sammy Morris, Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk. They had Heath Evans as a running back. Tight ends were Kyle Brady and Ben Watson, in his first iteration with New England, with Jabar Gaffney also on the roster. That season you knew Moss (98 catches, 1,493 yards) or Welker (112, 1,175) or Stallworth (46, 697) were getting the ball in the passing game.
This year? It’s safe to say they not only have the top-end talent, they are deeper than any other team in football on both sides of the ball. On paper this Patriots team is where Madden meets perfect roster building.
They have Brown, Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, Demaryius Thomas, N’Keal Harry (IR for now) and Jakobi Meyers in the receivers room. James White, Sony Michel, Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead and James Develin compose the running backs. When you have those types of weapons, you’re not as concerned about the tight end position as a receiving target. There are precious few teams that could lose Rob Gronkowski and start the next season with a BETTER, DEEPER offensive roster.
Was this the plan all along? That’s a fair question to ask. Did Antonio Brown and super agent Drew Rosenhaus know EXACTLY what they were doing by pulling the helmet and cryogenic chamber-induced frostbite dramas with Raiders GM Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden?
It’s a fair question to ask after Brown got into a near-physical spat with Mayock mid-week before the opening game, emotionally apologizing to his soon-to-be former teammates on Friday and asked for his release after the Raiders fined him and took away his guaranteed money on Saturday morning.
But as many questions there are about the circumstances that led to Saturday’s one-year, $15 million contract with $9 million guaranteed, there are even more options for Josh McDaniels and Brady. Which gold watch to wear to the dinner party and should I take the Porsche, Maserati, Lamborghini or Tesla? Which vacation home is best, The Cape, Hilton Head, West Palm or Naples?
Many teams and coaches would be overwhelmed or even paralyzed with such choices. Not these Patriots. Not this coaching staff.
Antonio Brown’s signing in New England has just made this Patriots offense just about unstoppable – on paper. How will defensive coordinators approach it? We’ll have to wait till Week 2 in Miami where Dolphins coach and former defensive coach/coordinator Brian Flores will take on his former team. Will defenses drop into Tampa-2 and just concede EVERYTHING underneath and just pray that the Patriots have to chew up time in scoring their touchdowns? Will teams take away the top 2 targets on the field at any one time? The Patriots can roll out countless options within their offensive scheme.
With that 2007 team, you knew going into a particular game that Moss and Welker would be the targets and Maroney and Morris would be the backs with Faulk in the third-down passing game. This year, there is the possibility that one or two of the multi-million dollar high-performance sports cars don’t even leave the garage.
But there are significant differences between these Patriots and that 2007 group. That group was not losing the most dangerous and dominant tight end in the modern era from the year before. How do the Pats replace Gronk? Brown was not part of the Patriots the entire offseason. They are asking him to come in and assimilate quickly. Gordon, who was suspended for the offseason, amazed many inside the building last fall when he joined after Week 3 and was on the field for the Thursday night win over the Colts to open Week 5. Remember it was Gordon who was released by the Browns for not making the trip to New Orleans because he tweaked a hamstring at a commercial shoot 48 hours before the game. Well, that pales to what Brown just went through with the Raiders.
Is this the year they finally get another shot at perfection? There have been other seasons where that lofty expectation has been discussed.
Namely back in 2015, when they won their first 10 games before losing that overtime game in Denver, starting off a 2-4 slide to end the season, resulting in the AFC Championship winding up at Sports Authority Field. Of course, the last couple of seasons, they have struggled finding their identity out of the gate, including last year’s 1-2 start. Suddenly, the talk goes from considering the first month as a “second preseason” to getting a second chance at history.
Think about it: Brown on board for a Patriots team that is trying to pass the Steelers for the most Super Bowl titles in NFL history and opening the season against that same Steelers team. Brown on board for one season (like Darrelle Revis) to make set up the rest of his career. The Patriots using Brown to trying and make history.
If Antonio Brown buys into the Patriots offensive potential the way the Patriots have bought into Brown’s potential, then perfection is definitely on the table.