By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
Even the most devote Patriots fan must be able to sense that there is something different about this Pats team than any of the other six that have made it to the Super Bowl under Bill Belichick. Almost all those teams got better as the season wore on, this edition of the flying Elvis’ got worse.
And while key injuries can be pointed to as the biggest reason for the Pats taking a step back down the stretch, they are also the biggest anvil hanging over the defending champs’ heads when it comes to making it to Tom Brady’s hometown this February as something more than spectators.
Let’s face it, at best the Patriots offensive line is below average when healthy. That is the reason that Brady was turning around and handing the ball off as often as he did against the Dolphins in Miami in week 17. The idea was to keep TB12 from being torn asunder, and he still ended up suffering a high ankle sprain when the dirtiest player in the league rolled up on his legs one of the few times he dropped back to pass.
The list of players who will enter the game on Saturday night in Foxboro in some sort of state of disrepair has to be disheartening for those who are hoping to see Roger Goodell have to hand Robert Kraft the Lombardi Trophy on the second Sunday in February. Those listed as out or questionable for the final game of the season were Justin Coleman, Jonathan Freeny, Rob Ninkovich, Sebastian Vollmer, Danny Amendola, Scott Chandler, Patrick Chung, Julien Edelman, Dont’a Hightower, Josh Kline, Brandon LaFell, Devin McCourty, LaAdrian Waddle, Chandler Jones, and Sealver Siliga.
My fingers went numb just typing the list, and that does not include Rob Gronkowski, who is clearly still dealing with what seems to be lingering effects from the knee injury he sustained in the team’s first loss to the Broncos in Denver late in November.
To add to the worry surrounding the struggling offense, Gronk was a no-show on Tuesday in Foxboro during the media access portion of practice. That clearly can’t be a good thing.
And while it has been reported that those listed on the last injury report sited above have at least made it on the field in preparations for the Kansas City Chiefs this weekend, no one knows how effective any of them will be once the game starts, or if they will still be on the field when the game ends.
Edelman – whose absence showed he is the little engine that drives the Patriots offense – has had a special shoe made with a steel plate in it to help protect against re-injuring his broken left foot. When asked if the fact that he has a screw in the foot would change his style of play, the speedy slot guy said, “I’m going to go full throttle regardless. If it goes, it goes.”
As every Patriots fan knows, whether they are willing to admit it or not, if his foot does go again it will take any hopes the Pats have at going back to back once again, 11 years after a totally different group of Patriots – minus the coach and quarterback – were the first and only post salary cap team to ever pull off such a feat.
Prior to the week 11 loss at Mile High, the FU tour was in full swing and the Patriots were clearly the team to beat in the AFC. Even the loss of the “who knew” super weapon Dion Lewis didn’t look like it could derail the wagon they were at the time.
Now the wheels on that wagon have gotten a bit wobbly and lost a spoke or two. If the Pats do get by the Chiefs and the Broncos beat a broken down Pittsburgh Steelers team, they will have to go to the franchise’s historic house of horrors to face a popgun armed Peyton Manning for the AFC Championship game.
Gee, I wonder if there will be any hype over that?
In the meantime, this playoff push just doesn’t seem the same and I think the coach and quarterback know it. It will take not only a great game plan and excellent execution on the field for the Pats to get to the promise land; it will take lots of luck as well.
Just curious, do you think Peyton Manning could tell the Pats dinged up players how to get in touch with someone who can get them some stuff that would help them recover quicker from their aches and pains?
It’s just a thought.
Follow on Twitter @KevinMFlanagan. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Kevin Flanagan